For some time I’ve been considering saying more about the psychonautical method that lies behind many of the posts here. A recent exchange in the comments on this post touched on this, and stimulated me to say a little more. So here, for once, is some explanation, rather than the usual mystification.
So… what I do here is, I suppose, related to psychogeography, although that term is generally used with regard to the exploration of urban spaces, and the Shoreline is obviously not in that category. However, an old psychogeographical trick, originated (I think) by the Situationists, was to navigate through one place using a map of another. An example might be using a London street atlas to plan a route around, say, Edinburgh (or indeed any city other than London itself). There is more to this than mere pranksterism: this apparently perverse exercise disrupts the standard relationship between map and territory, and between the explorer and the space explored. It more or less forces one to look at one’s surroundings with fresh eyes and a mindset based on curiosity and possibility. It may also generate strange resonances or synchronicities between the “wrong” map and the environment, and in so doing open the channel to mystery and wonder. Thus the day-to-day drudgery of urban alienation may be temporarily transmuted into something altogether more joyous.
The Haunted Shoreline works on a similar principle, except the ‘map’ is not any kind of street atlas or ordnance survey. It is just a very simple model of the psyche, divided into conscious and unconscious aspects. Something like this:
.. although I should stress that there is no need whatsoever to buy into Freudian ideas/terms (id, ego, superego) to grasp what I am getting at here: a simple division of mind into conscious and unconscious is enough.
This ‘map’ is then applied to the beaches near where I live. The sea is the unconscious, the land is the conscious. The Shoreline is the liminal threshold between the two.
From this basic method, all else proceeds. The rocks, fossils, found objects, and sea creatures I encounter become signs and portents, loaded with symbolism as they wash up from the depths. By taking the concept seriously- some of the time, at least- I can pursue and decode this symbolism, and draw conclusions from it. Of course, sometimes the only conclusion is one of wonderment at the sheer exhilarating strangeness of it all – and that’s plenty good enough for me. At times, however, peculiar insights emerge, like pieces of pirate’s treasure. The thoughts at which I eventually arrived when considering this fossilised sea urchin, for example, were for me genuinely uplifting, and I revisit them sometimes when I need cheering up.
Not long after I started the blog, a friend got in touch and politely enquired about my mental health. I understand why: this commingling of inner and outer worlds is, indeed, a hallmark of psychosis. So I should emphasise that this approach requires that one be deadly serious about it, while simultaneously finding it inherently absurd. This peculiar liminal space between belief and unbelief is, in one sense, the very essence of what the Shoreline is all about.
To put it another way: a reader recently emailed me (that’s firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to do likewise, or search for ‘Haunted Shoreline’ on Facebook) to ask whether I ‘really believe’ some of the things I write here (in fact his specific question was whether I really believed that my discovery of the pebble I called ‘the Wombstone‘ was a sign that something was ‘about to be born’). I can answer this very easily: no, I do not believe these things… and neither do I disbelieve them. In fact the question of ‘belief’ is completely irrelevant to me here. I entertain possibilities, and sometimes I find that these possibilities entertain me in return.
As with the Situationists on their urban derives, there is a particular state of mind which comes upon me when I hit the beach. Recently I came up with the term Psychedelic Omnivision as an attempt to encapsulate it in a catchy phrase, and hopefully thus avoid any need to laboriously dissect or describe it further. The image at the top of this post was not created by me – it’s just a random piece of internet flotsam that turned up in my Facebook feed a couple of days after the phrase first occurred to me, and struck me as being as good a pictorialisation of ‘psychedelic omnivision’ as I would be likely to find anywhere (although the lady at the back appears to have totally lost her head).
In fact I’ve been building up something of an archive of arresting Shoreline-related images found online- here’s another:
The Victor Hugo quote below the picture translates as “Imagination is nothing other than the reflection of Nature in the soul of Man”. I can’t think of a better note on which to end.