Dickensian Architextures or, the City and the Ineffable

  • Julian Wolfreys


The most distinctive cities,’ writes Paul Virilio, ‘bear within them the capacity of being nowhere’ (Virilio 1994, 10). If this is true of London, where, then, do we imagine the City to be in the writing of Charles Dickens? What is this city? What can we say about it, what do we think we know about it, what do we understand about it? If anything? Naming the city implies and even imposes both recognisable location and architecture: location as architecture. A structure is put in place, conceptually, geographically, figuratively, especially when associated with another proper name, such as that of Charles Dickens. Much criticism has been written about Dickens’s London,1 and the various biographies have also had their share in the discussion of Dickens’s London. Indeed, the very phrase, ‘Dickens’s London’ seems to deliver itself as a hieratic title, already armed with defensive and bullying quotation marks, marking off the subject of the city as one of which we can no longer speak; a subject which is, because of the volumes already spoken and written, ineffable. But if we can return to Dickens’s London, shedding or erasing the quotation marks, even partially, it may be possible to witness Dickens as already writing the ineffable city, writing of a city which cannot be constructed simply and unproblematically, which cannot be expressed through words, a city which is unpronounceable, beyond description or expression; except, that is, through descriptions which speak of the unspeakability, informing us of the ineffable condition of the capital’s architexture.


Spatial Logic Slum hOUSing General Sequential Structure Oliver Twist Slum Dwelling 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1996

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  • Julian Wolfreys

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