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The City and Its Other

Mueller, Roswitha, 1942-

Discourse, 24.2, Spring 2002, pp. 30-49 (Article)

Published by Wayne State University Press DOI: 10.1353/dis.2003.0028

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The City and Its Other

Roswitha Mueller

The way for physical space, for the practico-sensory realm, to restore or reconstitute itself is therefore by struggling against the ex post facto projections of an accomplished intellect, against the reductionism to which knowledge is prone. Successfully waged, this struggle would overturn the Absolute Truth and the Realm of Sovereign Transparency and rehabilitate underground, lateral, labyrinthineeven uterine or feminine- realities. Henri Lefebvre

Traditional debates in literature or in the media about the meaning of the good life have frequently placed cities and the country on opposite sides of the arguments. With the increase in the size of cities and metropolitan areas, these arguments have taken on far more acute forms, raising questions not only of the good life, but also of survival pure and simple. According to some estimates, half the worlds population will be living in cities by the year 2006. The split between country and city is very much at the heart of ecological debates that seek solutions to the crises attendant on such a rapid expansion of urban centers. In these debates the place of women plays a critical role. As custodians of a long history, which equated them with the chaotic forces of both nature and cities, women are in a unique positionboth metaphorically and as citiDiscourse, 24.2, Spring 2002, pp. 3049. Copyright Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan 48201-1309.

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zensto indicate and elucidate the direction and quality of the development of urban centers. Italo Calvinos much quoted story of the founding of the city of Zobeide bears the heading Cities and Desire. It is part of a Scheherazade -like setting, in which Marco Polo entertains the great Kublai Khan with fantastic tales of cities he has supposedly seen in the emperors immense realm. The monarch is soon wise to the fact that the stories are no more than Marco Polos invention, and that they areas the title of the novel suggestsInvisible Cities. Unlike in the narrative situation of Scheherazade, Marco Polo is not in danger of losing his life, but rather draws the monarch into a realm of shared male speculation and imagination. This narrative frame of a continuous dialogic exchange between two men underscores the founding story of Zobeide. Zobeide, Marco Polo relates, was the result of an identical dream dreamed by men of various nations: They saw a woman running at night through an unknown city; she was seen from behind, with long hair, and she was naked. They dreamed of pursuing her. As they twisted and turned, each of them lost her (45). Upon awakening each man set out to nd the city of his dream but never found it, instead they found each other, and decided to build a city modeled on the one in their dream with one exception: In laying out the streets, each followed the course of his pursuit; at the spot where they had lost the fugitives trail, they arranged spaces and walls differently from the dream, so she would be unable to escape again (45). The oneiric dimension of cities was explored by Michel de Certeau in his attempt to establish a homology between pedestrian processes and linguistic formations. In his view, the rhetorical gures of synecdochy and asyndeton lend themselves equally as well to the activity of walking as to that of speech:
The long poem of walking manipulates spatial organizations. No matter how panoptic they may be: it is neither foreign to them (it can take place only within them) nor in conformity with them (it does not receive its identity from them). It creates shadows and ambiguities within them it insets its multitudinous references and citations into them (social models, cultural mores, personal factors). Within them it is itself the effect of successive encounters and occasions that constantly alter it and make it the others blazon: in other words, it is like a peddler, carrying something surprising, transverse or attractive compared with the usual choice. These diverse aspects provide the basis of a rhetoric. They can even be said to dene it. (101)

The poetics of walking in the city can also be compared to dreaming, since the same rhetorical gures are operative in both modes. Just as the act of speaking is opposed to the lifeless system


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of language, de Certeau considers the heterogeneous experiences of walking through the city to be irreducible to their graphic trail. The planned city, or panoptic city becomes livable, thanks to the phenomenology of walking and talking in everyday life. Immediately, however, this experience is in turn subsumed under yet another systemthat of rhetorical guresrendering the everyday practice oddly irrelevant. In his groundbreaking study of space, including urban space, Henri Lefebvre points out that signifying processes (a signifying practice) occur in a space which cannot be reduced either to an everyday discourse or to a literary language of texts (136). The emphasis in Lefebvre is on the production of space as a consequence of the innitely varied interactions between humans, insisting at the same time on the connection and transference between dreams, activities and planned space. In Calvinos story of Zobeide, the relation between dreams, desires and their translation into spatial forms is made explicit. Particularly intriguing in this story is the precision and succinctness with which Calvino captures the major points of concern which make up much of the recent debates on the relation of women to the city. Male desire and subsequent anxieties about womens independence are understood as the impulse to city planning in such a way as to trap women: the founding fathers busying themselves to curtail womens freedom and imprison them in what initially held out the promise of a fullling dream. The independence of women, always a source of anxiety in patriarchal society, becomes particularly acute in the context of the city. In her book The Sphinx in the City, Elisabeth Wilson describes how women have been held responsible for the chaotic elements of city life at least as far back as Roman times, when Juvenal focused his attack on the immorality of Roman life primarily on the conduct of women. Their lack of virtue gured as the root cause of Romes decadence. Almost from the beginning, concludes Wilson, the presence of women in cities, and particularly in city streets, has been questioned, and the controlling and surveillance aspects of city life have always been directed particularly at women (14). In Victorian England, a woman walking in the street alone, without a chaperone was automatically suspect of prostitution. Victorians developed a special hysteria with regard to city life reminiscent of modern day fears of HIV infection. Wilson cites from texts, which describe the city streets in terms of a moral miasma (39). It was widely believed that one could catch an illness by breathing the foul fumes of a sewage drain. Similarly, the city streets presented more than enough opportunities for moral contagion. Respectable women, mothers and wives could be brought down by rubbing

