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Landscapes/Cityscapes Situational Identity in British Literature and Visual Arts (20th-21st Centuries)
Cities of the mind

Will Self’s Parallactic Urban/Land-scapes in Walking to Hollywood

Walking to Hollywood : les paysages parallactiques de Will Self
Justine Gonneaud


À travers le prisme de la psychogéographie, cet essai traite des notions d’échelles, du sens de la proportion et de la perception pour analyser la relation complexe du sujet à son environnement telle qu’imaginée dans Walking to Hollywood : Memories Before the Fall, afin de montrer comment l’esthétique du paysage urbain s’inscrit chez Will Self dans une dynamique de représentation parallactique, conforme à l’acception du terme fournie par Slavoj Zizek.

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1Will Self’s well-known personal fascination for long walks through urban areas and liminal spaces and his concern with psychogeography appear in essays such as Psychogeography and Psycho Too, which are illustrated collections of his eponymous Guardian column. In his preface to the first one, the writer defines psychogeography as a way ‘to unpick this conundrum, the manner in which the contemporary world warps the relationship between psyche and place’, consistent with the initial Situationist description of the term (Self and Steadman 11). While acknowledging his indebtedness to the 1950s movement, Self differs from the original Debordian notion of derive—or drifting (Debord)—to the extent that his walks are ‘no randomised transit, intended to outfox prescribed folkways’ (2007, 15):

I’ve taken to long-distance walking as a means of dissolving the mechanised matrix which compresses the space-time continuum, and decouples human from physical geography. So this isn’t walking for leisure–that would be merely frivolous, or even for exercise–which would be tedious. No, to underscore the seriousness of my project I like a walk which takes me to a meeting or an assignment; that way I can drag other people into my eotechnical world view. (Self 2007, 165)

2From this perspective, walking becomes an act of insurgency against the contemporary world and the tyranny of distance, an assault against a form of transportation that decentres and destabilizes us (Self 2007, 19-20). In an interview with Jonathan Gharraie, the author underlines the reparative effects of such purposeful walks, as a strategy to suture the gap between technology and man: ‘[…] it occurred to me that I didn’t know anybody who had walked from Central London to the countryside, and I began to conceive of these ex-urban walks as a way of curing myself of the sense of dislocation that had come over me in my adult life. I’d ended up not knowing where I was in a very profound sense’ (Gharraie). In this respect, Self’s ‘particular brand of psychogeography’ (Self, 2007, 11) differs from that of other British psychogeographers, such as Ian Sinclair or Peter Ackroyd:

There are all sorts of proto-psychogeographers, from Blake to De Quincey to Dickens even, people who’ve all been walkers in the city, so I think that there is a big tradition of walking and writing about it. For Ackroyd and Sinclair, it’s the city that has the psyche. It becomes kind of mystical; it becomes the idea of the city as a person. So psychogeography becomes a kind of psychoanalysis of the person that is the place. (Self; Gharraie)

3On the contrary, Self’s practice of psychogeography is neither concerned with the ‘personality of place itself’, nor with its ‘deep topography’ (Self, 2007, 11), but, as observed by Hunter Hayes, with describing at length the psychic effects that places and urbanscapes have long had on him (Hayes 186). In stark contrast with the author’s definition of psychogeography as a disruptive and therapeutic process, the motif of walking as a healthy interruption to the hustle and bustle of urban life is rarely featured in Self’s dystopian renditions of the contemporary city. In earlier narratives such as Cock and Bull, ‘Scales’, ‘Waiting’ or ‘Tough Toys’, space and distance are experienced indirectly, through vehicles and driving, while the seemingly unexplored liminal places displayed in The Book of Dave or ‘Understanding the Ur-Bororo’ ultimately prove to be non-existent culturally fantasized places.

