Writing the City: Urban Visions & Literary Modernism

Writing the City: Urban Visions & Literary Modernism

Writing the City: Urban Visions & Literary Modernism

Writing the City: Urban Visions & Literary Modernism

Synopsis

This work examines and challenges the traditional transatlantic axis, London-Paris-New York, that marks the intersection between western thinking about the City and the advent of literary modernism. Taking up the works of James Joyce and John Dos Passos, and drawing on a variety of interpretive strategies from literary criticism, social history, urban studies, sociology and cultural studies, Harding investigates the formation of a specifically Atlantic system of metropolitan identities and discourses.

Excerpt

The silhouette of the great city, its roofs and chimneys, the towers and domes on the horizon! What a language is imparted to us through one look at Nuremberg or Florence, Damascus or Moscow, Peking or Buenos Aires. What do we know of the Classical cities, seeing that we do not know the lines that they presented under the Southern noon, under clouds in the morning, in the starry night? The courses of the streets, straight or crooked, broad or narrow; the houses low or tall, bright or dark, that in all Western cities turn their facades, their faces, and in all Eastern cities their backs, blank wall and railing, towards the street; the spirit of squares and corners, impasses and prospects, fountains and monuments, churches or temples or mosques, amphitheaters and railway stations, bazaars and town halls! The suburbs, too, of neat garden-villas or of jumbled blocks of flats, rubbish heaps and allotments; the fashionable quarter and the slum area, the suburb of Classical Rome and the Faubourg Saint-Germain of Paris, ancient Baiae and modern Nice, the little town-picture like Bruges and Gothenburg and the sea of houses like Babylon, Tenochtitlan, Rome, and London! All this has history and is history.

~ Oswald Spengler, "The Soul of the City"

From Plato's conception of the human soul as analogous to the ideal city to Sigmund Freud's evocation of Rome as a metaphor for the eternal laws of the mind, the empirical city and its subjectively perceived image in Western culture has always existed as a complex and discontinuous site of convergent interests rather than a logically or conceptually clarified idea. Arguably, the greatest work of art created by the city is the city itself, for in its totality urban civilization represents the apex of human achievement. Moreover, as an art form in search of its own perfectability, the city also stands for the central foundation upon which the broad range of human experience draws its energy and charts its course. Indeed, culture-capitals

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