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2. CAPA, Wk 2, Global City
Transcript of 2. CAPA, Wk 2, Global City
Seeing the City; How London has been Figured; London as Labyrinth
The big question we need to look at today and one that is a key theme of the course is: how can we actually know and comprehend a sprawling metropolis city like London? London has long been considered a problem of knowledge
How has London been measured?
Statistics, scientific records, surveys, censuses, maps, excavations; by reading of myth, antique documents, maps, diaries and accounts. Also of course through the work of the imagination: poetry, fiction, painting, film.
There has also been a huge range of attempts to try and capture London as a single meaningful an entity, as a dominant image or metaphor: as a living being (giant), as a swamp, as a growing cancer (wen), as a book, as palimpsest, as dream or nightmare, as a hell or purgatory, as a stage or theatre.
"From the beginning of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twenty-first, the central issues in writing about the Victorian city have remained the same: how did the Victorians ‘see’ the city? How do ‘we’ see the Victorian city? Is the city knowable?" Humphreys, ‘
Knowing the Victorian City
There seems something about London that makes it hard to read; erratic medieval street plan, huge extension, lack of a plan, the teeming global millions of individuals, the haphazard layering and jumbling of old and new ( this will be key later- the idea of the palimpsest)
Today we are looking at Victorian London; this is when these problems of seeing began. We can see that the particular Victorian way of seeing London is influential even today
'The fears and obsessions and imaginative world of the Victorians continue to play on the minds and imaginations of Londoners throughout the twentieth century. Jerry White, London in the Twentieth Century, p.6.
Especially London as a labyrinth. As we'll see on Tuesday on the walk of 'Darkest Victorian London'. Why this way of presenting London- and still so popular!
Labyrinth conjures up a sense of London as confusing, chaotic, dark, dangerous, as requiring expert knowledge, as somewhere to hide, dangerous, threatening, disorientating, complex,
Victorian London: the masses and urban space, seeing London as labyrinth
2 Key ways to capture the city:
i. Official reports
ii. Imaginary Constructs ( The investigator, the flaneur and the detective).
'Under such circumstances I naturally gravitated to London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained. Conan Doyle,
A Study in Scarlet
London as having gravitational pull. Pulling all into the centre, from around the world. Holmes will be key here!
Some argue that the last individual to truly know all of London might the English writer, journalist, and spy, Daniel Defoe, who died way back in 1730. In this sense Defoe could be considered the first and last London writer.
So Defoe may be the last observer to represent a complete London, as a meaningful unity.
‘His life presents an attempted urban experiential totality, a networked, knowledgeable inclusivity, an intense participation in the glories and miseries of London life' (180). Defoe was the city; he was at one with it' (Ian Watt,
The Rise of the Novel
The problem of course is the modern city (modern here meaning since around 1800, maybe earlier) is so vast and complex, with so many structures, agencies, institutions, powers, so many building, roads and tracks, industry and commerce, and of course people, from all around Britain and the world, doing different things that it is very difficult to find any particular way to conceptualise and actually bring it into focus.
1806: 885, 000
1862: 2.5 Million
BIG FEAR: How can we see, capture or represent all of this?
IN fact: There seem to be, very broadly speaking, at least
very different, even contrasting, ways to try and capture the complexity of the new mass metropolis; and these are both explored in the reading for this week, the essay by Michel de Certeau from
The Practice of Everyday Life.
de Certeau makes a broad distinction between two ways of seeing the city:
One is the view from up high;
Second is the view you might get from down at street level.
The view from above:
the ‘pleasure of seeing the whole, of looking down on, totalising the most immoderate of human texts’. Getting up high gives a great view, where you can see the whole thing at once.
The key word here is ‘totalising’: this is a key word in philosophy and cultural studies and implies that the whole thing can be seen and comprehend all at once, as a totality.
'His elevation transfigures him into a voyeur. It puts him at a distance. It transforms the bewitching world by which one was “possessed” into a text that lies before one’s eyes. It allows one to read it, to be a solar Eye looking down like a god'. 111
Hollar, 1653- from a church spire
Regents Park Rotunda 1802
So this corresponds to what is called ‘panopticism’, a term derived from philosophy. 18th C ,Jeremy Bentham, then 20th C Michel Foucault.
