chapter  10
11 Pages

Anonymous encounters: the structuring of space in postmodern narratives of the city: Sarah Edwards

The essays in this section focus on the formal strategies, or ‘building blocks’, of literary narratives and examine the ways in which they both represent and shape our bodily and psychic inhabitations of the contemporary city. In these essays, narrative innovations defamilisarise both urban living spaces and the city streets to re-define concepts of public and private, while corridors, parking lots and staircases become sites of subversive and marginal activities. New versions of flânerie are embodied by female and gay sightseers who reclaim the streets and whose gazes are textually inscribed on maps, grids and puzzles that unsettle both literary and cartographic conventions. These essays, then, also re-consider the usefulness of twentieth-century literary and cultural theory to our understanding of everyday life and investigate relationships between the body, gender, text and space. They investigate a range of everyday activities – from a walk in the park, to recreational sex, and the chance encounter on the staircase – and illustrate how these architectural and textual spaces produce the anonymous encounters that have often been associated with the modern city. As Inga Bryden notes in her essay on the contemporary urban short story, literary theorists have always deployed spatial terminology to describe generic features, such as structure, form or metre. More recently, writers such as Ian Sinclair and Jon McGregor have departed from earlier nineteenth-century or modernist accounts of the city (for example, the work of Charles Dickens or James Joyce), which are dominated by the gaze of their omniscient narrators or the intensely subjective stream-of-consciousness of modernist characters, who survey and map an urban panorama for their readers’ consumption.1 David Harvey, in The Condition of Postmodernity notes a shift in ‘author(ity)’, or a fundamental change in the way that architects viewed the city (Harvey 1990). Whereas modernists are identified

with the idea of coordinated planning, postmodernists celebrated the unplanned, the accidental and the autonomous. Similarly, many postmodern writers claim that the meanings of urban space are continually produced by writers and their readers. For Roland Barthes, ‘The city is a writing. He who moves about the city, e.g. the user of the city (what we all are), is a kind of reader’ (Barthes 1997: 170). Cultural geographers also argue that space is both socially produced, and a condition of social production. Increasingly, literary, cultural and art and architectural critics have theorised space as ‘process’, as ‘something linear to be narrativised’ (Bryden, in this volume).2