4In keeping with the idea of a cityscape rather experienced than observed and depicted from a distance, I would like to use the prism of psychogeography to analyze Will Self’s urbanscapes in one of his later works, Walking to Hollywood. At the crossroads between a novel and an essay, Walking to Hollywood mingles fiction and autobiography, with photographs taken by the author along his trips. Though connected and organized in chronological order, each chapter can be read as a separate novella, each illustrating a different form of distortion originating in mental disorder. The first chapter is dedicated to Self’s growing obsession with scales and proportions, as also embodied by his former childhood friend, Sherman Oaks, a dwarf turned contemporary artist whose creative process consists in producing upscale models of his own body. The second one, the eponymous ‘Walking to Hollywood’, describes Self’s journey to Los Angeles, in search of the murderer who killed movies as a media of artistic expression. Followed by a crew of cameramen documenting the enquiry, Will Self, speaking in the first person but played alternatively by two different actors, morphs into various movie and video game characters, illustrating his slow descent into psychosis. In the third chapter, the author, detecting the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, decides to undertake a restorative journey to Spurn Head, providing the canvas for an exploration of amnesia.

5Focusing on the notions of scale, proportions and perceptions, I would like to demonstrate that the changing faces of cityscapes challenge the reader’s assumptions regarding norms and standards by revealing the inherently relational nature of space. Secondly, I would like to argue that such motifs reveal a complex interplay between the urban environment and the perceiving subject whose identity is in turn equally shaped by this post-industrial and digital setting that it initially purported to fashion after its own views, in a Möbius strip-manner. Finally, I would like to show how Walking to Hollywood is built according to an aesthetics coherent with what Slavoj Zizek defines as a parallax view, able to aptly convey the experience of contemporary urbanity.

Scales and proportions

6The first chapter, entitled ‘Very Little’ stages the author’s obsession with scales and subsequent loss thereof. Originally fixated on the accuracy of sizes, proportions and measurements, the narrator gradually loses his sense of the medium size, leaving him only capable of perceiving with precision the extremes of the visible scope: the very little or the very big:

[…] casting wildly about the main street of the chichi resort town, I could make out the outlines of all intermediately sized things–such as cars, people and the no-good pagoda of Spinnakers seafood restaurant–but not their infill; whereas the very large things that blocked in the horizon–the hills, the bridge, Alcatraz–retained their detailing even in the twilight. (74)

7While the traditional material of description–what is immediately visible at eye level–disappears, the narrator can only focus on what is beyond or below the regular scope of the gaze:

Then there was Sherman, who, with his potbelly and droopy ears, was truly the presiding spirit of the very little, and who stood proud of the indistinctiveness of his setting, just as the very little things in the window of the Swarovski’s across the road–crystal strawberries dimpled with brilliants, vitrified bouquets half an inch high–leapt to my retina and swarmed there as veridical as after-images. (74)

  • 1 See Antony Gormley, Angel of the North, Gateshead: United Kingdom, 1998.

8As illustrated by the minute description of the jewels that he is able to make out from across the street, the description shifts between the minuscule and the monumental, or the minuscule turning into the monumental, as intermediately sized objects grow out of focus, and turn into an indistinct setting. The only person—and point of reference—that Self can still distinctly perceive is his friend Sherman Oaks, ‘the presiding spirit of the very little’, the dwarf artist whose trademark is implanting enlarged casts of his own body across the world (21), in a fashion reminiscent of the works of Self’s real-life friend, Antony Gormley.1 Ironically enough, Self comments that such monumental statues appear–comparatively speaking–‘dinky’ in a ‘globalized world of ever taller buildings, longer bridges and thicker dams’ (21), thus stressing the inherent relativity of so-called objective givens such as size, weight, proportions, measurements etc. Such a scale-shifting aesthetics additionally serves a satirical agenda:

At last, shorn of the encumbrance of any human scale whatsoever–no finicky aerials or watertank bobbins–the San Francisco skyline acquired, for me, the majesty others always claimed they found in it. Once we were down off the bridge and augering into the core of downtown, the sidewalks were as unthreatening as Hanna-Barbera backdrops, the homeless mere silhouettes, the traffic no longer steely but graphite–reduced to a few pencil marks on the fronts of the buildings. (75)

