Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Concretizing the 1970s in Hodges's Get Carter and Torrington's Swing Hammer Swing!

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Concretizing the 1970s in Hodges's Get Carter and Torrington's Swing Hammer Swing!

Article excerpt

While architectural modernism aims to manage space objectively, literary and cinematic modernisms often defend subjective, user-adaptable space. Drawing on Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of chronotope (time-space) and Raymond Williams's theory of class, this essay shows how the disjunction between modernisms is concretized in two British representations of urban redevelopment.

Post-war Britain has been rich in examples of urban reconstruction and in critiques of this process. London's monumental Millennium Dome, for instance, has been characterized by urbanist lain Sinclair as "a blob of congealed correction fluid, a flick of Tipp-Ex to revise the mistakes of nineteenth-century industrialists" (11-12). Sinclair's metaphor registers disaffection with the Dome by drastically reducing it in scale and hence significance. Further, the metaphor suggests a link between the city's future, as symbolized by the Dome, and its past, the industrial wasteland beside the Thames that was cleared for the Dome's construction. Thus, it serves as a "corrective" warning for critics reading reconstructed British cities: we must attend to what is "congealed" as well as to what appears new. Sinclair also describes the Dome and the attendant spectacle as "the death rattle of Thatcherism" (37). While intrigued by this idea, we choose in this essay to examine representations of the relatively recent architec tural past in Britain in order to look at the "birth" of Thatcherism (more precisely, to consider signs of the emergence of the ideological formation, broadly characterized by disdain for economic regulation combined with zeal for social regulation) that dominated British politics for most of the last two decades of the twentieth century. We focus on Newcastle-upon-Tyne as captured in Mike Hodges's 1971 film Get Carter and on Glasgow as represented in Jeff Torrington's 1992 novel Swing Hammer Swing! These works vividly register key parts of a physical and ideological process whereby a world of terraces, tenements and working-class solidarity gives way to a world of modernist tower blocks, dispersed estates, and disregard for ideas of urban community.

Get Carter and Swing Hammer Swing! merit particular attention for several reasons. Neither work is simply nostalgic for the older environments it depicts: each illustrates physical shortcomings of Victorian working-class housing and ideological limitations of working-class culture. Moreover, contrasts between the two works and between their media demonstrate the value of looking at different kinds of representation of urban reconstruction and architecture: each accomplishes things that the other cannot, while their very differences make their similarities more notable. Both works exemplify forms of what Marshall Berman calls "modernism as a struggle to make ourselves at home in a constantly changing world" (6). The comparison highlights the problematic fit between the utopian ideals of architectural modernism, most notably the belief in technological progress as a guarantor of social progress, and the actual conditions prevailing in post-war Britain: economic decline and persistent division among classes and regions. It also draws attention to the divergence between influential forms of architectural modernism and important kinds of literary and cinematic modernism where physical space is concerned. Whereas modernist architecture and planning assume that space, in a building or a city, can be objectively managed and ordered, Get Carter and Swing Hammer Swing!--in distinct but comparable ways--exemplify modernisms that insist on the value of space that is adaptable and user-friendly, both "literally" for the characters in each work and metaphorically for the reader or viewer.

Well before World War II, the space--literal and conceptual--that the decay of Britain's housing stock had created for technical and social innovation had been recognized by architects and planners (see, e. …

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