Friday, 16 November 2012

Iain Sinclair - London Orbital

First, I should like to note that, although as with Keiller I have apparently rubbished the concerns of Sinclair several times, I hold him no actual malice. On the contrary, I actually like him quite a lot both for his qualities as a writer and for his qualities as a person that appear to be revealed through his writing. In fact, I haven't really got anything bad to say about any of the London psychogeographers, except Stewart Home, who I have disliked for years for reasons unrelated to his work as a psychogeographer. My verbal assaults against London are largely a rhetorical device, and, in fact, many of them are echoed in Sinclair's work. What I have objected to, mainly, is the focus on London as if it is the most interesting thing in the UK. Sinclair's take on this is interesting, simultaneously defining London as a microcosm and as something special and apart from the rest of the world (suggesting several times that everywhere beyond the M25 is 'nowhere') whilst simultaneously acknowledging that the road he is studying is an engine that drives this solipsism. He says of the motorway:

"By the time you've driven should be way out in another eco-system, another culture: Newport (Mon.), or Nottingham, or Yeovil. The journey must mean something. Not a wearied return, hobbled, to the point of origin."

Sinclair's writing style is poetic and post-modern, reflecting the mental process of the flâneur as he moves through the landscape, bombarded by a constant stream of words and images. He is a recorder and a reporter as well as a poet. The walk is as fragmentary as the style, being undertaken in sections with a variety of different companions over the course of several years. A running theme throughout the work is the monumental difficulty of the task at hand, not least because the urban landscape has been, if not designed to make such journeys impossible, then certainly designed without any consideration that they might be made. The M25 is not for foot passengers. This becomes emblamatic of the removal of the human and the local from the design of the city, the way that London has become (or perhaps has always been) a place that facilitates the desires of others.

These concerns help to expose the difference between the rural psychogeography of Vectis and urban psychogeography. The M25 was built to a master plan within the last quarter of a century. Exploring it becomes a way of trying to understand this master plan, and the economic, political and social forces and ideas that inspired it. This is not a concern unique to Sinclair; how could Debord, for example, have ignored the widely repeated theory that one of the motivating factors in Haussman's renovation of Paris was to facilitate the violent suppression of urban dissent? On the Isle of Wight, however, these grand designs are difficult to grasp at; there are few unified schemes that can be grasped at, and I have deliberately chosen to avoid any potential subjects (the napoleonic and other fortifications on the north coast, for example) that could evoke this. The coast and the desire path are as important to me as the straight track.

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