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Monday, March 17, 2008

Scripta Urbana 

City novels, in which some city is the chief character? People immediately list: Ulysses, Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Peterburg.

But those novels all seem to have a lot of people in them, characters, as it were, who have the usual sort of problems that people in novels have always had; whereas a real city has not time for dopey adolescents worrying about their erotic fantasies and so on. A truly urban novel would be a sort of ghost story. It would also have to be written in an entirely new language that was completely free of metaphor. It would be totally metonymous and miraculously inhuman. To the average reader, even one familiar with its new language, it would be just about incomprehensible, yet perfectly lucid!

A starting point, or model, might be William Loftie's Authorised Guide to the Tower of London (1897):

Emerging from the Mark Lane railway station, the visitor obtains an excellent view of the great fortress. Within the railed space of Trinity Square, the first permanent scaffold on Tower Hill was set up in the reign of Edward III, but the first execution recorded there was that of Sir Simon Burley in 1388. Here were also beheaded, among others, Dudley, the minister of Henry VII (1510), his son, the Duke of Northumberland (1553) ...

I think you have to agree that this “among others” reveals the pen of a master, content with his remit of winkling out excellent views that might beguile the observer.



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