Waugh’s Psychogeographic Experience

In a posting to his weblog The Hollywood Walker, writer Geoff Nicholson compares the travel experiences in Malta of Evelyn Waugh and Thomas Pynchon. This seems to have been suggested to him by Paul Fussell’s 1980 book Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars. Nicholson, who has written a book about The Lost Art of Walking, describes Waugh’s Maltese psychogeographic experience in his posting (8 March 2017) :

I’m never sure how I feel about that old psychogeographic strategy of using a map of one place while walking in another. … But suddenly I find some psychogeography avant la letter in a rather surprising place – in Evelyn Waugh’s travel book Labels. It was his account of the 1929 Mediterranean cruise he took with his wife, who was of course also named Evelyn. One of the places they visited was Malta, and Waugh bought himself a guide book titled Walks in Malta by one F. Weston.

Waugh reports that he enjoyed the book, “not only for the variety of information it supplied, but for the amusing Boy-Scout game it made of sight-seeing. ‘Turning sharply to your left you will notice …’ Mr. Weston prefaces his comments, and there follows a minute record of detailed observation. On one occasion when carrying his book, I landed at the Senglea quay, taking it for Vittoriosa, and walked on for some time in the wrong town, hotly following false clues and identifying ‘windows with fine old mouldings,’ ‘partially defaced escutcheons,’ ‘interesting iron-work balustrades,’ etc., for nearly a quarter of a mile, until a clearly non-existent cathedral brought me up sharp to the realization of my mistake.”

Most of us, without calling ourselves psychogeographers, have done something similar on our travels, looked for the right thing in the wrong place, found we were looking at the wrong page of the map, found we weren’t where we thought we were, and so on. Sometimes it feels simply annoying, sometimes we see the funny side, like Waugh, and I suppose once in a while we do experience a Debordian derangement of the sense.

Bold face text is from Labels (1974 ed.) p. 128. The remainder of the article deals with Nicholson’s consideration of Pynchon’s descriptions of Malta in his novel V and the two schools of thought as to whether or not Pynchon had ever been to the island. Nicholson had also made a trip to Malta, but without either Waugh’s or Pynchon’s books to rely on, so he tries to reimagine psychogeographically his own walks several years later after reading about theirs.

This entry was posted in Evelyn Waugh, Humo(u)r, Labels and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.