From Body Without Organs to City Without Streets

  • Abraham AkkermanEmail author


This chapter shows how masculine features came to dominate city-form from late antiquity to the present day. The dawn of modernity could be said to have been marked by the appeal for automation, uniformity and superscale. With admiration to these attributes in an ideal city resonates Thomas More’s Utopia, the early sixteenth-century bestselling fantasy novel on voyage to the southern hemisphere. Meantime, in the real environment of urban Europe, the feminine open space in the city, the market square, or the space adjacent to the city’s gate, had deteriorated onto becoming the site of public torture and spectacular executions of human beings, criminals and real or imagined enemies of the authority. The desecration of public space started probably in the Roman Republic but intensified during modernity. Special urban squares were designated for public beheadings by guillotine during the French Revolution, and public hangings ceased in Britain only in the second half of the nineteenth century. The masculine domination of urban space was accomplished during late modernity by less brutal but more prevalent, repeating attempts to impose automation, uniformity and superscale upon city-form, an architectural and urban-planning feat that Simone de Beauvoir had dubbed as the city without streets.

Introduction and Summary

To the extent one can presuppose that the Neolithic round enclosure was used for renewal ceremonies or fertility rituals, later doubling up also as a market area where goods were exchanged, this public space was a precursor to the village and the town square. Due to their solstice ritual use, however, round enclosures seem to have been constructed occasionally at elevated places or on plains where full sunrise and sunset could be observed. Round enclosures, therefore, would not be a physical part of Neolithic settlements which, in contrast, had evolved usually along fresh surface water sources, such as near rivers or natural springs.

Rivers or seashores, however, would often serve also as a crude form of natural sewage disposal as continued to be the case till early modernity and beyond. Up until approximately the time of the modern demographic transition the treatment of effluent in settlements, inclusive of cities, was by way of conveyance of raw sewage to a natural body of water, for example, a river or sea, where it would be diluted and dissipated. Tanners disposed of animal acids, dried blood, fat, hair and other waste residue by unloading them into the river stream. Streets too, not underground sewers, carried wastewater and were the landing grounds of household waste of the widest range. As urban populations past the Middle Ages continued to grow, streets, particularly in the lower sections of cities and towns, endured intensifying defilement.

The physical abasement of streetscapes left urban squares intact. From Neolithic round enclosures to the Greek Agora and theater, the Roman forum and the medieval market square, the open public space was a powerful element in the display of power by authorities. It was also the market square that, in time, gave rise to the public sphere of the Enlightenment. Whereas most streets accreted haphazardly through centuries, urban squares were designed, lined with edifices of eminence. Evolution of urban squares, thus, was far from unambiguously affirmative. Serving gatherings of the community, the public space, as a communal open-air area within the geographic boundaries of a settlement, had undergone a contradictory progression over the millennia between the round enclosure of the Neolithic Demographic Transition and the urban square of the Industrial Revolution. On the one hand, the communal open-air space could be said to have been the informal medium conducive to spontaneous advancement of language, art and other forms of human expression, as well as socio-economic interaction, communication and religious discourse.

On the other hand, the late antiquity had marked also the beginning of malediction in designed open urban space, much worse than the physical contamination of streets. Initially, the Neolithic round enclosure and later the town’s market square were utilized for popular celebrations, ritual proceedings or spontaneous encounter by people, while the access route leading to the Neolithic round enclosure or later the town’s main street was used as a processional avenue, quite possibly well-maintained and perhaps ornate or paved. It was likely with the ascent of the Roman Empire at the turn of the common era that some public stairs, major streets or open areas adjacent to city walls attained a sinister earmark, never witnessed before. At Rome’s Esquiline Gate, an important concourse at the entrance to the city, public torture and capital punishment by crucifixion of slaves and real or imagined criminals took place. At the Colosseum, as well as at arenas of other Roman cities, prisoners would fight for their lives with hungry beast to the cheers of the crowd. While tickets needed to be purchased to watch gory gladiatorial fights at the Arena, the spectacle of extreme cruelty exacted upon the condemned at the Esquiline urban precinct was free for all to watch. The purpose was not only to punish and humiliate the offender, but also to intimidate the public and to divert its attention from the authority onto the condemned in a way of ghastly entertainment.

