In a world that is increasingly transformed by technological innovation, it is easy to become occupied by the latest technologies and experience life through a digital lens. The world around us is always changing, with new exchanges, discoveries and events taking place at any given moment.
Ahead of their walking workshop at the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE) conference in November, Professor Oz Hardwick and Dr Amina Alyal discuss how our everyday surroundings are always changing – evoking our senses to new experiences and inspiring creativity.
How often do we walk through familiar streets, our minds on other matters, to arrive at our destination not even recalling how we got there? Even if we aren't looking down at our phones, our ears buzzing to music, a podcast, or a business call, it seems to be the standard mode of urban existence. Yet, if we take the time to look, to listen, and to feel, we will discover that even the most mundane, habituated journeys are never the same twice; not only because of the way things change around us, but also because we never experience things in the same way.
With this in mind, at the annual National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE) conference in November, we shall be leading a group of delegates on what the mid-twentieth century French philosopher, theorist, and filmmaker, Guy Debord called a dérive. Literally translated as a "drift," Debord described this as "a mode of experimental behaviour linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances" – a practice of passing though cities at random with one's senses alert to every sensory nuance of the experience. The practice underpins what has become known as "psychogeography": that is, the study of place – generally urban – in terms of the effects it has on the individual as they inhabit and pass through it. This has had a profound effect on writers such as Iain Sinclair, Will Self, Paul Farley, and Michael Symmons Roberts, as well as upon our own work: for a recent example see Oz's collaboration with John Pilgrim in Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd 2 – Spirit of Place (Wyrd Harvest Press, 2019).
The NAWE conference is in York this year, a city that welcomes nearly seven million visitors each year, with many thronging to the Jorvik Viking Centre, York Minster, and streets like the famous Shambles. Even in such a famous and photographed city, though, there are a million shifting sights, sounds, and smells, and even the most iconic landmarks change with each passing glance. We'll be thinking about details and, yes, the occasional devil, as we open up thinking about how we can constantly find inspiration just by experiencing familiar places with eyes and minds open for the unexpected.
Professor Hardwick and Dr Alyal are lecturers in English and Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University. For more information about undergraduate and postgraduate courses visit our website.
The NAWE conference takes place in York from 8-10 November.