This totalising view corresponds to a trend in western thought and practices: to measure, to calculate, to control space. Sometimes called 'the scopic drive'.
Panoptics: seeing and controlling
James C. Scott in
Seeing Like a State
precisely as a project to make the inhabited world legible. To see everything!
Legibility (and control), he argues, could be achieved over any given physical space by use of careful surveys, data collection, standardised measurements, consistent methods and the use of cadastral maps.
A cadastral map is a map that shows the boundaries and ownership of land parcels. So it is about ownership.
The aim of the cadastral survey
is to homogenise all space, t
o make all points equivalent.This kind of survey wants to make all space kind of the same, to make it homogenous and measurable. Then it can be nicely parcelled up, bought and sold.
mportantly: this legibility from the outside has no bearing on lived experience on the ground; it is all an abstraction, a fiction, a simulation. We are not really seeing the city at all, but an abstract, a projection, a fictio
n. De Certeau says a text.
that de Certeau argues that we see the city is at
. This is the perspective of the ordinary pedestrian, the lowly walker.
'The ordinary practitioners of the city live “down below”, below the thresholds at which visibility begins. They walk – an elementary form of the experience of the city; they are walkers , Wandermanner, whose bodies follow the thick and thins of an urban text. These practitioners make use of space that cannot be seen; their knowledge of them as blind at that of lovers in each other’s arms’
: de Certeau, 112
Urban figure: the walker, the wanderer
Two things here:
1.The city here is invisible- it can’t be seen from the top! Of course we can stretch this metaphor out: planners, architects, developers do NOT see what is happening down below.
2. The other key idea is that city is actually created in some way. Not just ‘there’ that we can see and measure; it is created space, created by individuals, interacting (walking) in it.
So the BIG idea here is that the city is not just there waiting for you to see it – that is the illusion of panopticism. But, that it is produced, conjured, imagined, dreamed, written and walked.
Important corollary of this: there is no ONE city, but multiple versions of the place. It is not fixed, final, single, measurable in one dimension…
This is best summed up in a phrase by Jonathan Raban, in a great book called
Soft City (
More of this in week 8 – the Imaginary City)
Cities, unlike villages and small towns, are plastic by nature. We mould them in our images : they, in turn, shape us by the resistance they offer when we try to impose our own personal form on them. It seems to me that living in cities is an art and we need the vocabulary of art, of style, to describe the peculiar relationship between man and material that exists in the continual creative play or urban city living. The city as we imagine it , the soft city of illusion, myth, aspiration, nightmare, is as real, maybe more real, than the hard city one can locate on maps, in statistics, in monographs on urban sociology and demography and architecture
’ Raban, 10.
The London we see and feel, in which we are immersed, is more than a vision realized through the imaginations of human beings; something brought into being where before there was nothing. It is an emanation of a greater, more profound world, hiding just behind the closed veil of our senses.
So seeing and knowing the city has alternated between these poles of objective being and subjective perception: the scientific and the imaginary,
Theses different ways of capturing, recording, visioning London are clear in much Victorian work:
’The sheer physical growth of London on the ground, and the huge accretion of people sucked into it, were probably the dominant facts in contemporaries minds, from the 1830s onwards’.
Jerry White, L
ondon in the 19th Century
The 1830s: This is when London recognizably becomes itself, as we see it today: buildings (houses, hospitals, theaters, libraries, museums), roads, rail links, parks: London as largely a Victorian city!
REMEMBER: The Victorians thought of themselves as
as an advanced, civilised, technological, industrialised nation.
The city was undergoing many Modernising developments: new road schemes, (the Embankment, ‘Albertopolis’- showcasing scientific enlightenment to the masses), demolition of lots of medeival and renaissance London, new apartment blocks, schools and colleges (Imperial, UCL), new cleaning and sewage systems, gas lighting, shopping precincts, mass sport and mass entertainment, newspapers and communication systems.
