‘Rambles’ – part of a 2013 project taking a psychogeographical tour of the West Riding
Ramble through Barnsley, March 2013, John Ledger and Michael Hill
‘Ramble’ through Woolley Colliery and Darton, March 2013, John Ledger and Michael Hill
‘Ramble’ through Bretton Park, 2013, March 2013, John Ledger and Michael Hill
‘Ramble’ through Wakefield city centre, May 2013, John Ledger and Michael Hill
About West Riding of Yorkshire: A Psychogeographical Account:
I aimed to combine all memories/experiences from a year of walking/train/bus and car journeys through 4 areas that span the old West Riding of Yorkshire. It has culminated from years of wandering and musing around an area loosely centered around Leeds, Wakefield, Barnsley and Sheffield. I’m trying to show what inhabiting these places /walking through these human landscapes feels like. All too often I find reality is massively cropped to take the more picturesque; but I’m also trying to show that the issues the world faces today can be observed on a local level as much as in any international city.
I have chosen this area because it is a landscape I know better than any other.
It relates to a course I began, but couldn’t complete, in London, called Mapping Capitalism, and in particular theorist Fredric Jameson’s notion of cognitive mapping, as a modern means of class consciousness and awareness of our real material conditions, in the disorientating 21st century world governed by global financial capitalism. Informed by both the philosopher Althusser and the urbanist/town planner,Kevin Lynch, who used psychogeographical ideas to create better living environments, Jameson argued that the “mental map of a city explored by Lynch can be extrapolated to that of the social and global totality [one that we] we carry around in our heads in various garbled forms”. I travel often but regrettably I don’t often leave the 15 mile radius of my home that includes these areas of my focus. London was an anomaly which didn’t work out, yet it allowed me to look at (what I would class as) my home landscape with new eyes.
I’ve found this project deeply helpful. I look back on what I have written and the landscape reveals its true identity to me; something an A-Z or Google map could never do. It also made me realise that there is potentially something to be gained conceptually from any walk. Not just a walk through the most tourist-friendly spots on earth.
But I must ask myself why do this here and why now? Well, disparate issues seem to have come to a head and collided; personal reasons, such as memories, lost dreams, a coming of age that are all embedded in this landscape, are becoming entwined with deep concern about the changes to the world happening at the moment; an increase in poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and recent weather patterns that go far to suggest we are amidst a rapid transformation of the Earth’s climate. These changes are very noticeable at a local level.
The philosopher Franco Berard ‘Bifo’ writes that “in the last decades of the [20th] century, the Utopian imagination was slowly overturned, and has been replaced by the dystopian imagination”. The social landscape is no longer a place for hope and opportunity but one that we increasingly fear; as theorist Mark Fisher says we use headphones, what he terms ‘OedIpods’, as “a walling up against the social”. We are encouraged to live in what Baudrillard called the Hyperreal, our own universes of simulcra that have no basis in, and which blind us us to a social void he called the ‘desert of the real’.
This landscape I know best more or less culminates around two railway lines; the Hallam and Penistone lines. I begin with the northern most point of this landscape of my mind: Leeds city centre. Many parts of this area were visited by George Orwell whilst he was note-making for his book ‘The Road To Wigan Pier’, about life in the industrial north during the great depression. After 30 years under a neoliberal political economy, it is arguable that the quality of life for many, in relative terms, may be no better than it was in the 1930’s, and I am certain that the collective imagination is in an even worse state.