The use of the agora, forum or urban squares as sites of public executions was unheard of. The desecration of designed open-air public space within cities for the purpose of display of torture and execution seems to have emerged with the slow decline of Feudalism in Europe and intensified thereafter. Urban squares became frequent execution sites during the French Revolution. In comparison, rituals performed at the Neolithic round enclosure, the equivalent or precursor of the public square, probably never included executions as a tool of domination over a community.

Even during the darkest days of the Roman Empire, most public squares were exempt from becoming sites of public torture and executions. Such munificence was not conferred on the urban square of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, the city’s square as a place of markets, discourse and commemoration had attained the additional function as occasional place of murderous amusement and intimidation through public infliction of agonizing physical torment and execution. The French Revolution, inspired by the Enlightenment, was notorious for Parisian squares that became officially sanctioned killing fields where the urban crowd could witness public executions by guillotine. In London until the nineteenth century, schoolchildren during Execution Days watched public hangings of criminals in a festive atmosphere featuring everything from carnival sweets to pickpockets and prostitutes in the crowd.

The abolition of public executions in public space came only after the repeated outcry of handful of intellectual elites, rather than by the government on its own. Charles Dickens and Jeremy Bentham were among those protesting the officially sanctioned disgrace of executions in public space, and the despicable practice was abolished in mid-nineteenth century throughout Europe, while in the United States public executions were permitted into the twentieth century.

In his book, Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault looks at the abolition of public torture and rejects the claim of humanization of penal justice.

In this transformation, two processes were at work. They did not have quite the same chronology or the same raisons d’être. The first was the disappearance of punishment as a spectacle. The ceremonial of punishment tended to decline; it survived only as a new legal administrative practice. [The second was a] utopia of judicial reticence: take away life, but prevent the patient from feeling it; deprive the prisoner of all rights, but do not inflict pain; impose penalties free of pain. (Foucault 1977: 8–11)

The primary objective of this transformation was not to create a more humane penal system, Foucault points out, but rather, the transformation was simply a stage of a continuing trajectory of subjugation. The application of surveillance in hospitals or prisons, due to Bentham, or to urban planning as proposed by Ledoux, for example, still follows the same trajectory. As a substitute to violence by the overseeing authority, discipline can be attained through surveillance as a nonverbal relationship of intimidation emanating from the authority onto the persons observed (Foucault 1977: 195–230).

Facilitating varying intensity of surveillance turns into an apparatus of power the entire physical structure within which a population is observed: prison inmates, hospital patients or city dwellers. Foucault concludes: “The formation of disciplinary society is connected with a number of broad historical processes – economic, juridico-political and, lastly, scientific – of which it forms a part” (Foucault 1977: 218). On further perusal, the wide scope of such broad historical processes that had led to the modern concept of urban surveillance, as well as its modes of impact, are intertwined with other defining notions of urban modernity: uniformity, automation and superscale.

One of the main reasons for the development of urban surveillance was the progression of informal interpersonal modes of communication, many of which took place in the streets. Throughout much of modernity urban open spaces facilitated not only public expressions of protest against authorities but were also venues of riots and uprisings centered on cities. Authorities saw increasingly streetscape layout as a preventative means to counter disobedience and violence aimed against the ecclesiastical or the secular sovereign authority. Urban surveillance has contributed to the loss of informal gathering places in the city’s streets and to the increasingly foreboding apprehension of placelessness in later modernity.

4.1 Demise of Public Space: Modes of Desecration, from Antiquity to Modernity

Jeremy Bentham’s furtherance of his Panopticon prison project ought to be seen in the broader context of his lifelong opposition to the death penalty, and his outspoken support for the abolition of slavery and physical punishment (Crimmins 1988). The founder of utilitarianism, Bentham in his design of the Panopticon leaves no doubt as to his belief that surveillance, as a crime prevention mode, is better and more efficient than cruel punishment (Bedau 1983).

