Will Self began his psychogeography excursions in the legacy of 1950s French Situationist Guy Debord. A man who, with his mates, decided that if they got hog whimperingly drunk on red wine and wandered across Paris they would break the man-machine matrix of modern capitalism with its micro-worlds of work-consume-die.
They failed, unsurprisingly. But Will Self is a contemporary version of the Situationists as he refuses to comply with our everyday modes of transport - the hermetically sealed units of plane, car, taxi that constrain our working and leisure lives. He has carved a niche in the walking world of 'airport walks' - walking from airports into city centres, a walk no one else takes. The aim is to crash different zones together. So in his first book on psychogeogrpahy Self walked from his house, to Heathrow, then flew to JFK and walked from there to Manhattan. Self claims the body doesn't register the flight so the walk feels seamless from South London straight to the centre of New York.
This time he repeats the trick with an even more bizarre walk from the late J.G. Ballard's house to 'The World' - a simulacrum of the world on a series of floating islands in Dubai. A preposterous venture, now seemingly doomed by the credit crunch. Self's meditations on the weird atmosphere of the Arab playground are rendered with terrific scabrous abrasion: at one point he coins one of his most scatalogical metaphors describing Dubai with its 'priapic skyscrapers and lubrication of Western fast food fat, alcohol and sun cream, being thrust into the parted arse cheeks of the rest of the umma - an act of tectonic sodomy that might have been purposely calculated to inflame the honour of the Islamists'.
Dubai is possibly the type of place Self despises the most - an artificial hedonism centre where no one walks anywhere (it is too hot), nothing is natural or rooted in a proper sense of place, and the master - slave relationship is propounded as dark skinned labourers toil in the sun to build and serve the constructions of the mighty capitalist classes.
The rest of the book is padded out with Self's Independent Newspaper Pyschogeography columns. None of them are long enough to have the same ideological power as the Dubai essay (Self himself has claimed you can only appreciate the picaresque of a walk after 20 miles or so). As a result many of the columns seem a bit like brief strolls by comparison, half baked and glibly tossed off.
Psychogeography is a fascinating modern phenomenon. This book should inspire more people to shun the usual routes of their everyday existence and seek out fresh insights in the more liminal spaces of Britain and elsewhere.