We are the Makers of Maps

In a sense, every human construction, whether mental or material, is a component in a landscape of fear because it exists in constant chaos.
-Yi fu Tuan ‘Landscapes of Fear’

So, after what seems like a forever of anxiety driven huhming and hahing I finally approved the proof copy of my chapbook We are the Makers of Maps which is, therefore, now available for sale on that there Amazon place. It’s a print only chapbook as, to be honest, there was no way that I could see to properly lay out some of the pieces contained within, especially the poem ‘An Autumn Note’.

The book contains five pieces. Two short stories, ‘The Downfall of the Good Worker Laura McTavish’ and ‘in these ways we remember’, as well as three compositions, ‘Maps’, ‘East’, and ‘An Autumn Note’.

Makers of Maps Cover v23

‘The Downfall of the Good Worker Laura McTavish’ looks at the relationship between the maps with which we define the spaces in which we live and the reality of those spaces whereas ‘in these ways we remember’, a strange post-apocalyptic story, is concerned with the landscapes of memory and remembering. Hopefully I’ve been at least somewhat successful in what I’ve tried to achieve with the stories.

We are the Makers of Maps is something of a taster for my collection Sing Along With the Sad Song which will be out later this year. (Another project that has been too long in the making) However only one of the works from this chapbook will feature in the full collection. That will be ‘The Downfall of the Good Worker Laura McTavish’. Think of this as something like a single, or e.p., released before the main album. 😉

The book is available directly from Amazon or, if you’re in the USA, from Createspace too. (I get a teensy bit more of a royalty from Createspace. 😉 ) Links below.



It should also be available in all the other Amazon stores soon, if it isn’t already.

Cartographic Destabilisation in the Weird

Men can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is alive.

-Guy Debord masquerading as Karl Marx: ‘Theory of the Dérive’ in Les Lèvres Nues #9 (November 1956)


Cartographic destabilization creates the sense of weirdness by projecting symbols and metaphors that signify dislocation and disorientation within the literature. Language is the map in which we follow literature by and if we cannot form our own stable cognitive map in our reading of said language, our sense of place becomes disturbed and uncanny.

-William J. Hugel ‘Developing Weirdness Through Cartographic Destabilization in Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation

William J. Hugel has an extremely interesting essay on Student PulseLINK, in which he looks at the use of landscape as a tool to disorient the reader of weird fiction. This sense of disorientation, the destabilisation of the reader’s sense of place, is something that I have elsewhere referred to as discombobulation -an unsettling of the reader’s relationship with reality as mediated by the text, whereby the author is able to site a story within a world that is seemingly mundane yet with the map that is the text being an unreliable narrator in and of itself. As though Borge’s map had been laid out perfectly and rotated a mere one or two degrees so that as soon as one has taken a step or two the map, that with which we are most familiar, begins to deviate wildly from the territory in which we find ourselves. Which is an unsettling experience for creatures such as ourselves who use, and are so reliant upon, representation for our interpretation and communication of reality.

This defamiliarisation which occurs in some works of weird fiction seems to me to serve as an literary manifestation of the Lettrist/Situationist concept of ‘Psychogeography’ and especially the psychogeographical technique of the dérive. Psychogeography is the study of the psychological effects of the environment, built or otherwise, on the humans that exist within a given geography. The dérive is a method of geographical exploration that, through the participation in the random or semi-random dérive -or ‘drift’- through the landscape, seeks to allow the psychogeographer to experience their environment in a radically different and newly authentic manner and in doing so come to understand it and to interact with it in ways outside those proscribed by those who control and structure our environment.

In a similar manner certain works of weird fiction serve to act as a dérive through the familiar world of literature and allow the reader to engage in a radically new way with the medium.

Votu is reached by crossing a high steppe plateau of long green grass. Like a glacier, the city flows from an inaccessible source high in the mountains, and extends down onto the plain. A boundary separates the piedmont zone from the upper city, and, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, nobody lives above the boundary. Looking up, the people of Votu watch as the future city arrives, having already existed from time immemorial and thus being older than the city they’ve come to know, sliding inexorably down the slope and piling up on top of them. People move into new buildings and adapt to the new streets as they cross the boundary into the habitable zone, while the older structures opposite are driven down and crushed together, collapsing to form a sort of rubbery scrim at the city’s lowest extremity. The compacted past city forms a dense integument, not unlike a callous, that makes the erection of an outer wall unnecessary along that side.