Bentham ’s concept and Ledoux’s celebrated ideal city project, Chaux, helped galvanize urban planning across France on the eve of the French Revolution. Surveillance and crowd control became an important consideration in time of intensifying migration into cities, while the ensuing growth of trade and increasing traffic between and within cities had also called for improvement in streetscape infrastructure for public health, safety and security. Already throughout the Renaissance many urban streets transformed from accreted, warped voids between houses and edifices, onto aligned conduits for more efficient traffic, particularly of animal-drawn carts. By the time of the Enlightenment urban planning in France was addressing, similar to Bentham’s utilitarianism, crime prevention as an ideological premise. Foucault explains the precepts of urban planning on the eve the French Revolution, taking the project of Pierre Vigné de Vigny (1690–1772) at Nantes as a specific example:

It involved cutting routes through the town, and streets wide enough to ensure four functions. First hygiene, ventilation, opening up all kinds of pockets where morbid miasmas accumulated in crowded quarters, where dwellings were too densely packed. So, there was a hygienic function. Second, ensuring trade within the town. Third, connecting up this network of streets to external roads in such a way that goods from outside can arrive or be dispatched, but without giving up the requirements of customs control. And finally, an important problem for towns in the eighteenth century was allowing for surveillance, since the suppression of city walls made necessary by economic development meant that one could no longer close towns in the evening or closely supervise daily comings and goings, so that the insecurity of the towns was increased by the influx of the floating population of beggars, vagrants, delinquents, criminals, thieves, murderers, and so on, who might come, as everyone knows, from the country. (Foucault 1978/2007: 33–34)

Foucault example from Nantes points to two trends in the evolution of urban streetscapes, extending millennia from early antiquity to modernity. On the one hand, there had been a trend of gradual physical deterioration in streets, mainly due to insufficient or lacking sewage and stormwater disposal, along with increasing street crime sustained by rapid urban population increase, poverty, inadequate public lighting and correspondingly insufficient policing, all of which urban planning of the Enlightenment was meant to improve. On the other hand, public space in cities had gradually transformed from a medium of community ritual and spontaneous encounter onto an alien geographic space increasingly degraded to formal interaction between strangers, culminating in late twentieth century’s urban space that came to be perceived mainly in terms of personal safety and defense. Policing and urban planning were meant to mutually support the joint goal of public safety, surveillance and crowd control, thereby, inadvertently, reducing further informal contact between people.

The first aspect of the historic trend, physical deterioration of urban space, manifested itself mainly in streets that doubled as sewers, struggling to carry away waste from a wide range of activities, including slaughtering and waste disposal. With increasing population in cities, streets in the Middle Ages would become cesspools of effluent. Sewage ran down the streets as cities, most of which had no functioning sewer system, relied on occasional rain showers to wash the wastewater away and drain it as runoff into the local watershed. In medieval European cities, small natural waterways used for carrying off sewage were sometimes covered over, functioning as sewers.

In some cities, even in ancient times, flat stones with a narrow edge were applied to provide even and solid surface to main streets. This practice continued into the Middle Ages when many cities embarked on paving their main streets. Particularly on steeper streets setts, quarried stones shaped into regular form were used to allow surface grip to horses’ hooves. On some other streets cobble-sized stones were used for pavement. Most of the medieval urban streetscapes, however, remained unpaved. Thus, for example, Philippe Auguste, King of France (r. 1180–1223), ordered most urban streets to be paved, but centuries later the project remained still unaccomplished. Even on paved streets there were no sidewalks, and some paved streets were concave so that people could walk on the sidelines while sewage was running down the middle of the street.

As opposed to the physical deterioration, the human interaction on Europe’s medieval streets was vibrant and often positively stimulating. The weekday usually began with the ringing of the church bell in early morning, announcing the first mass of the day and the end of the night watchman’s duty. Street shops opened providing produce, meats or fish before the first meal of the day. Markets opened later in the morning, noisy with merchants shouting out advertising of their wares. Meaningful encounter among townsfolk occurred informally during the weekday’s working or shopping action, or at street performances by wandering troupes. Throughout the late afternoon shops began shutting down, heralding the coming diurnal period of rest.

Into early modernity, the second aspect of the historic degradation of urban streetscapes was due to rapid urbanization and population increase, often resulting in social deprivation manifest in crime but even more so, in mutual alienation among urban dwellers. To the average urban dweller most of the rest became strangers. In a letter to his contemporary, Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac, Descartes uses the simile of a city walk to express his joy of anonymity as much as presaging Existentialist alienation from, and contempt for urban crowds:

I can walk out each day in the bustle of the crowds with as much freedom and ease as you have in your paths, and I pay no more attention to the people I meet than I would to the trees in your woods or the animals that graze there. (Gaukroger 1995: 188)

In Descartes’ other brief streetscape description, in Book II of his Meditations, surveillance or the gaze yield an air of estrangement as the darker human attributes emerging from early modernity. Descartes had asked a question that in time came to be known for its notoriety: “What do I see from the window beyond hats and cloaks that might cover artificial machines, whose motions might be determined by springs?” (Descartes 1641/1924: 232). The setting of Descartes’ question is routinely viewed as a scene whereby “there are men crossing the square in the rain underneath the hats and cloaks which are alone visible from an upper window” (Baker 2000: 625). In his question, Descartes was expressing the estrangement of the individual toward the rest of the urban crowd, conferring a gloomy urban association upon the philosophical quandary regarding the existence of other minds (Matthews 1986).