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shoulders with street-walkers in a public area, or merely by witnessing the lives of prostitutes. It was the very anonymity and uncontrollability of city life that made it off limits for women who were keen on preserving their good reputation. The Victorian angel in the house, so eloquently described by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar in their study of Victorian literature The Madwoman in the Attic, found its counterpart in the woman as victim of the street and of its ensnaring temptations. At the turn of the century, new attractions like cabaret, dance halls, and cinema added to the excitement and pleasures of city life. A look at the development of movie venues in the rst two decades of the twentieth century, once again foregrounds the threat posed by womens social and economic independence. As American cinema transformed itself in the 1910s from cheap, brief moments of fair-ground amusement to a major form of entertainment, attractive to all audiences, women were enlisted in this process as agents of respectability. Movie theater owners went out of their way to entice women, particularly middle-class women, to visit their establishments in order to augment their image as safe, wholesome entertainment for the entire family. Some of their solicitations included free tickets to insure a higher percentage of female patrons, as well as services that accommodated womens shopping routines such as parcel-checking and checkrooms for baby carriages. Some larger venues even featured child-care centers, where mothers could leave their infants for the duration of the performance. Yet, despite all the efforts, promotions and advertisement campaigns to woo women into their establishments in order to lend cultural legitimacy to the newly emerging medium, the reception of women who did venture out was less than cordial. Their attendance at the picture shows was viewed with a sense of apprehension and discomfort. Not only did women immediately become targets of public ridicule as a consequence of their supposed tendency to overdress, their chattiness during the performance and their inability to separate lm viewing from their own daydreams, but also, and more fundamentally, because their very presence and participation in a public arena was perceived by some cultural critics of the time as a grave threat to social stability. In her recent book Movie-Struck Girls, Shelley Stamp argues persuasively that the participation of women in the newly established screening venues was fraught with deep ambiguity. While women were catered to as potential patrons, their actual presence in the movie theaters was more often experienced as disruptive. The alarm felt in American society about the changing face of the family as a consequence of the social and economic independence of


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young women in urban centers, culminated in a cultural phenomenon known as the white slavery scare. Toward the end of the centurys rst decade, a sudden ood of largely fabricated tales about the abduction of women, who were subsequently shipped around the nation and worldwide, appeared in the popular press as well as in novels and plays. The so-called white slave lms of that era were part of this general public uproar. Apparently, the panic was so great that Congress saw t to pass the Man Act in 1910, which prohibited the transportation of women across state lines for immoral purposes. Stamp gives an exhaustive overview of the white slave lms, showing how they warned against the dangers of city life, while eagerly cashing in on the publics curiosity about the subject. Critics at the time were quick to point out that the slave lms fed the public a diet of prurient tales under the guise of moral indignation. Others castigated the movies in a more fundamental way, not just for what they showed, but also for actually providing the space and opportunities for young women to be led astray. Shelley Stamp concludes: Tales about white slave trafcking in American cities were above all about womens evolving place in urban, industrial society, a position that remained to be negotiated well into the teens (93). When pursuing the question of ambiguity in the assessment of womans role in the ascendance of cinema in the early decades of the 20th century in particular, and more generally, of womens image in relation to the city, a number of observations come to the fore. The division of women as representing a civilizing and legitimating inuence on city life on the one hand and on the other as a disruptive and chaotic force, is constructed on a parallel to a much older trope of woman and nature. The equation of woman with nature is, as feminists have shown since the early seventies, as old as Western civilization itself. In her book Woman and Nature, Susan Grifn, for example, has outlined and meticulously documented a her-story of quotations going back to Aristotle, that describes women as matter, body and nature. In each instance, the treatment of and respect for women was closely circumscribed by each respective eras belief system and philosophical speculations about the value of nature and natural processes. Along similar lines, Carolyn Merchants book The Death of Nature investigates the historical roots of our current ecological crisis in close correlation to the history of womens subjugation. She contends that until the Renaissance, the paradigm for looking at the world was that of a living organism. It stressed unity and the importance of the whole before the parts. Organic societies tended to model themselves on nature rather than trying to bring nature under human domination. While nature was seen as both a bene-