9The loss of scales turns the urbanscape into a postcard ensemble of cartoon and drawing, and the exclusion of the middle ground parodies a form of denial as the narrator overlooks the unpleasantness of the city. According to Graham Matthews, ‘following in the Swiftian tradition, Self […] manipulates [distortions of scale] in his fiction to direct readers into reconsidering or relearning their responses to the quotidian’ (Matthews 143). The erasure of absolute and universal standards, combined with the alterations of the perception of scales results in the coexistence or the collapse of the extremes into a uniformly deregulated space. In Self’s deluded mind, it becomes possible to ‘sign [one’s] name on a dust mote and [to] play billiards with Higgs bosons while simultaneously apprehending the sixty-mile span of the Middlesex tertiary escarpment’ (Self 2012, 110). The infinitely small and the infinitely big are both brought down (or up) to the same uniform dimension of the missing middle size, what he calls the ‘minumental’, offering a vision of space as culturally constructed and only reflective of the ways in which distance is measured and conquered, with the human scale as a point of reference.

10The second chapter emphasizes this point with a glimpse of the city as an analog or at times digital-scape, where London and Los Angeles turn into the unreal space of an ever-changing movie set: ‘What we are invited to read as the experience of psychosis neatly maps on to the experience of internet browsing in which users slide frictionlessly from one point of interest to another’ (Matthews 57). Psychosis, paranoia and loosing touch with reality are the premise of this chapte, in which Will Self, stricken with extreme forms of Capgras and Fregoli’s delusions (Self 2012, 325), seems to be trapped in an endless movie, becoming in turns, and this is a non exhaustive list: the Incredible Hulk (211), James Bond’s antagonist (163), two of the Bennet sisters (243), a character in Grand Theft Auto (200), an actress in a pornographic movie (241). He walks from reality to fiction to video game to music clip in jumps akin to hyperlink navigation, both recording and absorbing the cultural references that saturate the urban material along his walks, consistently defusing the reader’s sense of scale by constantly challenging the standard proportions of the real world. The change of scales is here extended to different ontological planes, questioning the very conditions of our existence not only in an urban context but also in our digital era.

11This depiction of a globalized world, where people travel as fast as information circulates on the internet, challenges the idea of walking as an escape from the constraints of urban life or travelling as a getaway. The very beginning of the chapter plays out this idea as a red herring, with the narrator originally expressing such a feeling of elation: ‘Each purposeful stride kicked me free from the entanglements of my life. […] I was safe now, walking out of town on a June morning’ (147-148). However, from the start of the journey, London’s architecture initiates a feeling of illusion and deception that will persist throughout the chapter:

The airy bulk of the gasometers, the heroic hulk of Battersea Power Station, the liberating span of Chelsea Bridge, the plane trees romping in the breeze along Sloane Street, the Michelin Man squatting on top of his building, the Linnaean façade of the Natural History Museum—the only disturbing note was struck by the branch of LA Fitness on Pelham Street, which, sited as it was beside the trompe l’œil Thurloe Square—a thin wedge of terrace hiding the District Line cutting–suggested movie trickery. (148)

12The human qualities and activities attributed to the buildings—either ‘heroic’, ‘liberating’ or romping’—stress the centrality of the anthropomorphic gaze, ultimately pointing to the mapping and building of the city as an optical illusion, organized and constructed as a movie set.

13Similarly, the idealized representation of the English countryside as a restorative refuge is further explored in the third chapter, where the author, detecting the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, decides to undertake a soothing ritual journey to walk the crumbling shores of Spurn Head. Such expectations are parodied through a multiple choice list that he prepares before his departure, lest he forgets the experience: ‘Flamborough Head is: (a) impressive (b) windy and desolate (c) desolate and oppressive (d) a jolly place, what with the wheeling gulls and the trippers taking tea beneath a candy-striped lighthouse (e) with its humped back and baleen cliffs, suggestive of a beached leviathan’ (353). However, this pastoral conception of the English countryside is soon undermined, when the narrator realizes that the chosen destination is being re-industrialized on a gigantic scale, through the implantation of wind turbines, which disgruntles even ‘the more extreme environmentalists, who, while they may have campaigned aggressively for renewable energy, never envisaged it being generated on quite this scale, nor predicated upon a gargantuan reindustrialization’ (356). The landscape, already spoilt by manmade constructions, is essentially described through anthropomorphic or architectural metaphors, echoing the stylistic tropes used for the descriptions of London and Los Angeles in a seemingly uniform perception of both urban- and land-scapes. In ‘Spurnhead’ for instance, ‘the wallpaper of the sky’ (425), ‘the corduroy of the fields’ (356), ‘the fat-bellied cooling towers’ (356) evoke the picturesque description of the urbanscape of London, with ‘the airy bulk of the gasometers, the heroic hulk of Battersea Power Station, the liberating span of Chelsea Bridge’ or, ‘the plane trees romping in the breeze along Sloane Street’ (148). While contemplating an ‘obese grey-white cloud’ waddling up into the blue sky from a power station (356), the narrator wonders: ‘Was this anthropomorphizing itself evidence of my part in a futile collective denial? For they were nothing, really, these clouds–only a portion of the thirty million tons of carbon the pair vomited out every year’ (357). Will Self negates the very notion of a liminal, unexplored or wild space by playing up the compression of distances and peeling off the poetic gloss of literary depiction. Such an impression is also conveyed by the way photographs occasionally supplement the descriptions and juxtapose natural elements and urban architecture, for instance a bridge and a river seen from above, both framed and displayed in a manner that equates them in the mind of the viewer (166).