In parallel to the physical and social aspects of degradation of urban public space ran also physical and social aspects of overt public spectacle originating in the ruling authority. The one kind of a spectacle was glitter and size of edifices, the cathedrals and the palaces, usually on public squares that, as a result and in contrast to most streets, were well-maintained. Whereas the agora, the Roman forum and the town square had been usually well looked after, no commensurate attention was afforded to most streets. The disparity in upkeep between streets and squares had been increasing over time, corresponding to the increasing size and glamor of buildings erected on urban squares.

The other kind of spectacle was yet another aspect of social degradation: the public punishment and humiliation of offenders. It is in this regard that Bentham’s rejection of capital and any other corporal punishment is relevant in the context of public space within or adjacent to cities. While human sacrifice or executions took place in archaic societies, the public display of infliction of suffering upon the condemned seems to have been perfected only with the rise of the Roman Empire. Such deviance went hand in hand with the well-documented, progressively declining mental capacity of Roman emperors who instigated and directly or indirectly sanctioned public torture and executions:

In ancient Rome, death was dictated by social class. At one end, the patricians and the equestrians were allowed to poison themselves in private. At the other, slaves were publicly crucified. Although this form of public execution is now associated with the death of Jesus Christ, it was a common form of capital punishment when Roman Empire was at its height […] When Spartacus’ slave rebellion was crushed in 71 BC, the victorious Roman general Crassus crucified 6,000 slaves along the Appian Way, the main Road leading into Rome from the south. As the Roman general and later emperor Titus was putting down the Jewish revolt and beginning the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70, he was at one point also crucifying 500 Jews a day. Josephus, in his History of the Jewish Wars, claimed that so many Jews were crucified outside the city walls ‘there was not enough room for the crosses and not enough crosses for the bodies.’ […] The condemned person was made to carry his cross as part of a public procession to the place of crucifixion outside the city walls. It was usually sited on high ground, so that the spectacle could be seen by the maximum number of people, and it would be near a road, to serve as a warning to passers-by […] In ancient Rome, there were plenty of other ways to meet a public death. In one case 4,500 prisoners were tied to stakes in groups of thirty at the Forum […] The arena was a popular method of executing condemned criminals, Christians, and other religious or political dissenters perceived to be enemies of the State. (Cawthorne 2006: 9–16)

As antiquity in Europe was giving way to the Middle Ages, the reason for the upkeep of the urban square attained sometimes an ominous streak. The authority’s public demonstration of power in the ending of a human life, amplified by the ritual of public torture and execution through to modernity, was performed at squares or in open spaces outside city walls. Extreme violence publicly witnessed was a nonverbal message by the authority communicating warning to any potential violators of law and order. Even when the condemned were common criminals, their public execution was a threatening missive to anyone challenging the authority. Through public viewing of their anguish, usually a part of the capital punishment, the condemned persons served primarily an instrument of power to the overseeing authority.

4.2 Body Without Organs: The Medieval Urban Square as the Theatre of Cruelty

The Tarpeian Rock, a steep cliff about 25 meters high, overlooking the Forum of Ancient Rome, was used during the Roman Republic as an execution site of murderers, traitors, perjurers and rebellious slaves. The Gemonian Stairs, also in full view of the Forum, were used for public display of condemned who were usually first strangled, or otherwise executed elsewhere in the city, then flung down the stairs. Corpses were usually left to rot on the staircase for extended periods of time, scavenged by dogs, then thrown into the Tiber River.

A common physical instrument of public torture and execution through the Middle Ages, though less frequently used afterward, was the breaking wheel or execution wheel. Catherine of Alexandria, now Saint Catherine of the Wheel (c. 287–305) was said to have undergone public torture at the wheel, and then execution, at the age of 18. Also known as Catherine’s Wheel or simply the Wheel, it was used to break the condemned person’s bones, and was completely abolished only in the early nineteenth century. The practice has been seen a symbolic re-enactment of a previous mode of penalty, where people were literally driven over by a wagon (Spierenburg 1984: 71).