-Michael Cisco, Celebrant

In the passage above Michael Cisco introduces us to the imaginary, in the story, city of Votu which the protagonist, deKlend, learns of upon reading a geographical encyclopedia of invented countries and for which he endeavors to search. In Votu, where time runs backwards, we see an inversion in the development process of the city as the older parts of the city push aside and destroy the newer parts in which the inhabitants live. The slow, glacial, destruction of the older parts of the city is familiar to us but the inversion of the process forces the reader to consider the ways in which people have to adapt to the changes forced upon their environment by the seemingly unstoppable forces of capitalist development. In this the city of Votu is recognisable to the reader but it is also dislocated from mundane reality -a defining feature of The Weird as defined by Laird Barron in his introduction to 2014’s The Year’s Best Weird Fiction- and so the reader must engage with it from an unfamiliar -a discomfited- position.

This use of a radicalised and offset spatiality is one of the more powerful affects utilised by writers of weird fiction in their attempt to elicit unease in the reader and to open up the reader to a new literary experience in the mode of the weird. It allows the writer to present a new yet familiar world and, in doing so, gifts the reader a whole new territory to explore which perhaps allows access to a more authentically human experience than other literary forms.

Debord's map of Paris
Debord’s map of Paris

A Psychogeographic Jaunt Through the Neolithic(via the A92)

Going through some old internetty bits and bobs of mine and came across this. It was part of a project I submitted for my Landscape Archaeologies Past & Present course that I did at uni a few years ago. The Neolithic sites here, two stone circles and an excarnation site, are in a thoroughly modern setting. The Balfarg stones are in the middle of a housing development, the excarnation site is next to the busy A92 and the Balbirnie stones were picked up and moved to make way for a road. So it’s a very modern Neolithic that we have here in Scotland.


Dissertation in the Bag

I’ve been working like a crazy person for a while now on this damnable tract and now it is finally complete. 11,600 words on psychogeography, chorography(see also), and the Antonine Wall with a wee bit about the Situationist International for good measure. The feeling of relief was palpable last night when I clicked “send”and fired it off to the printers(Clydeside Press btw, if you are in the west of Scotland and want stuff printed, use them. They’re awesome.) and it was finally out of my hands.

I think I’m going to take a day or two to just relax(no work until the weekend, yay!) and then I’m going to get into some serious reading. I have built up a veritable mountain of books I want to read over the last year or so. Now I can begin, the only problem is. Where do I start? Options paralysis!!!!

It also means that I’ll be able to get started on honing my fiction writing skills. I have one unfinished story, The Hermit and The Orphan, that I want to get done and about 30 ideas for short stories/novellas. Fun times!

Here are some of the images I took on the field work for my dissertation, ones that didn’t make it into the document itself. Hope you like them. 🙂

20140401_145821 20140401_145844 20140401_152429 20140401_152615 20140401_152754 20140401_153158 20140401_160110 2012-10-10_13-29-01_HDR 2012-10-10_13-40-44_HDR 2012-10-10_15-29-00_HDR 2012-10-10_15-40-39_HDR 2012-10-10_15-41-44_HDR 20121010_134834 20121010_155026 20121010_160059

Balfarg Neo-Neolithic Complex

A couple of months ago, as part of a course on Landscape Archaeology, we went on a field trip to Balfarg in Glenrothes, Fife. Balfarg is an interesting place as here a Neolithic site was incorporated into the design and layout of a modern, late 70’s, housing development.  As well as the circle incorporated into the housing development there is also a fumerary complex, no longer extant above ground, that lies next to the A92 which has been ‘recreated’ with old telegraph poles and a stone circle that was moved as it lay on the original planned route of the A92.

We went to Balfarg to get a sense of the conflict between modern and ancient landscapes. To this end we had to produce a report on the trip and our thoughts concerning the site/s. Me being me I went all left field and submitted an html document incorporating a music video and about 1,000 words of text.

I’ll not put the text here as I don’t like the idea of posting graded work online. But here’s the video I made which will hopefully give some sense of the experience of visiting Balfarg. It runs from me leaving home in the south of Glasgow through the trip to and around the complex and ends as we’re crossing the Forth Road Bridge on the way back(when the batteries on my camera phone ran out).

