First, it must be understood that the city is an extremely elusive entity, seemingly impossible to capture and define in any sort of complete and exhaustive manner. Second, resorting to one idea, no matter how sophisticated (e.g., agglomeration, planetary urbanism), will never penetrate the conundrum of the city. Closing in on the city with a set of assumptions of any kind will result in failure. A multi-pronged approach is needed, one that doesn’t rely on a single idea but allows for any number of ideas to be used simultaneously when studying the city.
In The Metaphysical City, six approaches are used as ways to perceive the city. The first is the city as creature, the urban milieu as a formulation of the monstrous, its grit scales and its street a hide. However, the city as creature can take on a much simpler and mundane hue, as various assemblages cluster and define urban space. New York City is used as our example of this element. The city also presents itself as a human being. It seems to possess agency, a will to act, moods, personalities, even a brain with which it thinks. Paris is the model here, with its legendary writers guiding us through the human tendencies of the city. Next is the city as jail cell, with Cairo our representative city. The city can hem people in; it can capture and hold them in literal and metaphorical cells. Urban families can do this as well, and so can urban society as a whole. Contrary to what some urbanists claim, the city is not simply a material thing. I use Mumbai to prove that point. The city as home, with Tokyo as our example, is next, and here I examine the home in the city and the city as home. In other words, I survey domestic arrangements as well as public space in terms of defining a city and providing access to a feeling of home. The last aspect I consider is the city as spectacle, with Los Angeles as our model. Both glamour and the macabre are considered in terms of the city as spectacle as well as its more quotidian elements. With these six aspects in mind, we are ready for the book itself.