14Self draws on the ‘symptomology of psychosis in order to distort scale and display the quotidian in a grotesque and unflattering light’ (Matthews 57). Both urban- and land-scapes are subjected to a similar distorting treatment, eroding the distinction between the different ‘-scapes’, satirically hinting at the leveling effect of globalization. Such a play on proportions and the relativity of scales only underlines the key role of the perceiving subject in building these relational spaces.

The ‘conundrum’ of Psyche and Place

15In the words of Marlin Coverley, psychogeography is the ‘point at which psychology and geography collide, a means of exploring the behavioural impact of urban space’ (Coverley 10), a phenomenon largely exemplified in Walking to Hollywood and epitomized by the crumbling shores of Spurn Head. As the banks disappear into the sea, the narrator’s amnesia seems to intensify, equating the unstable ground with the disintegrating memories of the Alzheimer-ridden mind. Similarly, the experience of walking the streets of L.A proves more challenging than expected, revealing the direct impact of urban mapping on the flâneur: ‘Counter-intuitively, a grid-plan city forces more decisions on the walker than the winding folkways of an older more haphazard urbanity’ (177). In this respect, the narrator’s arrival at Hull Paragon Station illustrates the way the play on scale and space impacts the mind of the perceiver:

As I had lurched stiffly from the train, I was struck by how lofty the vaulted roof seemed; tiny humans beetled along the grey platforms beside the worms’ casts of the rolling stock, while from up on high cold loads of light were let down through translucent perspex. By the time I had reached the booking hall the fugue had intensified: the old oaken island of a branch of W. H. Smith’s and the blind arches along the walls […] shored up the mounting sensation that I had arrived too late; that this was the voided […] outpost of an empire that, rather than being overthrown, had been undermined by creeping indifference. (347)

16The height of the ceiling relatively diminishes the size of the tiny humans, compared to beetles, which fosters a feeling of metaphysical anguish. Likewise, the gradual restriction of the narrator’s scope, slowly sliding into amnesia is mirrored geographically, as Spurn Head is described as ‘a vast parenthesis’ (362). As an echo, the words ‘bracket’ and ‘parenthesis’ repeated under various acceptations throughout the eponymous chapter, saturate the text in order to mirror the condition of Alzheimer’s patients, doomed to forget and repeat themselves while textually showing a steady constriction of space. Incidentally, the recurrence of the term also evokes the photographic practice of bracketing which will be addressed in the last part.

17Each chapter gives the reader access to reality as filtered by a dysfunctional mind, whether it be through the prisms of obsessive-compulsive disorder in chapter one, psychosis and paranoia in chapter 2 and amnesia in chapter 3. Both the textual space and the geographical location fuel the disorder affecting the narrator, offering in turn an opportunity to explore the role of perceptions in the construction of reality, as diagnosed by Dr Mukti, Will Self’s psychiatrist, on his patient’s return from Hollywood:

Your reality testing seems wholly adequate; rather, your obsessive-compulsive thought patterns appear to have become, um, engrafted in the external world. It’s as if by continuously viewing the world through the anthropomorphic lens of distorted scale, you have projected on to it a form of body dysmorphic syndrome. (109)

