Friday, 27 January 2017



“Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”
-Charlie Chaplin

Looking back at the Hue psychocarte from 2014, experiencing disappointment: a pretty picture, but practically useless. A fraction of a battle map, spliced out and blown up, the details blurred and indistinct, all before the overlay… The plan had been to trace a random path through the citadel using the overlay, the route of a drive, but the streets were barely visible.

"All space is occupied by the enemy. We are living under a permanent curfew. Not just the cops — the geometry" -Raoul Vaneigem, The Unitary Urbanism Manifesto

The roots of the dérive (as opposed to its routes) are supposedly in urban warfare: the “aimless drift” was used as a means of reconnaissance. DeBord and the Situationists were engaged in cultural warfare, and via dtournement (cultural re-appropriation and re-purposing) these tactics were being turned back against the state. Like war, psychogeography was a political act. But like the actors portraying Joker and his comrades in Full Metal Jacket, there was also an element of play.

The closing chapter of Full Metal Jacket occurs in 1968/86 in Hue/Beckton. A crazed General, Kubrick, has ordered a platoon to wander through the remnants of a gasworks in search of a Vietnamese woman, whom they are to kill. She is the third and final woman, and the only one not to be presented by Kubrick as a sex object, though is equally disposable. The only enemy whose face is seen in close up- feminine, because the enemy must be emasculated. In the end, after a hard day’s play, the lads wander across the burning landscape, singing a song Mickey Mouse. In spite of yourself, you may just feel an incongruous warm glow inside.

Not only was 1968 a big year for Hue (just as 1986 was a big year for Beckton, although it would be made aware of that until long after the event), it was a big year for the Situationists. Increased militancy amongst industrial workers and students, culminating in a series of occupations, protests and a general strike nearly brought the French establishment to its knees. Though there were numerous socio-economic causes for this period of civil unrest, the Situationist International can take credit for providing some degree of leadership, and its writings strongly influenced the political graffiti of the time, which have provided some of the most enduring images of the period. 

Ultimately, the status quo prevailed, state power managed to suppress the protestors, and returned stronger and more resilient. Likewise, in Vietnam, the Tet offensive was ultimately crushed by the combined ARVN and US forces, and the rebel forces were expelled from all the major urban centres they had assaulted. In Europe and the USA, 1968 is often remembered as the last gasp of the counter-culture, a glorious failure. In Vietnam, the Tet offensive was a dress rehearsal for 1975, and victory for the revolutionaries (who, predictably, went on to impose their own repressive regime of state power). Ho Chi Minh’s forces succeeded, perhaps, because there was a coherent strategy in play, one which would outlive its progenitor.

Tet is rapidly approaching, 49 lunar years having passed since the infamous offensive, and the Battle for Hue. 31 years have likewise elapsed since the Battle of Hue was recreated at Beckton gasworks. Both of these are prime numbers. The 49th Boulevard was also the previous name given to Pham Van Dong Street in Hue. The time (and the cosmic numbers) is right for some kind of intervention. Yet without a coherent strategy- in this case, my psychocarte- there can be no opportunity for a successful operation. From the outset, the superimposition of a Hue map atop a map of Beckton (or perhaps the other way around) seemed like the best place to begin.
Sadly, it's been done before: here is Struan Brown's interpretation of Beckton overlaid on Hue. One cannot be startled by the fact that this has been done prior to it being imagined by me, but what is perhaps surprising is that Struan was actually a class mate of mine at the University of Greenwich. We studied together on the Landscape Architecture masters programme in 2014 (both of us had also been Greenwich students in 2013, but during different semesters). I have no memory of seeing this before, but was suddenly beset by a strange fear that I was experiencing cryptomnesia, the phenomenon of experiencing a memory as an original thought. 

Image by Struan Brown via

Perhaps of greater concern was the possibility that, having previously seen this image, the map of Hue had been buried in my subconscious, and that its presence there had subtly compelled me to find its origins. My journey to Hue, less than one year later, was not only on a whim but also somewhat serendipitous. Originally, I had obtained a job (via an agency) as an English teacher in Hanoi. Whilst booking the flights, I discovered it would be much cheaper to fly to HCMC and travel up to Hanoi independently than fly directly. On informing my agency, however, it transpired that this would not be acceptable to my prospective employer (I would have missed some "essential" part of the induction process whilst travelling from HCMC to Hanoi), and a new course of action was decided. Instead of teaching in Hanoi, I was told to meet up with a group of newly-qualified TEFL teachers in HCMC and travel with them to Hue, a city I believed I had never heard of.

It's hard to recall what was influencing my decision making processes at that time, the whole period prior to my departure is a miasmic blur. My memories of this period are a series of weird vignettes, mostly of one-on-one conversations with people who's lives are going to be somehow disrupted by my departure. There's no truth in them, really,: I've spliced and edited them back together too many times, there were filters on the lenses, and they're remakes anyway. 


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