Panel 3.2 Urban Landscapes
Will Smith, Lancaster University, UK, “‘The Erection of the Monster’: Frank Lillie Pollock and The Skyscraper”
In Frank Lillie Pollock’s 1899 short story, “The Stolen Sky-scraper,” the sudden disappearance of a newly-built skyscraper leads the story’s narrator to suggest the building itself is monstrous. Already pushing at the boundaries of the urban imagination, Pollock’s skyscraper disappears overnight leaving the inhabitants of a small American city reaching for supernatural explanations. David E. Nye has noted how, in the late-nineteenth-century, American cities fostered a “new aesthetics of the industrial sublime [which] presented urban space as having … awe-inspiring and uplifting qualities.” However, American fictional responses to the transforming cityscapes were slow to embrace the emblematic figure of this transformation, the skyscraper. Adrienne Brown provocatively suggests it was in the realm of literary fantastika that the skyscraper first found representative purchase, as “weird fiction in the 1900s and 1910s marked the skyscraper as a peculiar structure lending itself to fantastic interpretation.” Brown goes on to suggest that such fictions transposed ideas of the freedom and individuality of the American frontier to the new space of the city skyline. A counter-voice to such idealised sensibilities can be found in the work of American-Canadian writer Frank Lillie Pollock. Between 1897 and 1929 the American-born, Canadian author made a career from publishing nearly two hundred short stories, serial fictions and poems in magazines. Writing in Boston-based magazine The Black Cat at the turn of the century, alongside such literary luminaries as Jack London, Pollock countered the ideals of American industry by exposing the uncanny symbology, precarious physicality and uneasy labour-relations that exist around the skyscraper. In Pollock’s short stories “The Stolen Sky-scraper” (1899) and “The Skyscraper in B-Flat” (1904), first published in The Black Cat and syndicated in a variety American newspapers, the skyscraper is a fantastic site of loss and an unpredictable location. Taking these stories alongside Pollock’s later magazine fictions, such as the oft-anthologised apocalyptic story “Finis” (1906), this paper argues that Pollock’s early weird fictions provide a startling glimpse of skyscraper-induced anxiety.
Bionote: Will Smith completed a PhD in Canadian Literature at the University of Nottingham in 2012. He is currently associate lecturer in the Department of English and Creative Writing and a 2014/2015 knowledge exchange fellow at Lancaster University.
Rob O’Connor, York St. John University, UK, “‘A Tourist Guide to Besźel and Ul Qoma’: Unseeing and the Re-interpretation of Psychogeography in China Miéville’s The City and the City”
Urban environments feature heavily in the work of China Miéville, inspiring his world creation in a fundamental manner. The landscape of the city becomes a central character in its own right, constantly shifting and changing into new forms. Miéville takes the imagery of the city and plays with it, fusing the imaginative traits of genre fictions with the everyday to produce his own brand of urbanism that uses the fantastical as a lens with which to examine our own contemporary society. Miéville's exercise here could easily be interpreted as an act of psychogeography, what Merlin Coverley defines as ‘the point at which psychology and geography collide, a means of exploring the behavioural impact of place’ (Coverley, 2010). Out of Miéville’s entire work The City and the City (2009) most successfully plays with these themes of psychogeography, introducing a topologically-challenging representation of the urban landscape. This imaginative construction deployed within the novel allows readers to explore the themes of psychogeography very closely, as we witness the effect that the physical intertwining of these urban environments has upon the inhabitants. The central premise of Miéville’s novel - ‘Unseeing’ - plays a significant role within the narrative, encouraging critical thought regarding our own connection with urban landscapes. The concept of policed borders also engages the reader with political considerations and subtexts due to contemporary and historical conflicts involving land disputes and imperialistic motives. By analysing The City and the City closely, this paper will explore how Miéville is attempting to show the reader new methods of examining our interaction with twenty-first century urban landscapes by combining fantastical elements with psychogeographical considerations.
Bionote: A student and visiting lecturer at York St John University, Rob O’Connor’s PhD research focuses upon the work of China Miéville. Other research interests include genre theory, contemporary literature and creative writing. He also teaches literature and creative writing for the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York.
Vladimir Rizov, University of York, UK, “The Dialectics of Documents: The Case of Parisian Landscape in Atget and Cartier-Bresson”
Documentary photography deals with the visual imagination of social issues. I intend to demonstrate that documentary photography as a practice consists of temporal projections in an imagined space. In order to do so I will utilise Walter Benjamin’s dialectics of seeing and his concept of the dream image (2007; 2009). In terms of illustration of this theoretical work I will draw on the example of Eugene Atget’s (1857-1927) and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s (1908-2004) photographic work. Of particular interest will be Cartier-Bresson’s concept of the decisive moment which will be contrasted with that of Benjamin’s dream image. By doing so, the paper will demonstrate how the practice of framing in documentary photography imagines a trajectory for itself through building on previous depictions of space, movement, and topic matter in general. I will analyse the empty urban landscapes of Atget in the changing Paris of late 18th and early 19th century in comparison to the surreal urban depictions of movement in Cartier- Bresson’s work. This demonstration will provide further insight into the nature of the document and the photographic – how they are constituted through time and practice, as well as how photography imagines itself.
Benjamin, W. (2007). Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings. New York: Schocken Books.
Benjamin, W. (2009). One-way Street and Other Writings. England: Penguin Books.
Bionote: Vladimir Rizov is a doctoral researcher in Sociology at the University of York. His key focus of research is documentary photography and its narratives and practices. Vladimir’s interests are broadly in visual culture and visual sociology. He has a BA in Sociology with Social Psychology and a MA in Social Research from the University of York.