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volent and nurturing mother and also as devastation and chaos, the latter aspect only increased respect and a desire to remain in harmony with it as much as possible. The organic paradigm served as a restraining force in the treatment of women and nature alike. It was not until the paradigm shifted to an understanding of the world as mechanism and machine, that notions of control and domination over nature and women became virulent (2). In contrast to the organic world-view, the mechanists stressed the divisibility of matter into discrete, controllable parts. The rise of science, philosophically undergirded by thinkers like Bacon, Descartes and Newton, was based on the abstraction from the complexity of the world of appearance and, instead, relied on laws and rules. Human reason postulated itself as divine and thus legitimated its manipulation, power and control over what was perceived as mere inanimate and dead matter. In the epilogue to her book, Carolyn Merchant points out that much of modern physics is still involved with nding smaller and smaller discrete units of matter, in search of the ultimate unifying particle. To counter the effect of our everyday common sense perceptions that continue to be informed by the mechanistic model of the world, Merchant warns that mechanistic assumptions about nature push us increasingly in the direction of articial environments, mechanized control over more and more aspects of human life, and a loss of the quality of life itself (291). It is precisely this quality of life that is at stake in the centurylong debates, arguments and theories about the fate of the modern cities, and a critique of the mechanistic paradigm is highly pertinent to these debates. As I hope to show, many of the shortcomings of city planning in the 20th century have their roots in a mechanistic mindset, bent on orderliness, controllability and power over what was perceived as chaotic and irrational. The traditional targets of this will to dominate, namely nature, bodies, sexuality and women, and by extension the crowds, the lower classes and more recently racial and ethnic minorities, continued to be the objects of disastrous decisions and policies of city planners since the late 1800s. While modern city planners lacked the clarity and straight forwardness of Calvinos founding fathers, many of their blueprints have the same effect. They read like ruses for the entrapment of women. The history of architecture and of urban planning is a history of men, ( Eva Kail and Jutta Kleedorfer 9) writes a group of women researchers in conclusion to their attempt to understand the rationale behind the incomprehensible division of cities into business areas, usually the down town area, and suburban living quarters.


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While the statement has a hyperbolic ring to it, it is nevertheless true that the big names in architecture and urban planning that have changed the face of European and American cities are all male, despite the fact that since the late seventies there has been an increase in promoting women planners. In the United States, for example, the women and planning division of the American Planning Association held its rst meeting in 1979, and shortly after grew into one of its largest divisions. Yet, in spite of the great incursions women have made into the planning profession, policy making still seems to be centered around male employment (Greed 167). The division of cities into public and private areas bespeaks the need to dominate through spatial controls, which invariably turn out to the detriment of women. In the interest of fairness it should be pointed out that the conscious intent of the early planners was nothing if not idealistic. While we take their inuence on the look of modern cities for granted, since it has become so much of our everyday experience, the fact remains, that the cities we live in today, are the brainchildren of a few inspired individuals. In the introduction to her inuential book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs outlines some of the major schools of architectural design that have contributed to the orthodoxies of modern city planning. The earliest one of these conceptions is the Garden City, proposed by Ebenezer Howard in 1898, specically to halt the growth of London and repopulate the countryside. He envisioned smaller self-sufcient towns surrounded by agricultural green belts as a solution to the problems created by the density of large cities. In addition to these physical and spatial prescriptions, he advocated a permanent public authority, conceived along rather paternalistic political and economic guidelines to be in control of these towns and prevent them from growing beyond thirty thousand people. In America the followers of Howards Garden City idea, like Lewis Mumford among others, were known as Decentrists. They designed model housing communities in a suburban setting, supporting the idea of privacy and living isolated far from the bustle of the big cities. The second major inuence on modern planning is Le Corbusiers Radiant City, a dream city consisting mainly of skyscrapers. By concentrating living areas in a vertical manner, Le Corbusier proposed, the grounds could remain open for parks. It is interesting to note, how, at this early stage, Le Corbusier was already thinking in terms of fast cars and elevated motor ramps as a connection between the skyscrapers. Finally, the City Beautiful movement, pioneered by Daniel Burnham of Chicago, contributed the idea of monumental Civic

