Alexander Trocchi: Glasgow through the eye of a needle

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)


    By 1983, a year before his death, Alexander Trocchi was living as an antique book dealer and heroin addict in some obscurity and squalor in a flat in London. On his wall was a large poster of the Situationist city, Constant Nieuwenhuy’s New Babylon. This was no mere decoration, Constant’s vision of a new type of city resonated with Trocchi’s own version of alternative spatial practices which he had been pursuing in fiction, manifesto and in life for more than thirty years. Indeed, as well as being considered by Guy Debord as one of the founders of the Situationist International, Trocchi had consorted and exchanged ideas with that other key post-war group of spatial critics and explorers, the so-called Beat Generation, before finally dedicating himself to a heroin-fuelled self-exploration as a ‘cosmonaut of inner space’.

    This paper investigates the uses of space in Trocchi’s novels and especially Young Adam and Cain’s Book. It argues that the liminal and ephemeral sites occupied by the protagonists represent age-old archetypal spaces replayed against the speeded-up technologies of the twentieth-century. It is here that Trocchi sketches out the potential for freedoms of movement, of play and from work, that will underpin both the Situationists’ preoccupations and his own project sigma, designed to provoke an ‘invisible insurrection of a million minds’. But within this utopia we can perhaps always read, in varying degrees of clarity, an ambivalent and critical version of a real city, Trocchi’s own, Glasgow. And despite his sojourns in New York, Paris and London, it is perhaps here, in the dour, Presbyterian, restricting city and its hinterland of the 1950s, that the roots of an urban vision that will influence the likes of Cedric Price and Archigram amongst others, are first and most intimately explored.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationWriting the Modern City
    Subtitle of host publicationLiterature, Architecture, Modernity
    EditorsJonathan Charley, Sarah Edwards
    Place of PublicationLondon
    PublisherTaylor and Francis
    Number of pages18
    ISBN (Print)978-0-415-59151-5, 978-0-415-59150-8
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


    • heroin
    • drug culture
    • Archigram
    • Situationism
    • Beat Generation
    • urbanism
    • Glasgow
    • psychogeography
    • Architecture


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