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Noir Urbanisms

Noir Urbanisms: Dystopic Images of the Modern City

EDITED BY Gyan Prakash
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Noir Urbanisms
    Book Description:

    Dystopic imagery has figured prominently in modern depictions of the urban landscape. The city is often portrayed as a terrifying world of darkness, crisis, and catastrophe.Noir Urbanismstraces the history of the modern city through its critical representations in art, cinema, print journalism, literature, sociology, and architecture. It focuses on visual forms of dystopic representation--because the history of the modern city is inseparable from the production and circulation of images--and examines their strengths and limits as urban criticism.

    Contributors explore dystopic images of the modern city in Germany, Mexico, Japan, India, South Africa, China, and the United States. Their topics include Weimar representations of urban dystopia in Fritz Lang's 1927 filmMetropolis; 1960s modernist architecture in Mexico City; Hollywood film noir of the 1940s and 1950s; the recurring fictional destruction of Tokyo in postwar Japan's sci-fi doom culture; the urban fringe in Bombay cinema; fictional explorations of urban dystopia in postapartheid Johannesburg; and Delhi's out-of-control and media-saturated urbanism in the 1980s and 1990s. What emerges inNoir Urbanismsis the unsettling and disorienting alchemy between dark representations and the modern urban experience.

    In addition to the editor, the contributors are David R. Ambaras, James Donald, Rubén Gallo, Anton Kaes, Ranjani Mazumdar, Jennifer Robinson, Mark Shiel, Ravi Sundaram, William M. Tsutsui, and Li Zhang.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3662-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[viii])
  3. Introduction: Imaging the Modern City, Darkly
    (pp. 1-14)

    As the world becomes increasingly urban, dire predictions of an impending crisis have reached a feverish pitch. Alarming statistics on the huge and unsustainable gap between the rates of urbanization and economic growth in the global South is seen to spell disaster. The unprecedented agglomeration of the poor produces the specter of an unremittingly bleak “planet of slums.”¹ Monstrous megacities do not promise the pleasures of urbanity but the misery and strife of the Hobbesian jungle. The medieval maxim that the city air makes you free appears quaint in view of the visions of an approaching urban anarchy. Urbanists write...

  4. Modernism and Urban Dystopia

    • Chapter 1 The Phantasm of the Apocalypse: Metropolis and Weimar Modernity
      (pp. 17-30)

      The fascination with urban dystopia and destruction has a long tradition dating back to the Book of Genesis (in which the Tower of Babel is destroyed) and the Book of Revelation (in which the city of Babylon is annihilated). Fritz Lang’sMetropolis, which opened in Berlin in January 1927, draws its apocalyptic imagery from both the Book of Genesis and the Book of Revelation. Configuring dystopia in biblical terms, Lang offered a blueprint for the religious subtext of most science fiction films today. FollowingMetropolis, these films use apocalyptic motifs to dramatize modernity’s nefarious consequences. Only complete devastation and erasure...

    • Chapter 2 Sounds Like Hell: Beyond Dystopian Noise
      (pp. 31-52)

      For the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, in 1844, hell was the sound of whips cracking in the Nuremberg streets.

      [T]he truly infernal cracking of whips in the narrow resounding streets of a town must be denounced as the most unwarrantable and disgraceful of all noises. It deprives life of all peace and sensibility. Nothing gives me so clear a grasp of the stupidity and thoughtlessness of mankind as the tolerance of the cracking of whips. This sudden, sharp crack which paralyses the brain, destroys all meditation, and murders thought, must cause pain to any one who has anything like an idea...

    • Chapter 3 Tlatelolco: Mexico City’s Urban Dystopia
      (pp. 53-72)

      A few years ago, in a catalogue for an exhibition on utopias, critic Frédéric Rouvillois mused on the relationship between utopias and totalitarianism in the twentieth century. Why is it, he wondered, that so many projects for a complete overhaul of society—from the Russian Revolution to German National Socialism—that began as utopian dreams ended up producing history’s worst nightmares? It appears, he writes, “as if utopia were nothing more than the premonition of totalitarianism and totalitarianism the tragic execution of the utopian dream.”¹ As recent history demonstrates, there does seem to be a close link between utopias, dystopias,...