18The notion of the diseased mind acting as a prism engrafted upon reality also appears very literally throughout the novel, as the changes of scales are mediated by various lenses. Devices such as video cameras, Polaroids, digital cameras, CCTVs or sunglasses tangibly signify the active role of the perceiving subject in making sense of the environment and the distortive effect of such filters: ‘[…] windscreens are screens, after all–or lenses. Vehicular transport is either a cinema that you sit in passively while the world is shown to you, or else, if you drive, you’re operating a camera, directing the movie of your journey’ (124). This particular example underscores the ways in which modern forms of transportation decouple the subject from their environment, turning them into either passive spectators or active creators of an artificial un-reality. Such a reversal from screen to lens is equally reversible: ‘The window moaned down and I was confronted by two anxious Postlethwaites leering from the lenses of Bret’s Ray-Bans’ (238). Here, the lenses quite literally turn into mirrors that return a split image of the subject.

19Walking to Hollywood explores the ways not only perceptions alter our experience of reality, but how modern transportation, new and traditional media participate in this alteration. As suggested by Matthews, the chapter explores ‘the saturation of cultural forms such as music, film, novels and video games throughout society and likens the bombardment of consciousness with these myriad distractions to the experience of psychosis’ (Matthews 55), a process further complexified by the recurring motif of the mise en abyme, which appears during a trip to Godshill with Sherman, under the form of ‘a model village on the Isle of Wight, where [they] discover a model of the model village inside of it, and inside this model, model village a third’ (28) and peaks in the second chapter, through a complex interplay of embedded realities. While the journey to Hollywood serves as a frame for multiple episodes parodying genre movies where fiction and reality overlap, it is finally revealed, in an ultimate turn of the screw, that the whole chapter/ journey was none other than a psychotic episode, recorded and subsequently projected to Self by Dr Mukti as part of his therapy:

I sat on the plastic stacking chair watching myself writhe on the same plastic stacking chair, and, although I felt removed from the on-screen antics, it was a disjunction of perspective alone—the man in the room watching himself in the same room insistently demanded another recursion of this POV, another plastic stacking chair, another me. (110)

20Such a strategy of endless embedded narrative frames furthers the conflation of urbanscape and digital-scape, reality and fiction, selfness and otherness, whose boundaries appear not only blurred, but merely non-existent, resulting in loss of identity and alienation. Paradoxically, such an unstable representation of place and character also re-introduces the possibility of the agency of the subject. In this respect, Mark Davies explores Walking to Hollywood through the concept of ‘avatarization’, in the gaming acceptation of the term, suggesting that the game-like aesthetics of the book ‘provide an enticing impression of infinite possibility’ while the fictional character of Self-turned-avatar creates an ‘illusion of agency’ (Davies).

21In the novel, psychosis experienced through embedded realities constitutes an example parallax gap as defined by Zizek:

[…] putting two incompatible phenomena on the same level, is strictly analogous to […] the illusion of being able to use the same language for phenomena which are mutually untranslatable and can be grasped only in a kind of parallax view, constantly shifting perspective between two points between which no synthesis or mediation is possible. Thus there is no rapport between the two levels, no shared space—although they are closely connected, even identical in a way, they are, as it were, on the opposed sides of a Moebius strip. (4)

  • 2 This metaphor is also used by Maylis Rospide to describe how the interior and the exterior of the l (...)

22While reality serves as a basis for the virtual or fictional representations that entertain us, they are in turn shown as more filters superimposed on our perception of reality. The fluidity and reversibility of such conversions evoke the image of a Möbius strip.2 The motif of psychogeography, or the point where geography and psychology intersect, allows for an exploration of the various ways in which the contemporary urban condition impacts our sense of identity. Zizek’s contention that the Real is only graspable through a shift of perspective from one standpoint to another leads us to question the means of representation used by Self to—in his own terms—‘unpick this conundrum, the manner in which the contemporary world warps the relationship between psyche and place’ (Self 2007, 9).

Parallax: Suturing the Disconnected

  • 3 Slinkachu, Little People in the City: The Street Art of Slinkachu, foreword by Will Self, London, B (...)

23A clue to Self’s politics of scales might be found in the foreword the author wrote to the works of plastic street artist Slinkachu3:

I myself remain overpoweringly preoccupied by distortions of scale […]. When I came to be a man I acquired still more tiny things, and placed them in contexts that best enabled me to make the world intelligible. As I write this foreword, I look from the vertiginous height of my torso, upon a tiny set of wooden central London buildings […] that are grouped on the base of my Anglepoise lamp, together with a ‘minumental’ sculpture by Paul St George, which is itself a 1/500th scale model of Antony Gormley’s ‘Angel of the North’. (7)

24In a conflation of fact and fiction, this description of the author’s desktop appears almost verbatim at the beginning of ‘Very Little’, in which Will Self is described owning a 1:200 model of Behemoth, Sherman Oaks’ fictionalized version of Gormley’s Angel of the North (Self 2010, 13). In ‘Bigness and Littleness’, a column mainly dedicated to analyzing the art of Ron Mueck,4 Self adds in reference to Levi-Strauss that one of the main reasons ‘for the aesthetic satisfaction we gain from diminutions’ is that: ‘a small-scale model reverses our normal process of understanding: instead of apprehending a thing by advancing from an analysis of its parts to its whole, we are enabled by the production of a small-scale homologue to grasp it in its entirety at once’. This idea can be better understood with an example drawn from Psychogeography; when paralyzed by his fear of heights in the cable car during a trip to Barcelona, the author decided to film his way through the whole process to overcome his phobia: ‘It worked: as I was looking at a tiny little image of the drop, obviously I couldn’t possibly be above it. That wasn’t a real waiter setting up a table on the upper deck of that concrete cruise liner, the Barcelonan World Trade Center—but a Hollywood extra’ (239). For one thing, the previous example reveals that not only miniaturization, but also representation, or the practices of writing, filming, or capturing images are crucial to the process of disentangling the modern conundrum of psyche and place. In Feeding Frenzy, Self argues that ‘[t]here’s only one way to arrest this entropy of the city–keep writing about it’ (46), suggesting that agency dwells in the very act of describing the decaying urban material and its impact on the perceiver. Tellingly, the pictures and Polaroids mentioned in Walking to Hollywood focus on minute details: ‘[…] no one I knew personally wielded a Polaroid camera as I did, taking one snap of the knobs on the front of the gas cooker, a second of the fridge door shut, a third of my hand holding the front-door knob, a fourth of the blur as I pulled it to, a fifth of my hand pushing it to confirm that the latch had sprung’ (49). The focus on details, the miniaturization combined with the successive snapshots of a single action (here closing the fridge door) might be seen as an attempt to produce more intelligible images of the world. However, such a process would be simplistic and reductive, for in many instances, the proliferation of images produced simultaneously by CCTVs, fiction, pop culture, art, games and changes of perspectives act as solvents of the self and fuel for psychoses.

25In ‘Very Little’, the loss of sense of the medium size forces the focalizer, and the reader to adopt radically different standpoints, ranging from the monumental to the minuscule, providing only indirect metaleptic access to the lost middle ground. This swift change of perspectives evokes what Zizek defines as a parallax view:

The standard definition of parallax is: the apparent displacement of an object (the shift of its position against a background), caused by a change in observational position that provides a new line of sight. The philosophical twist to be added, of course, is that the observed difference is not simply ‘subjective’, due to the fact that the same object which exists ‘out there’ is seen from two different stances, or points of view. (17)

26In the previous example, the succession of Polaroids decomposing a single action brings to mind the practices of bracketing and chronophotography, also referenced through the address of the second chapter, borrowed from Chris Marker, director of La jetée, while the end of the first chapter textually mimics the latter with ever shorter fragmented paragraphs. Chronophotography captures one single movement in several frames, while bracketing consists in taking several shots of the same subject with slight variations of exposure. Both paradoxically imply the production of multiple images to grasp one single action or object.

