An Imagined Cities Postscript: Further Reading For The Curious
To cap off our month of exploring the world's past, present and future imagined cities, we've collected suggestions from our contributors and readers for articles, books and films to curb any wirthdrawal. From apocalpytic visions to prescient predictions, here's what to read next.
"Over January, I was absent-mindedly flicking through an old copy of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities for the first time in ten years. Most chapters floated past in a not-unpleasant blur, but one stuck with me: the desert port that looks like ship from the desert side, and a resting camel from the sea. It’s true of so many towns (and things, hashtag-fake news), none more so than Arcosanti, the ecological settlement and imaginary city built in the Arizona wilderness which I wrote about here."
Karl Smith, editor / Teju Cole, Every Day Is For The Thief & Ben Lerner, 10:04
"Yes, both Ben Lerner’s 10:04 and Teju Cole’s Every Day Is For The Thief are novels – but it’s also proof that fiction can provide a more accurate account of the experience of “being” in the city than any work of non-fiction might hope to aspire to. The uniqueness of immersion in the cityscape as a human being, after all, isn’t so much about the architectural maze itself (the hodge-podge of skyscrapers and terraces; of failed futurism and maligned modernity) but the feeling of navigating that maze – of time and space and language and public interactions and private thoughts simultaneously at odds with each other, all occurring at once, projected outward to create something continuously in flux and completely unique to every single person who inhabits that metropolis. Yes, these are fictions – but what else is the idea of the city, really?"
Ashiya Eastwood and David Kane's sonic portrait of the Westway and its surroundings put a whole new spin on our exploration of Imagined Cities this month, proving that writing about and photographing the metropolis aren't the only ways to capture the spirit of a place. In that same vein, they'd like to suggest you take the time to listen to William Basinski, watch Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker, stare at the canvases of John Martin and read the works of J.G. Ballard and Yevgeny Zamyatin.
Darran Anderson, guest editor
All these books are a reminder that cities are plural, where lives are happening simultaneously; that cities are partially built from stories, fictions, myths and reward exploration. And as much as we dream of escape, the places we inhabit are more meaningful than we might think – and they are worth fighting for: Building Stories by Chris Ware, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin, Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky, The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, Evil Paradises edited by Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk.
Alex Keegan, reader / Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland
Normatively-plagued males search for a solely-female enclave in disbelief that society can exist without their authoritative male presence. What they find is a world that flourishes in perfect harmony with nature, scientific progress and womanhood. The corruption they bring magnifies the flaws of western living and makes one yearn to visit Herland.
Theodore Inglis, reader / The Complete Short Stories Of J.G. Ballard, Volume 1
J.G Ballard is such an iconic writer of cities that his name has even become an adjective – ‘Ballardian’ – referring to “dystopian modernity and bleak man-made landscapes.” Most of his novels take place in real world locations, but many of his earlier short stories, collected in this hefty volume, occur in speculated future cities. One of his very first short stories, The Concentration City (1957), imagines an entirely urbanised earth. The origins of its single megalopolis obscure to the fire-safety and real estate obsessed inhabitants. Chronopolis (1960) sees an enormous depopulated city surrounded by a huge ring of suburbs where the people live without clocks or any kind of time keeping. While Billennium (1962) also features a gigantic city and the struggles with crowds and lack of living space that its population battle against. Faced with the population growth and increased urbanisation of the post-war world, these stories are Ballard’s meditations on what the realities of huge cities could be. Although fanciful, they feel incredibly relevant today.
Christo Hall, founder of Cureditor / Constant Nieuwenhuys, Constant’s New Babylon
New Babylon is a city and a solution. For Constant Nieuwenhuys and his Situationist comrades, the 18-year experiment into a post-capitalist and automated society sought to emancipate us from the everyday rule of the state and replace it with a dizzying nomadic freedom to manipulate public space into ever-evolving, user-generated networks of alleys and arteries. Because as Situationist chieftain, Guy Debord, once wrote: "Life can never be too disorienting."
“Five years ago, a relatively unknown (and unhinged) director began one of the wildest experiments in film history. Armed with total creative control, he invaded a Ukrainian city, marshaled a cast of thousands and thousands, and constructed a totalitarian society in which the cameras are always rolling and the actors never go home.”
Image of Arcosanti by Jan Pauw on Flickr, John Martin's Le Pandemonium and Manfred and the Alpine Witch via Wikimedia Commons.
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