  5. The Aesthetics of the Dark City

    • Chapter 4 A Regional Geography of Film Noir: Urban Dystopias On- and Offscreen
      (pp. 75-103)

      In the heyday of film noir, from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s, the utopian aspirations that had driven the foundation and meteoric rise of the Hollywood studio system since World War I suddenly seemed fragile and liable to collapse. For the American Right, which had never much liked Hollywood on moral and political grounds, it came to appear as a Communist command post on American soil; for workers, it was a desperately insecure and often hostile place in which to try to make a living; and for the Hollywood moguls it was a dream they once had that was now...

    • Chapter 5 Oh No, There Goes Tokyo: Recreational Apocalypse and the City in Postwar Japanese Popular Culture
      (pp. 104-126)

      In his bookEcology of Fear, Mike Davis seeks to establish Los Angeles’s reputation as the “disaster capital of the universe,” a “Book of the Apocalypse theme park,” and, quite simply, “Doom City.” Davis chronicles the rich profusion of novels and films that have “managed to destroy Los Angeles in a remarkable, even riotous, miscellany of ways,” listing 138 literary and cinematic Armageddons between 1909 and 1996. “The City of Angels,” Davis assures us, “is unique, not simply in the frequency of its fictional destruction, but in the pleasure that such apocalypses provide to readers and movie audiences. The entire...

    • Chapter 6 Postsocialist Urban Dystopia?
      (pp. 127-149)
      LI ZHANG

      China’s transition to a market economy and its entry into the orbit of global capitalism have been elements in a highly uneven and disorienting process. By retaining a remarkable economic growth, the Chinese state is a successful example of how socialism can transform itself to adapt to the globalizing world through reforms (rather than revolution). But such fast capital accumulation and large-scale privatization have intensified social inequality and dislocation in recent years. This troubling trend is reflected in the rising popular discontent, resistance, and civic unrest that have spread from the city to the countryside (see Lee 2007; O’Brien and...

    • Chapter 7 Friction, Collision, and the Grotesque: The Dystopic Fragments of Bombay Cinema
      (pp. 150-184)

      The twentieth-century legacy of wars, conflicts, and accelerating violence has given birth to imagined worlds where ethical imperatives and moral stability appear to have collapsed. Philosophers, writers, and artists have typically addressed this legacy by forging an estrangement with the present, creating an archive of dystopian thought. While the philosophical and literary tradition has proven itself as an important site for dystopian commentary, it is the technological impetus of cinema, television, and photography that has fundamentally expanded and altered the dystopian archive. The genres of science fiction and horror with their mindscapes, images of technological rationalization, violence and the crisis...

  6. Imaging Urban Crisis

    • Chapter 8 Topographies of Distress: Tokyo, c. 1930
      (pp. 187-217)

      In March 1930, nearly seven years after a massive earthquake destroyed three-fourths of the city’s buildings and killed roughly one hundred thousand people, Tokyo officially celebrated its reconstruction as, in the words of Mayor Horikiri Zenjirō, “the seat of our empire, the axis of our nation’s political and economic life, . . . and the fountainhead of our national culture.”¹ In the same month, perhaps not coincidentally, the satire and comic art magazineTōkyō pakku(Tokyo Puck) featured on its back cover a painting by Miura Shun titledTokai(Metropolis), which depicted a far more disconcerting version of urban modernity....

    • Chapter 9 Living in Dystopia: Past, Present, and Future in Contemporary African Cities
      (pp. 218-240)

      Fictional dystopias generally portray imaginary places. And yet one of the common strategies of the genre is to create plausible futures, taking the reader from a more or less recognizable present into a future that might be. The principal dynamic for the production of a fictional dystopic “elsewhere,” then, is a temporal shift drawing the present into the future.¹ In Western-based urban studies the recent deployment of dystopic narrative forms has merged with decades-old habits of projecting a host of unwanted (if not unimaginable) features of cities onto an “elsewhere,” but an elsewhere that has been largely spatially rather than...

    • Chapter 10 Imaging Urban Breakdown: Delhi in the 1990s
      (pp. 241-260)

      At some point in the long years of the 1980s the city of Delhi¹ entered its own “very special delirium.”² The ingredients of this delirium included a powerful mix of urban crisis and an expanding media sensorium that produced a feeling that was exhilarating but equally terrifying and violent. Delhi’s experience is also comparable to that of other rapidly growing cities, including Mexico City, Karachi, and Lagos, all places that have begun to produce a range of dynamic responses and reflections—artwork, music, literature, essays. In the fast-moving landscape of global event theory, however, yet another genre has emerged that...

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 261-264)
  8. Index
    (pp. 265-277)