Psycho Too

Will Self is a keen student of la dérive, a mode of enquiry practiced by French Situationists in the 1950s: drifting on foot through an unfamiliar place and taking in the ambience—the lay of the land, the light and weather, immediate attractions and spontaneous encounters — to glean how it affects our emotions and behavior: a psychogeography. Self might add food, art, music, and architecture to the above in fashioning this collection of peppery, unsettling vignettes. He is not an amused, debonair boulevardier, but rather a bodacious flaneur — gothic, pugnacious — outraged and tormented everywhere he goes by the whole consumerist/industrial calamity that sends him into a surreally existential lather. Keep him trimmed — say, 800 words per dérive — and he draws razory, jet-propelled, often scathing place portraits; give him too much rope, however, and the caffeinated verbosity burns too much oxygen. As in his earlier volume, Psychogeography, he starts with a longish piece, here a rant featuring Dubai City: “a buy-to-let scheme for oil bunce and capital flight; drug, gun and whoring money; a great dung heap of pelf.” It’s a trenchant mug shot, and Dubai deserves the thrashing, but Self whips the horse dead and whips some more. Better are the 50+ quick, fierce sketches, each as arresting as the burp of an automatic weapon: he takes a walk, he engages in astutely freewheeling association, he creates an intense little world on the page. Ralph Steadman’s artwork catches the mood of Self’s progress — spidery ink-pocked phantasmagoria, waxy with menace, twisted, hallucinatory — stepping out and into the likes of Margate and Baghdad, Easter Island and the Isle of Thanet, haunted forests, a hermit’s hut, and the close precincts of a bath house, where the inmates’ “brawny pink limbs floated in a vaporous haze…you could easily imagine yourself deep in the heart of the Amazon, with a bunch of Bororo crazed on yoppo”– an affecting ambiance if there ever was one.