Kai Tan


“The Psychogeographical Reader: Embodiment and Psychogeographical Literary Moments in Contemporary English Novels” (working title)


Prof. Dr. Jan Alber, RWTH Aachen, and Dr. Nicole Falkenhayner, Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg


In recent decades, research on cognition has shown how embodiment plays an essential role to our experiencing and sense-making of the world (see, for example, The Embodied Mind [1991] by Varela et al., as well as works on the topic by Shaun Gallagher, and The Feeling Body: Affective Science Meets the Enactive Mind [2014] by Giovanna Colombetti). In response to the findings on humans as embodied beings, this project presents the embodied reader as a psychogeographical who enacts in the narrated world. In particular, this project attends to the reader’s affective enactivism in contemporary English texts. The notion of the psychogeographical reader connects the walking practice of psychogeography, a political approach to urban space, with the harder sciences. Defined by Guy Debord, the leader of the avant-garde movement the Situationist International (SI), in “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography” (1955), psychogeography is ‘the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals’ (translated by Ken Knabb, Situationist International Anthology , 2006, link). While the practice of psychogeography—one often associated to its aesthetic and surrealist forebears—did not obviously correspond to its seemingly scientific definition, the actual ethos of psychogeography coincided with the current emphasis on embodied cognition when it called for city inhabitants to take to the streets with methods of the dérive and the détournement in order to experience urban space—by now capitalised and shaped in the form of the spectacle—through their own embodied manner. In literary and cultural studies, the word “psychogeographical” has been used to describe writers and texts (see works by W. G. Sebald, Iain Sinclair, Will Self, Nick Papadimitriou etc. as well as Aragon’s Paris Peasant from 1926; also see Löffler’s idea of the psychogeographical literary moments in Walking in the City : Urban Experience and Literary Psychogeography in Eighteenth-Century London [2017]); however, the reader has not been attached with this adjective.

Taking heed from ongoing discussions in cognition that account for the human reader as an embodied being that is always situated in space, this dissertation presents the embodied reader as a psychogeographical one who, through affective enactivism, situates him-/herself in the narrated space. As one would in real space, the psychogeographical reader interacts with affordances in the given narrated space, through which he/she makes sense of not only the narrated world but also other possible worlds. Accounting for growing interests in methodologies for teaching the concept of space, this project will also put forth plans for teaching people to read psychogeographically and report on findings from such courses conducted during the PhD period.