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Centers or Cultural Centers, arranged along a boulevard, or interspersed with parks and green spaces. All three movements have merged into one big Radiant Garden City Beautiful (34), contends Jacobs, since all three are invested in sorting out certain cultural and public functions and sequestering it from both the workaday world and the living quarters of the citizens. The idealism of the planners is not in dispute and neither is the elegant simplicity of some of their designs, as in the case of Le Corbusier. What is questionable is the effect their plans have on the everyday life of city-dwellers. In reaching for the stars, the designers superimposed their notions of the good life on the cities and their inhabitants without proper observation of what it is that makes cities ourish or decay: From beginning to end, from Howard and Burnham to the latest amendment on urban-renewal law, the entire concoction is irrelevant to the workings of cities. Unstudied, unrespected, cities have served as sacricial victims (Jacobs 34). What is it then, that makes one city or neighborhood a vibrant, lively place, where everybody wants to be, and another, a dull, monotonous and sterile area shunned by all? In pursuing this question Jane Jacobs arrived at some surprising conclusions. Far from requiring immense amounts of money for brand new buildings in pristine landscapes, the main ingredient in her view of what constitutes interesting and wholesome cities turns out to be diversity. Jacobs lists four conditions that create exuberant diversity (196) in city streets. One such condition is the need for the district in question to serve multiple functions. If residents, schools, theater, shops, restaurants and parks are within walking distance from each other, the likelihood of people walking out and about in the streets at all hours of the day is greatly increased, and the danger of muggings and robberies decreases in proportion to the frequency of the foot trafc. The diversity of multiple uses of an area works like a built-in natural patrol of a neighborhood by the people who live there and therefore have a vested interest in its well-being. Other conditions for diversity include a mixture of old and new buildings, attracting renters from a variety of social and economic backgrounds; further, a fairly dense concentration of people making use of an area; and nally, the need for short city blocks to facilitate the mingling of people, enabling them to crisscross an area rather than following interminably long blocks without knowing the one running parallel to it. In conclusion, instead of bull-dozing so-called slum areas and moving people into new housing outside the city, as in the case of the projects it is better to strengthen the microstructure of neighborhoods, and trusting people to live their lives well, for even criminal elements, Jacob argues, can be balanced

Photo: Charles Chipman

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out in an otherwise sane environment. The failure of the projects has borne out Jacobss warning, which came before the collapse of this experiment in housing was evident. There is an element of nostalgia in Jacobs description of city life, when she insists on the importance of broad sidewalks to accommodate a large spectrum of goings- on: Sidewalks thirty to thirty-ve feet wide can accommodate virtually any demand of incidental play put upon themalong with trees to shade the activities, and sufcient space for pedestrian circulation and adult public sidewalk life and loitering (114). This picture of enjoyable city life is almost reminiscent of the happy old days (172), Walter Benjamin describes in his reections On Some Motifs in Baudelaire where he conjures a Paris replete with sedan chairs for the transport of the well-to-do, and where the aneur is shielded from the sight of carriages by the Arcades as he indulges in his leisurely observation of city life about him. The difference becomes, of course, also immediately apparent, because the aneur is strictly a male member of society and the scenes he would be interested in following would most likely not contain incidental play, by which Jacobs meant children at play. Indeed, Benjamin challenges E.T.A. Hoffmanns tale The Cousins Corner Window, which he assumed to be the earliest story attempting to capture city life, on the grounds that Hoffmann should have focused on the masses themselves instead of portraying scenes dominated by women (173). If Benjamin makes a difference between the masses and scenes dominated by women, it is only because the women Hoffmann observed were housewives going to market. The density of the crowd, the interaction of people and purposes, and the multiplicity of characters in Hoffmanns tale are surprisingly close to Jane Jacobss ideal of street life. At one point, the cousin explains how the crowd functions to disperse potential trouble merely by its physical presence: Even a serious and threatening ght is usually disbursed by people simply stepping between the contenders and driving them apart (4:381406). Similarly, Jane Jacobs writes: Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes (65). In these settings, women are integral to the workings of the city. They have not been singled out to represent both the fascination with the city and the horror of it. In contrast to the casual musings of Hoffmanns cousin, the aneurs relation to the city is quite a bit more complex. According to


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Susan Buck-Morss, the aneur is the prototype of the modern intellectual, his object of inquiry is modernity itself. Unlike the academic, who reects in his room, he walks the streets and studies the crowd (The Dialectics of Seeing 304). He studies the crowd with an eye to literary production to support his bohemian life-style. For Benjamin, Baudelaire is the model for the gure of the aneur and by immersing himself in his themes, Benjamin vicariously participates in the life of the 19th century aneur. One of the major themes in Baudelaires writing is prostitution, which Benjamin situates as a phenomenon of city life. Prostitution exemplies the kind of diminishment if not loss of individuality, which in Benjamins view, is a prerequisite for merging with the masses. He notes that in the prostitution of large cities, the woman herself becomes a mass article and adds, that it was this aspect of the prostitute which was decisive for Baudelaire is indicated not the least by the fact that in his many evocations of the whore, the bordello never provides the backdrop, although the street often does. 1 In her article on The Flaneur, the Sandwichman and the Whore: The Politics of Loitering, Susan Buck-Morss complicates the notion of loss of identity by pointing out that the identication of the writer/aneur with the whore should be understood as Einfuehlung in the Brechtian sense. She argues that: Einfuehlung, projection onto women passing by, as onto commodities in a store window, entails not the loss of self, but incorporation of the world (women, things) as fantasy images within ones own day-dreams (and then losing oneself in them). The loss of identity is placed on the woman who becomes an object among others to enrich the fantasy life of the aneur. The idea of women taking the prerogative of the male aneur and claiming the streets for their own fantasy projections is unthinkable for the mid 19th century. In the absence of womens equal rights to public space and expression, the female counterpart to the aneur is the street-walker. In Baudelaires Paris women could neither assume the cloak of anonymity associated with the aneur nor transcend the techniques of power that regulated her through everything from scrutinizing looks to sexual assaults to police encounter and arrests (Rabinowitz 9). A true counterpart of the aneur, the aneuse, a strolling female spectator, would have had to be able to participate in the anonymity the city affords its male inhabitants. This was not to happen until about seventy years later, when Virginia Woolf made the streets of London her special haunt.2 For the aneur, the city, the crowds, women and prostitution occupied one and the same semantic eld. What inspired fear, revulsion and horror(174) in the early witnesses to the spectacle of the city, from Heine to Valery, argues Benjamin, has to do with

