On June 15th I was lucky enough to attend the festival marking the launch of the UCL English department’s One Day In The City – a celebration of London from a more literary perspective than we at CASA are accustomed to taking. CASA’s London Data Table made an honourable showing.
Iain Sinclair kicked things off, himself a champion of psychogeography, and perhaps most famous for London Orbital, his account of walking the M25. Sinclair has a discursive, stream-of-consciousness style which makea connections between disparate elements of urban life, and bold statements about the state of London. He talked about the metropolitan police being the biggest filmmaker in London, how observing public space changed street life, how people were barred from photography themselves, his take on the continual construction project that is London, the prettification of Bazalgette’s “Greenway”, and methods of control in these new Olympic spaces. This breadth of imagination was quite inspiring even where many of the contained perspectives remained speculation stated boldly as fact; a style that the scientist in me found a bit irksome.
A theme that appeared repeatedly was that of walking the city; Hugo Spiers’ fascinating project to understand the hippocampus of noted writer and London walker Will Self; the city soundscapes of John Bingham-Hall; and a whole session devoted to walking around London.
One of the day’s highlights was Doris Bremm‘s talk on using mapping as an exploratory tool in literature, to map the geographical confines of a character’s world. Her examples included Mrs Dalloway (which I am not familiar with) and From Hell (which I am more familiar with).
From Hell is Northampton comic book legend Alan Moore’s take on Jack the Ripper; in it, Royal Surgeon William Gull is dispatched By Royal Appointment to commit the Ripper crimes, for reasons best left to reading the book. Before he embarks on the spree, Gull takes a coach ride around sites in London of mystical significance: sites of historical import, of feminine or masculine victory or defeat, places linked to Blake or Hawksmoor, tracing a ritual in preparation for what is to come, and an alternative history of London*.
Inspired by Dr Bremm’s literary excursions, I resolved to map Gull’s route, and walk it. It being a long day’s coach ride, it broke down to two long or three pleasant days’ walks, which I hope to complete with fellow urban ramblers at some point over the next few months. I should say that this has been done before**. If I have any mystical experiences or feel the desire to dismember anyone, I will be sure to report back.
*the copious end notes in From Hell acknowledge Iain Sinclair’s influence more than once
**actually, artist and printmaker Daley Walton came up with the original suggestion that we cycle the route in a day, but I’m not much of a cyclist