Offshore Writer’s Delight
I’ve just returned from the Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography in Huddersfield, and it was a big thing! – and felt like both a revelation and an initiation. So here is my very personal/political story about what psychogeography means to me, and how I arrived at it, via and with postcolonalism by my (possibly hidden) side.
The Congress was a revelation for me because it kind of confirmed my intuition and my work, that what I do and what I write is just in the middle of psychogeograpy! For me, psychogeography is about the whole of myself, too, and so it’s a space where I can express how my personal is political, and all: so it becomes a feminist, and cultural space, immediately, as it becomes, too, a landscape-, hidden-urban-, and/or abstract space!
Yes, it’s all about space, spaces, and questioning, walking, dissent, drift, desire for social change, anti-structure on structure, and about new invented lines beyond repetition, around the edges of new consciousness, edge-land-liking and moving, walking, thinking further, thinking other, thinking far-off the repeated beaten tracks of consumerist-infused association and status quo, static quotes and stingy quotas.
And so: quo vadis? Quo vadimus? Quantum-phsyics, quantum psycho-geo-poetry? Quickly. Quirkily. Quite so, but that’s just the q. corner! So let’s add a question here too!
As a kind of Other in this society, there are fields of enquiry that, if analysed, respond to issues that are at the heart psychogeography (as it is in postcolonialism, for my point of view and experience): space, displacement, drift, edge. So in this way, psychogeography is about all the aspects of topics that happen to me conceptually.
At the same time, my background, in large part, due to my Otherness, is postcolonialism, inter/cultural studies, black and critical race studies too. There’s ‘critical whiteness’ in there too, though I find this a tricky and in some constellations a misleading word, because I am othered due to my accent: a dimension that critical whiteness doesn’t consider, and so it is as if my difference – and therefore myself! – doesn’t exist! Interrogating whiteness is highly important if you have not considered it before, or if you are not embedded in or a product of multicultural identities, but my location demands of me a different, wider project. The starting point of this project has to be the hallmark of my experience/location/position, which is my accent and its consequences: my life-world! And this marker for me is erased in the critical whiteness analysis (and not only here, by the way, but it is very pronounced here, due to its illusion of ‘serving me’), and therefore closes its avenues of reception, before I can even ‘come in’ to explain my situation. This process is a painful repetition, and thus excludes opportunities for conceptual – and as a result, real – progress!
I also felt initiated at the Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography, because now I had come to an officially existing forum, which declares itself as ‘psychogeography’. And, as it is what I had been doing for a long time, it feels like I’ve now ‘joined the club’.
My presentation was on ’Walking over Edges’ and I had once again passed and surpassed another edge with it somehow. At the centre of my presentation – as a totally liberating and space-making starting- and some kind of mid-point, is my life-world, my edge-world, because I come from across the edge. And this is my desire. To ‘bring myself in’, to explain my life-world as ‘geo-political psycho-sociality’, and so come back to the postcolonial always as well.
In explaining who I am, in terms of identity, as a foreigner and a writer, I have been looking for names for myself – and of recent, ‘migrant writer’ has felt for me to be the best description. ‘Foreigner’ had been, and is always true too, but I like emphasizing the ‘writing’ side of myself too. And ‘foreign writer’ sounds too static somehow.
The thing is that me and my writing reaffirm each other, by both coming from over the edge: I am from it, and I write about it, so everything is ‘edgeland’! – and edgeland writing.
This is not because I write ‘about abroad’, but because my writing, even if dealing with ‘here’ (as it usually does!) has another edge to it: the surprise that ‘here’ is my topic, my reader’s confusion: ‘but isn’t she a foreigner?!’ So, when I write about ‘here’, i.e. this country, there’s always more involved on the side of me (more or less, sometimes), and my ‘readers’ (almost always). For me it would be the insertion of an extra-dimension, more space, if I do so, for my readers it’s the confusion (how can she talk about here if she’s not from here…). So all these texts collapse into each other, not disappearing but becoming a conundrum. The conundrum: my drum-call.
And in this, whilst ‘foreigner’ and ‘migrant writer’ are labels I agree with, and make use of, too, I came up with the term ‘offshore-writer’: a writer from beyond the shore, who had drifted in, via inshore waters, and who is interested in unravelling the complexities in, around and behind the shore/the edge.