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the automaton-like uniformity of the crowd. By referring to Marx and his analysis of the work process, which requires the worker to adjust his/her body movements to the speed and rhythm of modern technology, Benjamin adds the dimension of class specicity to the image of the crowd. While we can read a sense of compassion into Benjamins text, other writers such as Ortega y Gasset, to give just one example, are not as magnanimous. More Nietzschean than Marxist in his philosophical orientation Ortega y Gasset believed that the modern world was experiencing a profound demoralization as a consequence of the unprecedented rebellion of the masses, (166) and his explanation for the ascendance of this new world is threefold: liberal democracy, scientic experimentation, and industrialization (45). The fear of this new order of the world is most apparent when he writes: In almost all countries a homogeneous and compact mass utilizes its weight and presses upon public power, crushing every dissident group (65). Fritz Langs 1928 lm Metropolis brings together all of these thematic strands in his portrait of the city of the future. The crowd of workers in Metropolis has all the markers of uniformity and automatic, mechanical movements that instill dread and horror. Yet, the masses are kept docile under the inuence of the saint-like woman Maria, who preaches a pacist belief in the eventual healing of the worker/capitalist split through the union of the hands and the brain brought about by the agency of the heart. It is the replica of this woman, the automaton Maria, and brainchild of an evil magician/scientist, who manages to incite the masses, leading them into rebellion. The sexual overtones of the robot Maria are hard to miss, as she moves and speaks provocatively with eyes ablaze and undulating limbs. The lms construction of the woman Maria into good and bad, docile and rebellious, adapts the traditional view of woman as benign and destructive nature, to the crowds and the city. In his analysis of Metropolis, Andreas Huyssen correctly points out that the decision of the capitalist tycoon to replace the woman Maria with the rebellious robot makes little sense from a social and ideological point of view, since the woman Maria is keeping the masses in check with her womanly dogma of the heart (73). Huyssen comes to the conclusion that the perceived threat has nothing to do with the threat posed by the working masses in the case of Metropolis, but everything with the fear of the emotional, nurturing otherness posed by the woman Maria. In the drive toward ever-greater technological domination of nature, Metropolis master engineer must attempt to create woman, a being that, according to the males view, resists technologization by its very nature:


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Simply by virtue of natural biological reproduction, woman had maintained a qualitative distance to the realm of technical production which only produces lifeless goods. By creating a female android, Rotwang (the magician/scientist) fullls the male phantasm of a creation without mother; but more than that, he produces not just any natural life, but woman herself, the epitome of nature. (72)

Huyssen goes on to argue convincingly that technology is implemented to purge the threat of female sexuality through the destruction of the robot Maria. Technology functions here not only as a means to dominate and control real women, it is also the perfect screen onto which male fantasies of female sexuality are projected and erased at will. The robot appears here as the cathartic object par excellence. The ambivalence experienced by the early city loiterers in the face of the anonymous and automaton-like character of the crowd might be examined in this light. Like the automaton, the crowd in its very non-descript blankness lends itself to become a mirror or a screen to the fantasy world of the aneur. Ambivalence, writes Elisabeth Wilson, expresses fear and desire fused into one. What is feared is also desired: the Sphinx in the city (157). The horror, felt by the perambulating observers, can thus also be seen as a horror of their own potential for sexual chaos. More than half a century after Fritz Langs vision of modern cities, in which he foregrounds the struggle between capital and labor as the base of an advanced technological and industrial state, Ridley Scotts Blade Runner (1982), offers a postmodern counterpart. Visually there is still some correspondence in the use of mega high-rises, strange hovering and ying machines and articially created people. The differences are also immediately apparent. There is something oddly funky about Ridley Scotts megalopolis, conjuring a Los Angles in the year 2019. The general state of disrepair of city streets and buildings contrasts shockingly with the glitzy advertising and the advanced state of technology. The economic frontier, it seems, has shifted to extraterrestrial exploration in the intervening years, leaving the earth-based cities without funds to be maintained. The result is a layering effect (Deutelbaum 67) created by the accumulation of retrotted structure upon structure over time. The threat to the city also comes from an extraterrestrial source. Four androids, or replicants are on the loose seeking to expand their four-year life span as programmed by the Tyrell Corporation. Rick Deckard is a Blade Runner, a special agent, trained and assigned to detect and hunt down replicants. He is called out of retirement to take on the four replicants who have no permission to be on earth after they were banned as a consequence of a mutiny in an outer-planetary colony.

