This week we looked at the relationship between cities and bodies, from a variety of perspectives.
First, Vidler addresses the question of bodies and cities from the perspective of "metropolitan psychopathology" and masculinity. Beginning with the idea that the modern illness of agoraphobia was connected to the turn-of-the-century view that urban spaces cause fear, dread and isolation in their inhabitants, he reminds us that a fear of open or public space was also assumed to be a problem that particularly afflicted women and homosexuals (two social identities that were supposed to stay in the private realm). Adding claustrophobia to the mix further supports the idea that cities were seen to be responsible for mental illness, and Vidler suggests that modernist architects stepped up precisely to restore the city to a more "natural" state and reconfigure it as open, extended and "cleansed of all mental disturbance".
He also claims modernist (architectural) space has, for the most part, been constructed by and for men. The predilection for sharp lines and angles, as well as the transformation of natural spaces into construction sites, can be read as a desire to reshape the world in which these architects lived. Le Corbusier's "ineffable space" (l'espace indicible) was infinite and transcendent, and "objects, if possible free-standing, generated force-fields, took possession of space, orchestrated it and made in sing or cry out in harmony or pain". The values of these "men in space" sought to "conquer" the city by returning to natural form and forces, or as Giedion wrote in 1948: "Our period demands a type of man who can restore the lost equilibrium between inner and outer reality. This equilibrium... keeps a continuous balance between [man's] being and empty space".
Second, Gleeson addresses bodies and cities in terms of disability or matters of physical inaccessibility and socio-spatial exclusion. In this way he problematises the body for which, and by which, cities are made: "In terms of ease or comfort, most cities have been designed not merely for the nondisabled but for a physical ideal that few human beings can ever hope to approximate".
Beginning with the recognition that physical inaccessibility reduces the ability of disabled people to participate in urban social and political life, Gleeson creates a geography of disability that automatically defines cities as "invisible gaols" for the disabled. Focussing specifically on the relationship between social welfare models for caring for the disabled, and how they play out in physical space, he describes what he calls "zones of dependence" and related forms of "ghettoisation". However, this reality has also led to cities emerging as "spaces of resistance" and centres for disability movements.
The remainder of the excerpt has Gleeson looking at the differences between the pursuit of individual rights and changes to social policy - and how they relate to our assumptions about bodies and cities. In the end, he favours broad societal changes because they better accommodate the idea that cities are not merely surfaces "upon which materialities are rearranged" but rather "artefacts of human society". As such, it will take changes to society to create cities that do not exclude the disabled.
Finally, Elizabeth Grosz problematises our very understanding of how bodies and cities are related. She defines the body in terms of a material organisation given unity only through psychical and social inscription, and as such, always already incomplete. By city, she means a complex and interactive network of social relations, activities and processes (including architecture, geography and civic infrastructure). We can also see traces of earlier course readings in her assertion that the city "provides the order and organization that automatically links otherwise unrelated bodies."
But her article critically evaluates what she calls the "body politic" and "political bodies" - two pervasive models of the interrelation of bodies and cities. In the first model we see that the city is viewed as a "product or projection" of the body. In other words, "humans make cities" and cities develop according to the needs and designs of people. In this model, cities and bodies are binary opposites (objects and subjects) that have a contingent or causal relationship either conceived of as one way (from subjectivity to environment) or dialectical (from subjectivity to environment and back again). In the second model, there is a "parallelism or isomorphism" between the body and the city, where the two are seen as "analogues...in which the features...of one are reflected in the other". In the body-politic, the city reflects the "natural" organisation of the (always male) body, where hierarchical relationships are "justified and naturalised" as for the "good of the whole".
As an alternative to the causal and representative relations described above, Grosz combines the two:
"Like the causal view, the body (and not simply a disembodied consciousness) must be considered active in the production and transformation of the city. But bodies and cities are not causally linked [and] the body does not have an existence separate from the city, for they are both defining. Like the representational model, there may be an isomorphism between the body and the city. But it is not a mirroring of nature in artifice. Rather there is a two-way linkage which could be defined as an interface, perhaps even a cobuilding."
Put simply, the relationship between bodies and cities is not contingent, but mutually constitutive. Her proposed model then sees bodies and cities as "assemblages capable of crossing thresholds" or a "fundamentally disunified series of systems and interconnections, a series of disparate flows, energies, events or entities, and spaces, brought together or drawn apart in more or less temporary alignments."
The implications here are quite profound if we recall the common claim that cities are alienating: "If bodies are not culturally pregiven, built environments cannot alienate the very bodies that produce. However, what may prove unconducive is the rapid transformation of an environment, such that a body inscribed in one cultural milieu finds itself in another involuntarily".
In this way, our concern necessarily shifts to the organisation of subjects and objects. Cities establish spaces, divisions and interconnections which simultaneously individuate bodies as subjects and organise social rules and expectations. Grosz ends her article by tentatively predicting the impact that communication networks will have on these mutually constitutive relationships: "The subject's body will no longer be disjointedly connected to random others and objects according to the city's spatio-temporal layout ... [but rather] modelled on and ordered by telecommunications".
How can we use Grosz's critique to evaluate the positions of both Vidler and Gleeson? Is it fair to characterise Vidler's position as belonging to the second model she describes, and Gleeson's to the first? How does the concept of the bodies/cities assemblage reconfigure their claims? Or are they interested in fundamentally different qualities?
Anthony Vidler, "Bodies in Space/Subjects in the City"
Brendan Gleeson, excerpt from Geographies of Disability
Elizabeth Grosz, "Bodies/Cities"
Madness, Disability and Social Exclusion The Archaeology and Anthropology of 'Difference' edited by Jane Hubert