Author Archives: George Ross

City of Words – St. Petersburg

I came across an extremely neat map today in the New Yorker which has finally put psychogeography in a relatable perspective for me – a literary map of my hometown, St. Petersburg, Russia, made up entirely of the words of its poets and writers, many of them embedded in my mind and my understanding of the city:

(perhaps my favourite quote, upper left – “the most abstract and artificial city in the world”)

Ironically it’s psychogeography that was a bit abstract and artificial to me throughout this course to be honest. I think part of it has to do with the fact that the way we engaged space in the course and the kind of space we engaged has really been difficult for me to relate to. I’ve never been to Paris. I’ve traveled little in my life. And I still don’t quite understand North American urban space. The map, meanwhile, puts a lot of this in perspective – where Kitchener/Waterloo and North American urban space in general for me are a map of melancholia, St. Petersburg is a kind of deep, sublimely interesting depression – in many ways a sublime city to the mind of someone raised within its cultural traditions.

Some rather chilling coincidences with my own personal mapping of the city – the location where I was born has the word “Child” across it. Vasilievsky Island, where I was born and lived most of my life, is both very prominently positioned and often referenced in words. But most interesting is perhaps the way death permeates a lot of the language on the map – much as it does the entire city’s mythology and  history.

And in any case, a very neat map. It speaks to me as a long-time resident of that place and a reader of that literature.


Wishing to join a group…

Hi everyone,

Sorry to be making this request so late, but is there any group who still have room for one (very, very lost) PhD student? I have been doing quite a lot of “flanneurism” (I hate that word…) in the past few days, but I simply keep drawing a blank on ideas for this project, just as I had for Chora. This is largely because I am, in a very real sense, a foreigner to this place. I grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia, in a rather odd sociocultural class of late Soviet-era intellectuals. I’m pretty sure I don’t make sense of urban space the way the rest of you probably do since, if I’m not mistaken, I am the only one in the class not native to North America. This is a bit of a problem when it comes to engaging with local urban space for me. So much what I see in urban space here is personally confusing, and often banal and alienating – and without people to guide me along in it and help me make sense of it, I get lost on a kind of psychogeographic level. I’m not trying to be mean or pretentious on that (i.e. “I don’t like your country/city”) – I’m sure those of you who’ve travelled to vastly different places and societies might have felt the same sense of being lost and not at home (“unheimlich”?), even if you lived there for a long time. Which is precisely why I’m stuck for ideas of my own here – I don’t even know where to start. I honestly dread having to go out there alone again and try to conceptualize it – I’m still a little traumatized by my experience with the Chora project on that to be honest…

On the other hand that’s a seeming disadvantage that could easily be turned to a very real and potentially interesting advantage for a group – I would bring a different perspective (subject position?) to the table, and on top of that also my background in discourse analysis and linguistics that could be really useful. I would also be quite willing to pick up a lot of the writing work if needed. Please let me know ASAP if you could spare a place for another member for your group! I would really appreciate it and do my best to return the favour in dedication & honest effort on the project.



Circular Nonsense and/or Choric Metaphor? A Post-Modern Folktale.

I can’t quite put my finger on this whole Chora thing, but in light of the Kristeva and Derrida readings (which confused me beyond all means) I could only think of a favorite set of “avant-garde folktales” of mine, which I thought I would translate and transcribe here. I haven’t quite formed an explanation of how and where Chora (in metaphoric/pun/other form) is in these, and I will try to get back to this later and post again on that. Meanwhile if anyone wants to jump in and look for Chora here – please do!

A word about these – “Jerzy and Petrucco”  (Ezhy and Petrutcho) is a Russian avant-garde transmodal entertainment/media project that was run between 1997 and 2007 by radio station employees Andrei Dergachev and Andrei Andrianov,which combined improvised spoken word performance, music sampling, and at later stages also animation. As the authors claim, there is no point, order or deeper meaning to the stories, while the two eponymous characters are in fact completely arbitrary. I’ve no authorship in all this, and I’m merely translating and re-arranging some of the stories here to try and play with some of the potentially-useful metaphors contained therein. (official site in Russian:

I must warn that this will probably not make much sense, but I enjoyed trying to think Chora through something that makes about as little sense as the concept itself, and hey, if I’ve already spent hours translating it, might as well share it…

It also seems to relate to space in quite a few ways, constantly juxtaposing urban and pre-urban space, so it’s possibly relevant.




Picture(esque)s in the snow?

I took these pictures on the north side of campus, mostly in the fields near Columbia Lake which were sufficiently empty for me to engage in explorations of existential dread and such. Honestly, I think with these sorts of things the line between picturesque and sublime is a bit blurry, though here I think the pictures fall more toward the picturesque – essentially abandonment, resignation of a human-structured word to natural forces, most obviously emphasized here by the endless fields of snow, most of it untouched by human activity. There are human-placed items, most obviously signs, at the centre of these that have a definite function as part of a world of order, which have been placed there by human action in certain roles, but the human agency is now gone and the scene is abandoned to the ever-present snow that slowly makes its mark on everything, in a way that can’t be helped (as one of the pictures emphasizes in a sort of silly way). Rather than “shock and awe” of purely sublime pictures, I think these show a sort of a reminder of chaos that shows itself in subtle ways. So, picturesque? You tell me.

On the other hand, I think abandonment and ruins are not neccesarily only picturesque, and can really be sublime and incredibly striking. My absolute favorite example, which I’m ashamed to post next to my crummy pictures, is this mind-blowing (IMHO) scene from Tarkovsky’s “Stalker”:

(Perhaps that one should’ve gone up on the projector today as an example?)