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While Metropolis offers some well dened sets of opposing poles like capital/labor, rich/poor, human/machine, revolt/peace, these sets no longer apply but are more or less blurred in the Los Angeles of 2019. The masses seem beleaguered by the smog and debris-lled city regardless of class afliation. A constant yellowish lter of billowing gaseous fume keeps the city in twilight between night and day, which even the interminable rain cannot wash away. The revolt of the renegade replicants does not threaten the usual functioning of everyday Los Angeles, it is directed exclusively at the head of the Tyrell Corporation, and resembles a family feud more than anything else. Nor can the chaotic, and more often than not, dangerous interactions on the streets of Los Angeles be called peaceful. In the postmodern mix of ethnicities, races, languages and cultures, diversity is abundant but has somehow gone awry. Perhaps the collapse of boundaries in the process of mixing has worked to the detriment of each contributing ingredient. The lms main focus, the distinction between human and android, is a case in point. The resemblance of the replicants to humans is so perfect, that it takes a special electronic gadget to measure whether or not there is any emotional response transmitted through the retina of the subject. What supposedly differentiates replicants from humans is their lack of emotion. Yet, throughout the lm this borderline is transgressed many times and in both directions. There is also an ofcial acknowledgment that replicants somehow learn how to have emotions after about two years of their existence, hence their short life span. Apparently a replicant with emotions and thus virtually indistinguishable from humans is not desirable to the powers that be, especially not in view of their physically superior programming. A demonstration of what can and does happen if a replicant with emotions and superior strength is allowed to exist is the encounter between Roy Batty and the head of the Tyrell corporation. In the prodigal son and father setting, including a church-like atmosphere replete with candles, his creature snuffs out the creator. But patricide is not Roys only mission; he also establishes a new covenant in a quasi-mythological scene at the end of a rooftop chase, where he becomes the savior of Deckard in a show of generous compassion. As far as Deckard is concerned, the lm constructs a number of ambiguities around his person so that we become uncertain whether Deckard himself is not a replicant; at the same time, it implies that distinctions between human and replicant ultimately fade and do not matter (W.A. Senior 5).3 This topsy-turvy world, in which androids appear to be humans and humans act like androids, is reminiscent of the condition of commodity fetishism analyzed by Karl Marx close to two centuries ago, as


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a similar inversion between humans and commodities. The articially engineered human being as the ultimate commodity ironically comments on the notion of commodity fetishism and of the human as an arbitrary ideal. But the lm can also be read as a rather caustic critique of society under late capitalisms relentless prot seeking at the expense of the populace and the cities they live in. In fact, the Los Angeles of Blade Runner resembles the last stage of decay of great cities outlined by Lewis Mumford, which he called Nekropolis and described as mere shells of cities, without infrastructure or civic life, and subject to warrior bands, looters and bounty hunters. (291) In terms of gender relations, the treatment of the female replicants in Blade Runner shows practically no advance over what it was in Metropolis. Like the robot Maria, the two sexualized women Pris and Zhora are brutally blown away by gunre, while Rachel, the more advanced model, clearly coded as the good woman, gains the love and support of Deckard. That Rachel is herself an android underscores the premise of the lm, i.e. its studied ambiguity regarding the human/android distinction. After Deckard forces Rachel to repeat the age-old discourse of desire and love, I want you, I love you, I trust you, she is ready to join the collection of photo memories that make up Deckards humanity. The nal equivocation between android and human comes at the end of the lm when Deckard reiterates the ofcial verdict that Rachel is not going to live long, adding laconically but then, who does? The diversity of Blade Runner is not the spontaneous diversity Jane Jacobs was talking about, it is a diversity based on segregation, a conuence of rejects and outcasts, the wretched of the earth. Sebastian, the genetic engineer, whose skills helped create Pris and Roy, lives all by himself in an enormous apartment building, gutted and hollowed out, except for the rooms he occupies with his robotic friends. When Pris nds out about his incurable disease, she instantly accepts that as the reason for the fact that he still lives on earth. Apparently, anyone else in his position would have left the planet long ago. The rhetoric of enforcement and segregation underlies much of Blade Runners narrative; e.g. replicants created as slaves for special purposes and assignments, the limitation on their life-span, the prohibition against their sojourn on earth, the forced reemployment of Deckard, the hunting down and killing of renegade replicants and nally, Dr. Tyrells admission that genetic differences, once programmed are irreversible. The Los Angeles of Blade Runner is the result of the persistent use of those kinds of enforcement measures. In fact, a look at the previous phase of Nekropolis in Mumfords mapping of urban growth and decay, invites a comparison between his description and many of the deter-