London is the centre of the largest Empire in the history of the world, especially in the later 1800s and sees itself as a flagship for modernity, a civilised light for the world.
As the city massively expanded – in extent, density and numbers- people were not sure what to make of this modern, monstrous entity.
London is the largest city in the world in the largest national economy of the world.
Population – 1800 – 1 million
1840 – 2 million
1870 – 3 million.
1885 – 4 million;
1895 – 5 million;
1900 – 6.5 million.
This caused a great fear- the fear of the Urban Mass:
This 'colossal centralization...this heaping together of two and a half millions of human beings at one point, has multiplied the power of this two and a half millions a hundredfold’, Friedrich Engels,
The Condition of the Working Class
The modern urban crowd is fearful for a number of reasons: it underlines a sense of urban alienation and anonymity; a sense of impermanence and spiritual homelessness; denudes a sense of unique individuality by presenting the spectator with multiple visions of self; fear of contamination and disease; fear of criminality.
So, in the Victorian era, from the 1860s , above all:
a fear of what can be seen and known.
A slow realisation that enormous sectors of the new sprawling city were also largely unknown and unknowable. It was actually full, outside the centre and West End, of remote spaces of extreme poverty, disease (cholera, typhus) crime, violence, homelessness, desperation, squalor and vice.
SO a terrible paradox: The metropolis of wealth and grandeur, culture and sophistication, the centre of the most modern city in the world, was also a hell of starving, degrading and heart-rending poverty.
London was teeming with radical extremes of wealth and poverty, luxury and filth, health and disease. So there was a growing realisation that London was actually split into different zones: the aristocratic West End, the middle and lower middle class suburbs, and the slum.
How can one half see the other?
This gives rise to the controlling metaphor of the labyrinth.One very common metaphor to talk about London at this time was to see London as a labyrinth.
This conjures up a frightening image of a maze, of confusion, a lack of a centre, of the unknowable, of being too close, a lack of control and order-not seeing where the masses are!
The labyrinth metaphor sees the zones being mingled and mixed up- that the poor and destitute are everywhere and are getting too close.
So this is the slum, the backstreet, the back-yards, the dark alleys; all the spaces of Victorian fear that still haunt the city today.
The spaces of the pauper, the prostitute, the criminal, the deviant, the foreigner, the wicked.
Lots of fictions about this in the later 19th Century: Dorian Gray, Jekyll and Hyde, Count Dracula- all moving through the secret spaces of the Imperial city
So what was the Victorian response to this crisis of seeing the unseeable city, measuring the immeasurable?
We can say there
two main ways
to try and see the city; to figure what exactly what was going in seeing the City.
On the one hand lots of official reports, investigations, surveys, articles. These are part of the trend for social investigation, social reform, philanthropy
On the other, in more imaginative, creating London by fictional forms, in stories, sketches, novels, newspaper reports.
(An echo of our original idea; from 'Above', from 'Below'
Edwin Chadwick, as Secretary of the Poor Law Commission, presented his
Inquiry into the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain
, in 1842.
Chadwick employs two key forms of knowledge, of investigative proof, for his researches.
There is firstly a core of wide-ranging and voluminous
backed up by numerous eyewitness testimonies. Statistics was a fairly new discipline at the time, and Chadwick was an enthusiastic member of the London Statistical Society, set up in 1834. Chadwick's emphasis on pure number both underscores the objective 'reality' of his field of investigation, but also introduces an abstraction.
Secondly, a true picture of urban destitution is also attempted by using a
team of researchers, dispatched around the country, to provide eye-witness testimonies
. These are crucial because, as Chadwick argues, the 'picture is so shocking that, without ocular proof, one would be disposed to doubt the possibility of the facts' (Chadwick, 29).
By way of contrast, Henry Mayhew, in his extensive
London Labour and the London Poor
(1851), has a different emphasis in his analysis of the urban scene.
In his focus on the working poor he examines those sectors of the urban proletariat who circulate too freely around the spaces of the city; all the workers of the age. Rather than viewing the spaces of the slum as an unhealthy, dense, conglomeration, Mayhew sees the mass of poorer working class labourers as alarmingly peripatetic. T
hey get around and must be tracked.
The many categories of ‘costers’ he tabulates in his study, the numerous street-sellers and buyer of all kinds, are ‘
mostly hereditary wanderers’ he explains, ‘having been as it were born to frequent the public thoroughfares’
Mayhew, himself a tireless walking investigator and acute observer, sees danger in the uprootedness of the urban poor.
ohn Garwood's T
he Million Peopled City
wants to see the whole of London. His book is subtitled: 'one half of the people of London made known to the other half’. Garwood concentrates on five marginal social groups (including pensioners and 'destitute juveniles') in his desire to encompass the entirety of London.
The aim of the book, Garwood notes, is 'simply that the one class is not to live separate from, unmindful of, and without the benefit of the other' (4).
Charles Booth’s painstakingly detailed and comprehensive survey, L
ife and Labour of the People in London
, begun in the late 1880s, minutely mapped the economic status of London’s population onto its geography.
William Booth’s 1890 study of East End poverty, I
n Darkest England
. The East End of London, the worst and densest slums, around Whitechapel, are often marked as being a bit like Britain’ empire; as remote, alien, strange, full of foreigners, sometime exotic (Limehouse Chinatown). But the periphery is here, in London, and so much scarier. Hence the hysterical racism.
and Detective Fiction
As well as official reports and political reformers working with the poor of the slums, Literary and imaginative work is also key here.
If the slums and dark space of the capital cannot be seen then they must be imagined. We can see what kind of things are going on by using our imagination!
‘if only we could take the housetops off…and show a Christian people what dark shapes issue from amidst their homes’ (Dickens,
Dombey and Son
, ch 47).
I think that there are two key cultural archetypes in the development of imaginative work dealing with the problem of the metropolis ( and both see the city as a labyrinth); the flanur and the detective.
i. The Flaneur
Appears in Paris in the 1840s.
The flaneur is like a dandy, or man about town. First noticed, or created, in mid-19th Century Paris by French poet and thinker Charles Baudelaire
‘Flaneur’, in French, means a walker or stroller, or even a lounger, maybe even a loafer, an upper-class aesthete or dandy, who slowly roams the streets, watching and observing and reporting back on what he sees.
This type is only rally possible in the urban milieus of the new mass metropolis- with grand avenues, new shopping arcades, squares, theatres and cafes. He is rich, unhurried, observant: checking out the fashions and dramas of the metropolis.
‘The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world—impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito. Charles Baudelaire, "The Painter of Modern Life, Le Figaro, in 1863.
So the flaneur is radical because he is at home in the modern city; enjoys the confusion, the anonymity, the mass spectacle. He is the archetypal figure of modernity. Also a walker!
The flaneur enjoys the labyrinth! Makes it an aesthetic object
The figure of the flaneur would go on to inform much urbanist theory in the 20th Century, as we’ll see in week 15, on psychogeography. So the flaneur creates a version of the City, the ‘soft city’, that we mentioned before.
(ii) The other figure who is at home in the teeming labyrinth, who imagines the city for us, and is still relevant today, is the figure of the detective.
“life is truly stranger than anything the mind could invent...if we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on”(Conan Doyle, ‘A Case of Identity’, 147)
Note the title. Holmes task is to identify, in the confusing and bewildering mass of the city, using all the paraphernalia of rational deduction and the new technology (telegraphy, chemistry, forensics, indexing, trains, newspapers) the marks of the single solitary individual. He needs to get his man.
Holmes explains to Watson about Professor Moriarty, in ‘The Final Problem’
“He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city….He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organized.”
Holmes is a weird combination of urban investigator (like Chadwick and Booth) AND the leisurely flaneur (the drugs, the money, the violin, the melancholy).
Also of course, what is interesting, is that Holmes
is not real.
There is no 221b Baker St, there never was - yet people really treat him as if he was a historical person. Maybe the most real in all literature!
So Conan Doyle, here, is creating a fiction for his readers to make the city, the labyrinth, habitable, meaningful, legible.
And still does!
Darkest Victorian London Walk