Tim Gilmore’s JaxPsychoGeo.com is a collection of narrative non-fiction through which he seeks to map his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida one story of one location at a time. It’s about the specifics, but the specifics concern something much bigger. The soul in the soil here haunts the whole nation.
Jacksonville, Florida sits at the crossroads of Southern Gothic and “Florida Man.” What haunts Jax haunts the South haunts America. Long called both “the capital of South Georgia” and “Florida’s murder capital,” Jax doesn’t talk about itself much. It markets football and the beach. It’s a city trying to forget itself. Its stories make a perfect case study.
JaxPsychoGeo began by accident. The project takes its name from the portmanteau word “psychogeography,” a loosely defined arts and literary endeavor that explores the psychology of geography, the spirit of place. JaxPsychoGeo began as a postmodern nonfiction novel, as decentered as the city itself, but required shattering. It was always a mosaic anyway. So Gilmore broke the novel into its constituents parts, titled each one according to the place it happened, and thus began JaxPsychoGeo.
In the tradition of turning place into text, influenced by a list of writers including James Joyce, William Carlos Williams, Joseph Mitchell and Jean Toomer, JaxPsychoGeo tells Jax through the city’s churches and bars, mansions and motels, its architecture and archaeology. It tells the stories of Jacksonville’s Sin City, Babyland, Dunehouses, Cosmic Church of Truth, coquina compounds, hovercraft ruins, mermaid sculpture, shipwrecks, downtown tunnels, covered creeks and cemeteries, its Confederate monuments and its Civil Rights landmarks.
JaxPsychoGeo is literary true-crime, anti-racism, historical narrative nonfiction, Southern noir. It’s based on a few premises: 1) that setting is character, that capturing the spirit of place is essential, 2) that the personality of place must be measured at street level: in living rooms, dive bars and crime scenes, 3) that these narratives are microcosms, demonstrations of larger narratives, case studies of how America still allows its twin sins, racial injustice and the hypocrisies of irresolution to cleave it in two.
In the decade since its inaugural summer, JaxPsychoGeo has grown to 650 stories, well over a million words. There’s no logical place for it to stop. Its writer has little control. The project determines where next it will go. So caveat lector: unwary readers could enter this textual landscape, become disoriented, and never find their way out again. The city is a labyrinth of stories.