Reason in the City of Difference: Pragmatism, Communicative Action, and Contemporary Urbanism

By Gary Bridge | Go to book overview

2

On the body

RATIONALITY AND THE DISCIPLINED BODY

In western philosophy the body has been the inferior other of the mind. It has at various times been associated with instincts, habit, woman and nature. Elevated above the body is the mind, the locus of reason, culture and transcendent values. This dualism was realized in western city space from the nineteenth century in the constitution of the public and the private. The public was a realm beyond bodies, a male space of cognition and debate. The iconic figure of the modern city, the flaneur, moved through the city like a ghost, disembodied, observing the heterogeneous activities of the metropolis without any tactile involvement (Wilson 1991). In contrast private space was female and static - the home of nurturing bodies.

It is possible to see the mind/body dualism as the city ridding itself of bodies. In the Greek polis the body was celebrated as the epitome of human excellence and full citizenship. This was recouped for a time in the Renaissance but certain influences of Christianity meant that the body was thought of as low, fleshy, sinful. In the modern era Georg Simmel saw how the inhabitants of late nineteenth century Berlin closed down their bodies in public as a form of indifference, protection against the overstimulation of the city (Simmel 1950). They were unable to deal with each other emotionally. Le Corbusier's (1971) plans and buildings treated the city as a machine in which bodies circulated like abstract atoms. The pulse and press of the city is captured by Henri Lefebvre's rhythmanalysis (Lefebvre 1996). The city is full of imperatives, one of the most obvious of which is the movement of large numbers of bodies on the mass transit systems. These bodies and their particularities were lost from the planning imagination: the city was decorporealized.

In contrast the city was all about head. Le Corbusier's vision was to use the plasticity afforded by modern building materials to create a city of open, endless vistas, composed of glass and light, a transparent place. Vision is the sense most closely associated with rational faculties and Le Corbusier was projecting a rational vision both on the plan and in the heads of the inhabitants of his Ville Radieuse. The city and its inhabitants would be literally enlightened.

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Reason in the City of Difference: Pragmatism, Communicative Action, and Contemporary Urbanism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • 1 - Reason in the City of Difference 1
  • 2 - On the Body 15
  • 3 - On the Street 39
  • 4 - In the Community 65
  • 5 - In the Public Realm 85
  • 6 - At Work and Home in the Urban Economy 105
  • 7 - In City Hall 125
  • 8 - Cosmopolitan Reason and the Global City 147
  • References 159
  • Index 172
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