(Probably best to watch in full screen rather than this wee one)

The Rural Dérive, the Bimble, Bodding Aboot

I have recently been spending a lot of time, probably more than is healthy tbh, thinking about the application of psychogeographical technique to landscape archaeology. I’m going to talk here, briefly, about two ways in which I think that the technique of the dérive could be applied to exploring, interpreting and understanding archaeological landscapes. Also how this technique could be used to help the landscape archaeologist move out of their comfort zone and begin to see the landscape from a completely new, and hopefully quite alien, perspective. Whilst this new perspective will not be that of the people who have previously inhabited those landscapes it is a step towards shedding preexistent biases and expectations, or at least being more acutely aware of these in order to compensate for them in their analysis of the landscape.

I should state that my thinking here is concerned mostly with understanding the prehistoric landscape. Whilst these ideas could as easily be applied for more modern landscapes they would need be applied only slightly differently.

The first application I would like to discuss is the directed dérive. By this I mean a dérive that has fixed start and end points, and possibly points between the two, but where the route between points is dictated by the landscape and the archaeological flâneur and their interactions. The flâneur must move between points being guided by the topography surrounding them rather than by established paths and field or property boundaries. Following natural inclines, river and stream paths, cutting across cliff tops.

As well as offering the potential for discovering new paths through the landscape there is also the chance to, should we take extant monuments as our fixed points, approach these monuments from an entirely new direction. both literally and figuratively. Creative use of a GPS and a refusal of using maps means that the relationship one creates with the landscape is automatically outwith our normal realm of interaction. Especially in an unfamiliar setting. By programming the set points into a gps and not utilising the map function we are only aware of distance and direction. The topography emerges then as we move within the landscape.

By performing the dérive like this we can investigate whether monuments that, when viewed via traditional cartography, appear to have a connection actually elicit this connection when viewed from a human perspective. The temporal flâneur that is the landscape archaeologist(the psycho-archaeologist?) can reinterpret monuments and the links they have with their landscapes by removing from their interpretation the more objective tools traditionally employed in looking at the landscape. By moving within the landscape, rather than over it as empirical observer, it is perfectly possible that where once we saw alignments with landscape features they may evaporate, or new ones emerge.

The second application of the dérive incorporates the archery practice of roving. Roving, or stump archery, is the act of walking through the landscape picking targets as you go and practicing archery upon them. This is less to do with the investigation of relationships within the landscape than with changing our perception of the landscape, especially ones with which we are familiar.

This video below is quite a nice example of roving.

 Following this method one would again change their interaction with the landscape to incorporate the ‘game’ of finding and shooting stumps. The use of a portable ‘stump’, as in the video, could quite easily contribute to finding new ways of looking at and interacting with the land.

I’ll admit that this is perhaps rather tenuous but again the use of roving would mean that the flâneur is interacting with the landscape in an entirely new manner and is again moving within, rather than over, the landscape. This is something that I think is vital if we are to try and understand how the landscape affected people in the past and the different ways in which people can interact with their landscape.

This doesn’t mean that we should move away from rigorous survey work but that we should add ‘going for a bod about’ or a bit of a bimble to our tool box. Aiming to move out of our normal way of interacting with the landscape to better understand it.

TAG 2011 :)

I’ve just booked my tickets for the Theoretical Archaeology Group conference in Birmingham this December. I’ve never been to an academic conference before, well not one that I was really interested in. I don’t have s scooby doo what papers are being presented aside from Kenny Brophy is co-presenting a paper on Psychogeography and archaeology. Which is a lot of the reason I’m wanting to go. Which is pretty lame as he’s one of my lecturers so I could just ask him about the paper! 😀

Could be a problem for archaeologists tbh...

I’m really interested in the application of psychogeography to archaeology and especially the technique of the dérive to help us understand and interpret the landscape in which archaeology occurs. Psychogeography, and especially the dérive, is focused on interpreting an urban geography and its effect on humans. Archaeology, of the kind that floats my boat anyway, occurs mostly in a rural location. For this reason we need to develop a rural psychogeography.

As well as shifting the focus of psychogeography to a rural setting we need to explore methods of walking through time.The majority of the archaeological features that have, at one point, littered the British landscape are now little more than occasionally appearing marks in crops or subtle humps and bumps in the landscape. The archaeologist as flâneur therefore has to simultaneously locate these features and extrapolate how they may have appeared in their original setting.

As important as using these techniques for interpretation of the landscape as was it is important that archaeologists acknowledge that the vitality of the landscape, and archaeological features within it, exists in the here and now. There is no ‘authentic’ way to experience archaeology as, for example, Chris Tilley would like to believe unless we are experiencing it as it is now and as a living, breathing facet of humanity itself.


Damn that’s waffling. What the hell. Publish and be damned!