Smith, Phil (2010) Mythogeography: a Guide to Walking Sideways. Axminster: Triarchy Press.
“Those familiar with the exhausted history of the arcane will pretty quickly identify the structure of the book” (Preface, p.9). Those unfamiliar may like me think WTF! as they flick through it to try and get an idea of the contents.
There are introductory notes, footnotes, endnotes, appendices, a panography (bibliography extended beyond books to, well, anything of significance), a legend and even a contents page.
And yet… it is Heath Robinson, Stockhausen, late Kandinsky in book form.
Purporting to be by “The Central Committee”, questioned as a jest by the first of many publishers’ and editors’ notes scattered throughout, it is nevertheless dominated by the two narratives of AJ Salmon and the Crab Man.
The former, entitled “The E – – – – – Walking Cult” (yes, Mythogeography contains many such coy dashes; this one is easily identifiable as Exeter, others are given away elsewhere in the text), is not only split in two, beginning the main section of the book and forming Appendix 1, but immediately directs the reader to an endnote in the middle, which serves only to undermine the text.
The latter is the Crab Man’s description of his walk in the footsteps of C – – – – – – H – – – – (Charles Hurst) as he crossed England from M – – – – – – – – – (Manchester) to M – – – – – – (Morcott) planting acorns; his digressions and meanderings of thought and step; and his creative encounters along the way.
The Preface advises “those less than thrilled by literary intrigues … to avoid [these] narratives”.
The rest of the book comprises: “What is Mythogeography?” – presented as more of a toolkit, given that mythogeography “must always be a mixture of thoughts and actions, and not so much a theory, but a series of approaches, a set of modest survival strategies, a bran tub of prefigurative behaviours…” (p.110), and drawing on the Situationists’ practice of the dérive or drift; extracts from the handbooks of various walking cults; an impassioned insert by a Nomad about women walking and pirates; an Orrery – the ur document of these handbooks (think Q, the reconstructed source of the bits of Luke and Matthew which were not lifted from Mark); and another impassioned insert by the publisher who hates the Orrery.
One particular tool of note, Khlestakovian Inscrutability: “when you next want to get in somewhere, say as little as possible … staying physically very present but not overbearing. Given the general human discomfort with gaps and pauses, otherwise obstructive guards, porters, janitors and concierges may fill the void with an invitation.” (p.154).
If not for the occasional flash of recognition (Richard Long, John Cheever, Gaston Bachelard), I would think this was a huge, marvellous, nose-thumbing prank. As it is, I am left feeling straight-laced, like a tag-along to a well-marked route, and verging on overwhelmed by the already vast corpus… but conscious that there is always going to be room for more.
Some people think I’m bonkers
But I just think I’m free…