The Subtle Details of Community and City
As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.
November 13, 2014
From 1904 Dublin to the Megacity: Public Access in Ulysses and Katarina Schröter’s The Visitor
Catherine Flynn (English)
Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Flynn’s talk raised the question of urban knowing and related it to the literary and filmic representations of the city and megacity.
by Yasir Hameed
Professor Flynn’s talk last week discussed works by James Joyce (Ulysses) and Katarina Schröter (The Visitor), both of which are accumulative accounts of unexpected detail providing vivid, sometimes surprising imagery of “places.”
They are highly impressionistic pastiches on a journey through the language of the imagination. One could describe them as wonderful, unconventional and occasionally fantastic concoctions of psychological states, physical states, sensory states, transcendence, and more.
Of what did the duumvirate deliberate during their itinerary?
Music, literature, Ireland, Dublin, Paris, friendship, woman, prostitution, diet, the influence of gaslight or the light of arc and glowlamps on the growth of adjoining paraheliotropic trees, exposed corporation emergency dustbuckets, the Roman catholic church, ecclesiastical celibacy, the Irish nation, jesuit education, careers, the study of medicine, the past day, the maleficent influence of the presabbath, Stephen's collapse.
- James Joyce, Ulysses
Some of the details captured in such prose are normally lost in the visual language of maps, technical drawings and illustrations. They are also invisible in the empirical descriptions and accounts of places. And yet, they seemingly carry a lot of weight in informing the sense of a place. They describe each city (on varying scales) by focusing beyond the dominant characteristics of its geographical situation and tangible built environment, highlighting instead more subtle matters like social practices.
Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.
- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
From my point of view as an architect and planner in training, such a skill is not only essential in windshield and walking surveys to understand specific aspects of a community or city, but also to demonstrate a future vision for the same. Although this form of description would require some development and adaptation, it would provide an insight into the aspirations of the proposed designs, something rarely “felt” in the master plans, policies and manifestos written in a mixture of academese and legalese.
Yasir Hameed is a candidate for the Master of City Planning degree at UC Berkeley.