27Based on Slavoj Zizek’s postulate that:

The Real is thus the disavowed X on account of which our vision of reality is anamorphically distorted; it is simultaneously the Thing to which direct access is not possible and the obstacle which prevents this direct access, the Thing which eludes our grasp and the distorting screen which makes us miss the Thing. More precisely, the Real is ultimately the very shift of perspective from the first standpoint to the second. (Zizek 26)

28It is my contention that Will Self combines both visual effects of bracketing and chronophotography in Walking to Hollywood, in order to account for the complexity of the urban material and its impact on the identity and the behaviour of the perceiver. The experience of the city is conveyed by a succession of textual snapshots, with variations of perspective, that both decompose and disentangle the urban conundrum, all the while accounting for its complexity.

29In London in Contemporary British Fiction, Philip Tew and Nick Hubble argue that ‘the real London is inherently paradoxical, and discernible only through its parallax gaps as an inscrutable presence always complicating any attempt to reduce the experience of the city to one readily explicable cause and effect’ (Tew and Hubble 8). In keeping with this idea, I would argue that the photographic processes Will Self uses in Walking to Hollywood are ways to make the unintelligible urban condition intelligible, while retaining its intricacy. Hunter Hayes observes that Self’s representation of urbanscapes ‘owes much to the fact that London appears as a jumble of paradoxes, a mélange of apparent antitheses which don’t so much quarrel with one another as insist that the reader comprehend them all simultaneously’ (186). Drawing on the symptomology of psychosis, Will Self’s parallactic psychogeography strives to make sense of the ‘entropy of the city’ (Self 2001, 46). Such strategies as miniaturizing and blowing up, zooming in or out, changing scales and perspectives provide glimpses of a mutable contemporary urban material, while simultaneously flaunting the gaps and the blind spots that elude comprehension.

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Coverley, Merlin, Psychogeography, Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2006.

Davies, Mark, ‘Contingency and Avatarization in the Narrative Worlds of Wyndham Lewis and Will Self’, Études britanniques contemporaines 52 (2017), last accessed at, on January 07, 2018.

Debord, Guy, ‘Théorie de la dérive’, Les Lèvres nues 9 (1956), last accessed at,038.html, on January 06, 2018.

Gharraie, Jonathan, ‘Will Self on Walking To Hollywood’, The Paris Review 22 June. 2011, last accessed at on May 23, 2018.

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Rospide, Maylis, ‘“The loop became a Möbius strip”: Autonomy and Commitment in Will Self’s Work’, Jean-Michel Ganteau and Christine Reynier eds., Autonomy and Commitment in Twentieth-Century British Literature, Montpellier: PULM, 2010.

Self, Will, ‘Waiting’, The Quantity Theory on Insanity, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991, 173-211.

Self, Will, ‘Understanding the Ur-Bororo’, The Quantity Theory on Insanity, London : Penguin, 1991, 69-95.

Self, Will, Cock and Bull, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993.

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Self, Will, Tough Tough Toys for Tough Tough Boys, New York: Grove Press, 1998, Ebook.

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Zizek, Slavoj, The Parallax View, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2006.

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1 See Antony Gormley, Angel of the North, Gateshead: United Kingdom, 1998.

2 This metaphor is also used by Maylis Rospide to describe how the interior and the exterior of the loop of autonomy seamlessly merge with commitment. See Maylis Rospide, ‘“The loop became a Möbius strip”: Autonomy and Commitment in Will Self’s Work’, Jean-Michel Ganteau and Christine Reynier eds., Autonomy and Commitment in Twentieth-Century British Literature, Montpellier: PULM, 2010.

3 Slinkachu, Little People in the City: The Street Art of Slinkachu, foreword by Will Self, London, Boxtree, 2008.

4 Will Self, ‘Bigness and Littleness’, The Guardian, Aug 20, 2010, last accessed at, on Jan 06, 2018.

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Justine Gonneaud, « Will Self’s Parallactic Urban/Land-scapes in Walking to Hollywood »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 55 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2018, consulté le 03 mars 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Justine Gonneaud

Justine Gonneaud is a senior lecturer at the University of Avignon and a member of ICTT research team. Her research focuses on issues of ethics and gender and, more recently, on the development of a contemporary mode of urban art and ethos in contemporary British literature in the works of authors such as Will Self, Jeanette Winterson, Angela Carter or Peter Ackroyd.

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