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mining features of the actual Los Angeles in the eighties: Widening of the gap between producing classes and spending classes [ . . . ] drain of national taxes to support the growing military establishment of the state [ . . . ] widespread moral apathy [ . . . ] each group, each individual, takes what it can get away with (291). The choice of Los Angeles for the setting of Blade Runner picks up on a trend in postmodern urban debates. The citys dramatic changes in growthit has become the sixth largest city in the world in the last thirty yearshave given it paradigmatic status, pointing beyond itself to a world-wide trend. The restructuring of Los Angeles is often seen as part of a more global restructuring process affecting everyone, everywhere in the world (Allen J. Scott and Edward W. Soja, 2). The hype surrounding Los Angles as either the crystal ball for predictions of the future development of all American cities, or the archetype of an emergent postmodern urbanism often takes on rather pessimistic tones. What frequently seems to be at stake in these theoretical ruminations is the creation of a typology of postmodern sensibilities. The runaway development of Los Angeles in the seventies with its resulting attening of urban space into interminable and repetitive strip malls and housing tracts is conceived as a uniquely postmodern phenomenon in terms of urban space. The splitting of the city into extremes of rich and poor in which a glittering First World City sits atop a polyglot Third World structure bafes the critic (Dear 98). Finally, the loss of community as a consequence of privatism and the fragmentation of political wills, all are signs that the polycentric, polarized, polyglot metropolis long ago tore up its social contract and is without even a draft of a replacement (Dear 99). To some extent, these postmodern perorations are invested in mystifying the problem rather than looking for solutions. In a very different mode, Mike Davis, in his inuential book City of Quartz: Excavating the future in Los Angeles, introduces the Gramscian notion that a radical structural analysis of the city [ . . . ] can only acquire social force if it is embodied in an alternative experiential vision [. . . . ] (87). In the case of Los Angels, Davis sees it embodied in the poly-ethnic, poly-lingual population of the city but worries that the whole idea of interculturalism might be co-opted by hegemonic forces to forge a Pacic Rim Nexus of corporate sponsored arts and performance (88). One way to prevent such a derailment of vital, creative forces could be to rmly anchor them to other oppositional or marginalized/ disenfranchised groups, women, children, gays, the elderly and disabled, being the most obvious ones. The premise here is that one group can provide a kind of testing ground for the other, recognizing that there are shared goals at stake. In his chapter Fortress L.A., Mike Davis speaks about the destruction of public space, describing how genuinely democratic


Discourse 24:2

space has been systematically erased in an attempt to sequester and segregate the barrios, in order to keep a publicly subsidized Downtown safe for middle-class work, consumption and recreation and separate from the increasingly repressive adjoining ghettos of the urban masses. Not only the police force is enlisted in keeping these downtown citadels free from incursions of the unwanted masses, but architects as well conspire with their blueprints designed to retreat from street life into luxurious interiors, while erecting fortress-like walls on the outside. Mike Davis astutely observes that ultimately the aims of contemporary architecture and the police converge most strikingly around the problem of crowd control (257). There seems to be no other way out of the kind of irrational city planning, that creates remote and sterile suburbs and power protected downtown fortresses surrounded by a rising tide of polluted and degraded neighborhoods, but to embrace the Sphinx in the city. Truly democratic spaces are only possible if heteroglossia is not only permitted but fostered, if difference in all of its forms, be it female sexuality, or ethnic and cultural otherness are allowed to ourish in an non-repressive environment, an environment perhaps best described by Jane Jacobss careful observation of the quotidian minutia and details that make city life enjoyable for everyone. The commercial release of Blade Runner features what has been called a problematic green ending. It is problematic not only for its happy romantic closure but also because it reinforces the traditional city/country dichotomy. As Deckard and Rachel make their escape from the hellhole Los Angeles, they y across pristine green valleys and snow capped mountains, intimating they will settle somewhere in this wilderness well out of reach of the police and the rest of the unsavory world that is LA. The contrast between those two realms could not be more shocking, utter chaos on the one hand, and calm beauty on the other. Deckard and Rachel can hardly be blamed for their eagerness to get away. Yet, the nature/culture and city/country split is an important one to be addressed if we remember that half of the worlds population will be living in cities in just a few years. Rather than thinking of the country as an avenue of escape, bringing nature, the country to the city, is required to mend the split according to the insights brought forward by many urban ecologists. In her inspired book The Granite Garden, Ann Whiston Spirn contends that recognizing nature in the city is a powerful tool to deal with the challenges facing cities now. Nature must be integrated with the purposes of human beings (11) but at the same time, she insists, it is important to reshape the city in harmony with the workings of nature (37). Such a suggestion deeply challenges the ingrained mechanistic mindset, so used to bulldoze nature into

