It would be erroneous to talk of the city as a singular, unified social reality that we have all experienced, participated in, or have an understanding of. Such a city does not exist. More appropriate to this discussion are images of a city, a multifaceted city that represents ideological concepts, economic forces, and social spaces that reflect a diversity of cultural, historical and geographical markers.
Allen Siegel quoted in Screening the City, ed. Shiel M., Fitzmaurice T., London: Verso, 2003: 143
‘Glasgow is a magnificent city,’ said Thaw’… Think of Florence, Paris, London, New York. Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger, because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books and films. But if a city hasn’t been used imaginatively by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively.’
Alasdair Gray, Lanark, 1981: 243 quoted in The Cinematic City, ed. Clarke, D B, Routledge, 1997: 19
Of all the affairs we participate in, with or without interest, the groping search for a new way of life is the only aspect still impassioning. Aesthetic and other disciplines have proved blatantly inadequate in this regard and merit the greatest detachment. We should therefore delineate some provisional terrains of observation, including the observation of certain processes of chance and predictability in the streets.
Guy Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, 1955
He who seeks his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging. Above all, he must not be afraid to return again and again to the same matter; to scatter it as one scatters earth, to turn it over as one turns over soil. For the ‘matter itself’ is no more than the strata which yield their long-sought secrets only to the most meticulous investigation. That is to say, they yield those images that, served from all earlier associations, reside as treasures in the sober rooms of our later insights – like torsos in a collector’s gallery.
Walter Benjamin in Walter Benjamin’s Archive (Marx, U. Schwarz, G. Schwarz, M. & Wizisla, E. ed.) London: Verso, 2007 introduction
The taste for quotations (and for the juxtaposition of incongruous quotations) is a Surrealist taste. Thus, Walter Benjamin ‐ whose Surrealist sensibility is the most profound of anyone’s on record – was a passionate collector of quotations. In her magisterial essay on Benjamin, Hannah Arendt recounts that “nothing was more characteristic of him in the thirties than the little black notebooks with black covers which he always carried with him and which he tirelessly entered in the form of quotations what daily living and reading netted him in the way of ‘pearls’ and ‘coral.’ On occasion he read from them aloud, showed them around like items from a choice and precious collection.” Though collecting quotations could be considered as merely an ironic mimetism – victimless collecting, as it were – this should not be taken to mean that Benjamin disapproved of, or did not indulge in, the real thing. For it was Benjamin’s conviction that reality itself invited – and vindicated – the once heedless, inevitably destructive ministrations of the collector. In a world that is well on its way to becoming one vast quarry, the collector becomes someone engaged in a pious work of salvage. The course of modern history having already sapped the traditions and shattered the living wholes in which precious objects once found their place, the collector may now in good conscience go about excavating the choicer, more emblematic fragments.
Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977, pp. 75 ‐ 76
I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between the stars. When I got home I mixed a stiff one and stood by the open window in the living-room and sipped it and listened to the ground swell of traffic on Laurel Canyon Boulevard and looked at the glare of the big, angry city hanging over the shoulder of the hills through which the boulevard had been cut. Far off the banshee wail of the police or fire sirens rose and fell, never for very long completely silent. Twenty-four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is trying to catch him.
Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1953
The ordinary practitioners of the city live “down below,” below the thresholds at which visibility begins. They walk – an elementary form of this experience of the city; they are walkers, Wandersmanner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban “text” they write without beginning to read it. These practitioners make use of spaces that cannot be seen; their knowledge of them is as blind as that of lovers in each other’s arms. The paths that correspond in this intertwining, unrecognised poems in which each body is an element signed by many others, elude legibility. It is as though the practices organising a bustling city were characterised by their blindness. The networks of these moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces: in relation to representations, it remains daily and indefinitely other.
Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p.93
Night has its own hierarchy, composed of those who hide or go unnoticed in the daytime. During the day, they sleep or recede into the masonry or are invisible to optimistic and responsible parties or pose as something they are not. The maimed and disfigured are visible to the rest of the population only after nightfall; then the eye can’t stray off in another direction, Prostitutes sleep during the day, as do pimps and footpads and moll‐buzzers and horse‐poisoners and mayhem artists. Swindlers during the day look like bank clerks, and fences like shopkeepers. These can be seen at night, not working, but spending their take in saloon and disorderly houses.
Luc Sante, Low Life, London: Granta Books, 1991
Our relations with cities are like our relations with people. We love them, hate them, or are indifferent towards them. On our first day in a city that is new to us, we go looking for the city. We go down this street, around that corner. We are of the faces of passers‐by. But the city eludes us, and we become uncertain whether we are looking for the city, or for a person.
Victor Burgin, Some Cities, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996
From a very young age, I suspected there was more to my world than I could see: Somewhere in the street of Istanbul, in a house resembling ours, there lived another Orhan so much like me that he could pass for my twin, even my double.
Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul; Memories and the City, New York: Alfred A. Knoff, 2005, p.3
All cities are geographical and three steps cannot be taken without encountering ghosts, bearing all the prestige of their legends. We manoeuvre within a closed landscape whose landmarks constantly draw us towards the past. Certain shifting angles, certain receding perspectives allow us to glimpse original conceptions of space, but this vision remains fragmentary. It must be sought in the magical locales of folkloric tales and surrealist writings: castles, endless walls, little forgotten bars, Mammoth Cave, mirrors of Casinos.
Gilles Ivain (pseudo. Ivan Chtcheglov), ‘Formulary For a New Urbanism’, 1958 in The Situations and the City, (ed) Tom McDonough, London: Verso, 2009, p.33
The very turmoil of the streets has something repulsive, something against which human nature rebels. The hundreds of thousands of all classes and ranks crowding past each other, are they not all human beings with the same qualities and powers, and with the same interest in being happy? …And still they crowd by one another, and their only agreement is the tacit one, that each keep to his own side of the pavement, so as not to delay the opposing streams of crowd, while it occurs to no man to honour another with so much as a glance.
Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1844
I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear
How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls
But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse