Underground Forum: The spirit of Metropolis.

The spirit of Metropolis.

Text: Leopold LUCAS

Photo: Sop Rodchenvko

"Poor lonely woman, abandoned in the crowded desert called Paris". But we are not in Verdi's La Traviata, and we do not know who this woman is, nor do we know who the crowd is. This is actually not really important, because beyond the poetry of this fresh perspective, the negative of this photography reveals nothing but an illustration of a theory of the Metropolis urbaness.

The story told by this picture, it is first that of a fleeting encounter, fleeting and uncertain: it is the most complete expression of serendipity - word representing the possibility of the unexpected - that is condensed in this snapshot. To find the unexpected: this is something that only a metropolis can offer. A great city is not only all the probable but more over all the impossible. The necessary condition that allows the realization of this "shuffle" distinctly appear from this picture: it is the couple density / diversity of societal realities, fundamental criterions emphasized by Louis Wirth in his famous article « Urbanism as way of life » to appreciate the urban character of a place. And making all its richness. This density and diversity is represented here by the crowd, again mostly a metropolitan characteristic: it is only in very large cities that we can make the daily experience of such a high concentration of people. However, one must know how to be in that crowd: it is a specific way of make-do-with-space, with a permanent adjustment with others, with arrangements, with objects, etc. From the conceptual characters of the stranger by Georg Simmel to the Walter Benjamin’s flâneur, all the ideal-typical figures of the great classics in urban sociology are here implicitly (re)presented. This crowd of strangers, this melting of anonymous people, is made possible by what we called the public space, that is to say the space accessible to all, the space that can be visited by everyone, as Kant said, where everyone can, by its presence, to express themselves, at least exist ; where each act, each posture, may be a claim. At the same time, the individual is, at the heart of this public space, lost in anonymity: it’s the civil inattention according to Isaac Joseph. It is precisely this superficiality of contacts that allows individuals to hold together, which allows to « make society » (in comparison with « community », according the dichotomy established by Tonnies), which makes possible the co-presence of foreigners: inhabiting is still co-inhabiting in this sense. Nobody notices you in the city, except the time of a furtive exchange, a short eye contact. Nobody cares for others either, for better as for worse...

Yet it is in this type of place where you made the most with the World: confrontation with alterity, with another, with the others, and thus with oneself, if we follow Ricoeur. It is no longer urbi et orbi to say back the famous Latin locution, but overall the Global city, expression proposed by Saskia Sassen to mean that great Metropolis are a concentrate of the world, are its main decision centers. The poster in the picture is a clue, elementary: if we are apparently in a large English-speaking metropolis, yet it is really about Mexico that is referred. Here we find the hybridisation of cultures and practices, specific to the contemporary world and which gives its full potential at the concept of cosmopolitic. Then we understand that Hegel was perhaps not so wrong when he said that « only the modern city offers to the mind the ground where he can become aware of itself »...

Leopold LUCAS

Dr. in geography and currently Visiting Research Fellow at UCL

His research focus on the use of the spatial dimension of the society by individuals, or in other words, to understand how individuals make-do-with-space in our contemporary world.

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© 2020 by Sop Rodchenvko

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

All text by Sop Rodchenvko are reviewed and copy-edited by Gosia Polanska (Mojek).

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