Responses the journal

Reflection 6: The London Perambulator


This reflection is not to something written this time. Today it is to be a response to The London Perambulator, a documentary by John Rogers. I have been given a series of potential Responses, and am to choose two of them as I see fit.

The London Perambulator

The documentary is a mixture of interviews and footage surrounding the life and philosophy of a man named Nick Papadimitriou. This documentary is a bit bizarre, a bit hard to follow, and seems to wander from topic to topic without much organization or linearity. This is what I know: Papadimitriou is a British writer who focuses on the topography of London and the surrounding areas. He provided materials and inspiration for Will Self’s The Book of Dave, which features something called The Knowledge, an intimate familiarity with London that is a required tool of cabbies and which Self likely drew from Papadimitriou. The footage of Papadimitriou shows his unique introspection about the city, including his belief that when an individual arrives at a place, they are passing through a portal to fuse with the landscape. Papadimitriou has deep knowledge of London, which the documentary refers to as the “city of disappearances”. Self and other writers viewed Papadimitriou as a source of inspiration, as he was both “so obviously a character”, and the creator of an archive of London composed of bits of the city. Papadimitriou takes issue with the idea that all walking counts as psychogeography, and challenged the notion by bringing in the practice of “deep topography”, which this website quotes Papadimitriou as referring to “an acknowledgement of the magnitude of response to landscape”. It seems to refer to immersing yourself in the history behind the landscape, which he embodies with his extensive knowledge of the history of London’s places, and his intimate familiarity with those places. Papadimitriou still acknowledges psychogeography, at least in the context of memories that come alive when revisiting places from your past, the idea that these memories are embedded in the place itself, laying dormant until you returned to the location and caused them to awaken. One of the individuals interviewed for the documentary referred to Papadimitriou as not merely a flaneur or local historian, but as being more than the sum of his parts. Papadimitriou seems to have a particular fascination with a “purification center”, which I’m pretty sure is part of the sewage system, as he refers to “the bit that we deny in ourselves” as dirt/shit, and the “end result of years of therapy” as molten purification.  He also refers to the purification center as “The huff of the landscape”, explaining that everything terminates at this spot. One of the interviewees referred to Papadimitriou as kind of like an arsonist, saying something along the lines of “imagine you meet an arsonist” and you ask them why they set fires, and the arsonist says there was a fire within me and I wanted to express the fire by seeing it. This same interviewee refers to Papadimitriou / his work as “lucid confusion”. The rest of the documentary continues to delve into its subject, touching on his journey as a way for him to gain power over something, to gain a powerful ally in his struggling against something that roughly handled him. Papadimitriou wants “21st century urban dwellers to see what’s on the end of their fork”, and believes the suburbs are fleeting while the landscape is eternal.

initial reaction

This whole documentary is, frankly speaking, a bit baffling. I understand that Papadimitriou has spent years, decades, roaming the landscape and has a rich repertoire of knowledge regarding London, but I don’t quite know what to make of it. Some of these individuals we have discussed, which I internally refer to as “Artist Philosophers”, have ideas that are easy for me to follow and dissect. Others, like Papadimitriou, seem to think in such a uniquely bizarre way that it is difficult for me to comprehend where he is going with all this. The lack of linearity or conscious narrative in the documentary seems to reflect the aimless wanderings of its subject, but it does me no favors when trying to grasp the core thesis of his ideas.

Response 2: The London Perambulator

Question D: Dada and Surrealism had interrupted and subverted the language with which they worked, invoking a wider world of meanings which challenged conventional arrangements of reality.  Based on Papadimitriou theories on urbanism, what stands out as real? How and why? How do landscapes have a memory in this context?

In the documentary, Papadimitriou refers to the suburbs as a “momentary dream of a mushroom god, stating that the streets and houses can all be blown away, but it would take a cataclysm to to change the landscape. Suburbia, to him, is eerie, simply a place where a person lives and dies, then another takes their place. with the way he describes the suburbs as being temporary and easily destroyed when compared to the landscape, it seems clear to me that it is only the landscape itself that counts as real to him at all. His other thoughts about the landscape, as a powerful force and a place where memories are stored, gives more context to this idea. It seems to me that the landscape itself is alive, that it has the power to take your memories and store them in its physicality until you get close enough to stir them up again. Walking is breathing to him, walking is memory. By walking to a place, which he describes as a way to fuse with the landscape, it seems he is seeking spiritual union with the landscape, whose realness stands fast against the vaporous nature of the things built upon it.

Question E: The nature writer Robert Macfarlane called them “edgelands”, the philosopher Sigmund Freud called them “unconscious” parts of the city. How would you characterize the “overlooked” spaces of the landscape— the liminal yet interactive zones between man and nature in our societies? Ponder about these based on Papadimitriou observations of them and create your own definition of them, complete with examples.

Liminal spaces are, to me, the in between places, the space between coming and going, the interlocked fingers connecting the two everlasting beings of “here” and “elsewhere”. They are the blurred places between the familiar and the unknown, the spot when you realize you truly aim to be away from home. There is an inherent unreality of these places, places just enough obscure that one might look to them and imagine a portal to the fae nestled in the weeds growing in the abandoned parking lot, or peering out through the cracks of the run down gas station. Liminal spaces, when I imagine them, are just this sort of thing. Liminal space is a gas station on the edge of town, barely held together as its weathered facade becomes worn down, blurring on the edges as it blends into the landscape. I find liminal space in an abandoned mall that remains in the style of the decade it was built, a broken down time capsule mouldering in the past. Liminal space is a long-lost playground, overgrown with the wild until it no longer resembles a place of childhood joy, the memory of youth strangled in the weeds. These places are all between: the gas station is between the town and the open road, the mall between us and the collective past, the play ground between your adult self and your inner child. I find liminal space looks best bathed in the sunset, in the blurred, unreal colors of the dying day, the softness between day and night. Even the dock at the edge of my neighborhood, well tended though it may be, serves as liminal- no one goes there for the purpose of being on the dock, it is merely the jumping-off point, the place where you say farewell to land and hello to the sea. There is a mountain-bike park called Blue Clay in my area that I think of as liminal- its existence is born from unreality, a series of steep hills and false mini-mountains sprouting from the flat landscape of the coastal plains, built upon an old landfill, decades of detritus made to resemble pristine nature. Hospitals are liminal too, our interactions within their sterile walls a brief stop, a temporary crossroads between recovery and death. There is a reason, I think, that the descriptions of the fae resemble that of the sickly- the too-narrow fingers, the protruding bones, the glazed look in their eyes that speaks of numbing drugs or overwhelming pain. Humanity is both overwhelmed and intrigued in what they see as “not-right”, what they see as “strange”. There’s a reason we have a subculture dedicated to exploring abandoned buildings, a reason we see places as haunted. Memories of a vibrant past blend with the wilted present, a place once full of life reduced to a rotting structure. All of this is liminal. All of this is territory of the mushroom god, the living, plant-like creature with alien intelligence that creeps over the dead and rotting and consumes it, the beings that signal the presence of fae. Liminal space belongs to the changeling, the this-is-not-my-loved-one, the imposter being that haunts our nightmares. There is dangerous magic in the liminal, I strongly believe, in the rot and the overgrowth and the crumbling and the blurry.