Photo: Alexis Harte

Since 1981, Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) has worked with diverse neighborhoods to plant over 33,000 trees on the streets of San Francisco. By allowing Friends of the Urban Forest to conduct our weekly, community-based plantings on residential streets, the City of San Francisco has done something no other U.S. city has ever risked doing on such a large scale: it has turned over a signicant planning element and important natural resource to its residents. This transfer of responsibility is called community forestry, and its virtues as a management philosophy are extolled by natural resource departments the world over. The hypothesis is fairly straightforward: involve local people in every aspect of local resource management decisions and the resource will endure and thrive. We can show that our efforts over the last twenty years have amounted to something truly powerful: a healthy urban forest created and maintained by the people of San Francisco. Alexis Harte


Discourse 24:2

conforming to rational human schemes. It seems in fact, what is required of humans now for their own survival is to end the nature/reason dichotomy, to bring together the poles of mechanistic thinking and that of the older forms of organic thought that still paid heed to Natures own processes. If cities paid a high price for having been identied with female independence, arousing male anxiety of sexual transgression and chaos, they paid an even higher price for having nature excised from its precincts bowing to technological, rational reasoning. The relocation of women to the suburbs and the destruction of natural habitat in the cities spring from similar perspectives on life, putting into play once again the ancient identication of woman and nature. The value accorded to measurable controllable and manipulable entities exclusive of a tolerance for random, unpredictable and spontaneous events have resulted in an atrophy of life forms and expressions, whether they be persons of different backgrounds and gender or a grove of shade trees. Jane Jacobss deep insight into the prosperous workings of a city squarely addresses this intolerance. Her proposal for actively fostering diversity, instead of weeding out and straightjacketing undesirables, contains the wisdom that chaos is not the opposite of order, but that it has its owneven if not immediately transparentstructures of sense, a more complex order. Notes
1 Cited

by Susan Buck-Morss. The Dialectics of Seeing. (190191)

also suggests that the suffragettes had perhaps emboldened Woolf by taking the initiative to use public space for their activities. With regard to the use of public space by single women in turn-of-the-century Paris, Janet Wolff has contributed a fascinating comparison between the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and the painter Gwen John and their respective access to public life (see chapter 6).
3 In his note to this passage, W.A. Senior comments that interviews with Ridley Scott demonstrate that he thought of Deckard as a replicant, which goes a long way to explain Roys magnanimous gesture, having recognized in him a fellow creature.

2 Green

Works Cited
Benjamin, Walter. On some Motifs in Baudelaire. Trans. Harry Zohn. Illuminations. New York: Schocken, 1976. 155200. Buck-Morss, Susan. The Dialectics of Seeing. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989. - The Flaneur, the Sandwichman and the Whore: The Politics of Loitering. New German Critique. 39 (1986): 99 144. Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Trans. William Weaver, San Diego: HBJ, 1974.

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Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. Steven Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Davis, Mike. City of Quartz. New York: Vintage, 1992. Deutelbaum, Marshall. Memory/Visual Design: The Remembered Sights of Blade Runner. Film and Literature Quarterly. 17.1 (1989): 6672. Greed, Clara H. Women and Planning: Creating Gendered Realities. New York: Routledge, 1994. Green, Barbara. From Visible Flaneuse to Spectacular Suffragette? The Prison, the Street, and the Sites of Suffrage. Discourse. 17.2 (19941995): 6797. Hoffmann, E.T.A. Des Vetters Eckfenster. Werke, 4: date 381406. Trans. My own. Frankfurt: Insel, 1967. Huyssen, Andreas. After the Great Divide. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1986. Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Randomhouse, 1993. Kail, Eva, and Jutta Kleedorfer, eds. Wem gehoert der oeffentliche Raum: Frauenalltag in Der Stadt. Wien: Bohlau, 1991. Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Trans Donald Nicholson-Smith. Malden: Blackwell, 1991. Merchant, Carolyn. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientic Revolution. San Francisco: Harper, 1980. Miranne, Kristine B., and Alma H. Young, eds. Gendering the City: Women, Boundaries And Visions of Urban Life. Oxford: Rowman and Littleeld, 2000. Mumford, Lewis. The Culture of Cities. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1939. Ortega y Gasset, Jose. The Revolt of the Masses. Notre Dame: Notre Dame UP, 1985. Rabinowitz, Lauren. For the Love of Pleasure: Women, Movies, and Culture in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1998. Senior, W.A. Blade Runner and Cyberpunk: Visions of Humanity, Film Criticism. 21:1 (1996): 112. Stamp, Shelly. Movie-Struck Girls: Women and Motion Picture Culture after the Nickelodeon. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000. Whiston-Spirn, Anne. The Granite Garden. Urban Nature and Human Design. New York: Basic Books, 1984. Wilson, Elizabeth. The Sphinx in the City: Urban Life, the Control of Disorder, and Women. Berkeley: U of California Press, 1991. Wolff, Janet. Resident Alien: Feminist Cultural Criticism. New Haven: Yale UP, 1995.