Subjective Ramblings and Peripheral Thoughts from the Edges of a Comics Studies Project
Restless Cities (Verso, 2010), edited by English scholars Matthew Beaumont and Gregory Dart, is a collection of essays that, according to the preface, “attempt both to identify some of the patterns that have defined everyday life in the modern city and to observe their constitutive or transformative effects on individuals” (x-xi). Contributions to this attempt are made by academics and cultural producers (filmmakers and writers).
The essays collected range from page-turners to the near-unreadble. Most of the chapters provide something worth the occasional struggle to not give up and move on, but if you are comfortable skipping things in your reading materials, I suggest you start with the second essay, “Bombing” and with the second to last, “Sickening.” I understand what their authors want to do with their texts’ meandering and assaulting styles – the titles are very suggestive in this respect – but the writing does not measure up to the challenge. Conversely, the opening chapter, French scholar Michael Sherningham’s “Archiving,” along with philosopher Marshall Berman’s beautiful reflection on urbicide, “Falling,” and writer Geoff Dyer’s “Inhabiting” are, in my opinion, the true gems of the collection. But, overall, I’ve come away from almost all of the chapters with a feeling that, at least, I’ve learned a little something.
It is important to note that despite its stated aim, the book does not always stay within the bounds of the city (the chapter “Driving” least of all), and that many of its authors use London as their backdrop (an understandable preoccupation, given that many of them live and work in England). Most important, however, is the fact that the balance often falls more toward representations of cities than of their immediate experience. This last aspect, as far as I’m concerned, is a strength. Many essays focus on urban phenomena, focusing on how they have been represented, showing how cultural production can become interested in the goings-on in cities and the experiences of city-dwellers (the world is becoming increasingly urban and popular culture doesn’t want to alienate its audience). Through this perspective, the book shows how our entertainments try to be sensitive to our experiences, to channel them back to us, and how they respond to (and sometimes affect) changes in how the cultural meaning of things like commuting or lodging are perceived. If you’re interested in how the city assails people with meanings and how people use its elements to create new ones, this book is definitely worth the read.