Bringing in/bringing out, othering
It’s a relief to be able to talk about my otherness! There is usually no concept for this, in academia, but I find that there is so much to explore there, so much to say, and to inscribe into theory too! I had so far articulated this within the postcolonial, and spent many years upon arriving in this country, dialoguing with, feeling safe in, and performing in and among multicultural and black audiences. Here was this, to most people unknown, synergy based on our (me and the multicultural) common otherness/outsiderness, which made being with each other more meaningful than entering the mainstream world. Most of us had to mix with the mainstream world too, of course, but it was often limited to work-settings. And for those of us working within the performing arts, mixing with the mainstream world was more optional. We, as multicultural (performing) artists developed a kind of resistance-philosophy, or resistance-existentialism, building on the civil rights movement and black liberation movement that had already taken place, and of which we were a part.
As the years went by, however, our ‘common otherness’ was increasingly questioned, and increasingly my deep belonging to the group of ‘the othered’ I ended up not being understood! In a weird way: rather than acknowledging my outsiderness as a foreigner – which the mainstream society certainly always curiously notice –what became more of an issue was my white looks, in terms of skin-colour. And with that the assumption that whiteness runs contrary to Otherness. In reality, it does and it doesn’t: it’s a really interesting field to explore, analyse and theorize, but the space for that was not there because blackness creates more pressing issues too: police intervention, undue school underachievement despite high knowledge, hard injustices endured. All this didn’t apply to me but it didn’t make me English either. The questioning carried on regardless as where I am from and when I am going back, is my family back home, whether I go to visit my family a lot, whether I like England etc. Unendingly, unnervingly, the mainstream! Questions received as a result of not being identified as belonging.
There was an anticipation of the lack of knowledge on both sides. On the ‘other’ side: would i and could I possibly know, and feel, the significance of Africa as the – if displaced – centre of civilisation. Yes! But would you, could you, possibly imagine! The sensitivity gained on this is largely due to my exposure to knowing about the extreme difficulty of dialogue, the hurdles of understanding. As I am routinely exposed to this, on a conscious level, in an interracial context too, I have extensive knowledge of it.
This knowledge is the conceptual centre piece of my position in a gap between blackness and whiteness, a blind spot position which yearns for analysis in order to make its spot less blind. To withhold this knowledge, and thereby come closer to conceptual whiteness, would mean being a traitor to myself.
A little mystery is here that other foreigners have often chosen not to remain conscious – and consciously – inside this gap, but rather assimilate into Englishness (at least in terms of accent, so that foreign origins /outer spaces are hidden) in order to match whiteness in this locality. I cannot bring myself to perform this exit from the gap, because a) I want to be myself and not pretend to give a false picture of myself, and b) doing this would mean to withhold the knowledge that my gap-position yields for me, and so, assimilation would mean to pretend not to know what i know.
It’s all so big, the conundrum of issues, it’s like a walk that’s constantly drifting. And here ‘walk’ and ‘drift’ come in. If we connect the dots not simply with straight lines, but with ambling, rambling, perhaps looping, loitering, interrupted lines, we find more terrain, more landscapes – divided or undivided as they may be – to describe, and as a result, more to be written and to be said!
In psychogeography then, I don’t need to pretend, withhold or compartmentalise, I can just drift into the issues via the facilitating forums of space, drift, edge, off/shore, and weave identity politics and postcolonialism into them, so as to contribute to social change, racial equality, understanding, anti-capitalism, inclusivity and communication. Maybe this is unusual too, to bring in oneself in this way, but this is also a feminist practice (the personal is political!), and I just consider this to be truthful and useful methodology – especially if ‘othering comes into play too, and needs to be explained. There is more to say here, theorists and practitioners to mention, but I’ll elaborate on in another piece. This is just the beginning, just the outline of explaining what psychogeography does for me, and how this excellent Congress in Huddersfield enabled my participation on a more visible level. I’ve not even said much about the Congress itself, which isn’t really fair, but I thought I’ll start by stating where I am coming from, what the Congress has done for me, and how belonging here has opened up possibilities for articulating observations, practices and experiences.