Since 200 CE in western Asia the interest of the authority in public executions was demonstrated by public trampling of the condemned by elephant in public space adjacent to city walls. While enemy soldiers were most commonly found at the receiving end of this unusual punishment, petty criminals found guilty of offenses such as tax evasion were also subject to execution by elephant. This practice lasted well into at least the fourteenth century. The Muslim traveler Ibn Battuta, visiting Delhi in the 1330s, wrote of a public execution: “If the order was to cut him to pieces, the elephant would do so with his irons, and then throw the pieces among the assembled multitude” (Lee 1829: 146–147).

Urban open places were used as a common venue for public torture and executions throughout medieval Europe, even though mostly unrecorded. In England executions were recorded only since the twelfth century when public hangings at the gallows took place at Tyburn, then just outside London city walls, at a junction of two Roman roads. Another place of public executions in London was Smithfield, a large open space close to the city and a popular place for public gatherings. Along with Tyburn, Smithfield was for centuries the site of public execution of heretics and dissidents in London. The Scottish nobleman Sir William Wallace was executed in 1305 at West Smithfield.

Execution Day ceremonies were designed to reinforce the power of authorities. Between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries, dozens of people were publicly beheaded on the Tower Hill, outside the walls of the Tower of London, where for two centuries also a permanent scaffold stood.

During the period 1509–1547, reign of Henry VIII of England, thousands of people were executed, some of them publicly on Tower Hill. The author of Utopia, Sir Thomas More was beheaded in 1535 at Tower Hill, and so were other nobles, and although many beheadings were not public, the severed heads were sometimes placed on spikes along London Bridge or other public places.

Mary Queen of Scotts was beheaded in front of some hundred spectators in 1587, her severed head displayed from a bay window of Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, England, so that crowds of people could see that the Scottish queen was dead. Back in London, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the largest public square in the city at the time, laid out in the 1630s, was the site of the public beheading of Lord William Russell in 1683, for the attempt to assassinate King Charles II.

Contrasting the solemnity of public executions of nobility were the gruesome festivities surrounding the execution of common criminals in England:

Huge crowds gathered along Oxford Road (London’s Oxford Street) to see condemned prisoners being taken from Newgate Prison to Tyburn. Popular offenders were showered with flowers and unpopular ones pelted with rotten vegetables or stones. […] Around the gallows at Tyburn were wooden stands where spectators paid two shillings for a good view. The largest and most desirable stand was Old Mother Proctor’s Pews, named after their owner. The whole affair had a carnival feel about it with crowds singing and chanting, and street vendors selling gingerbread, gin and oranges. (Cawthorne 2006: 78–79)

In the sixteenth century the Tyburn style gallows, known as the Tree, were erected in the middle of the road in west London, as a deliberate landmark and very obvious warning to passers-by. Elsewhere in Europe, on Dam Square in front of the Amsterdam town hall public executions were taking place on justice days during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Spierenburg 1984: 81–82).

The Gibbet of Montfaucon, outside Paris city walls, was erected in the late thirteenth century to become the main gallows in France, and stood there until the time of Louis XIII in the seventeenth century. Criminals and traitors were publicly executed here by hanging, their dead bodies displayed for all to see. In Paris at the turn of the sixteenth century, many of the public squares were designed under Henri IV, King of France. Henri’s purpose was not so much to promote public encounter of exchange of goods and ideas between people, as it was to design spaces for the posturing of might through spectacle of military parades and drills and to display power in front of those who fell under his jurisdiction. Such subtlety was mild in comparison to the places of execution that Parisian public squares were to be used for during the Enlightenment and the French Revolution (Cockburn 1994; Tackett 2015: 312–339).

The Decapitation Bridge in Ghent, Belgium, was located beside the city’s castle, public decapitation of murderers and rapists having taken place here till late sixteenth century. In papal Rome executions used to be held publicly in Campo de’ Fiori, where, on February 17, 1600, the philosopher Giordano Bruno was burnt alive for heresy. In 1437 at the Old Town Square in Prague Jan Roháč, a peasant leader, and several other rebels, were publicly executed. Also at the Old Town Square public torture and execution of 27 Czech Protestant leaders took place in 1621 by the Austrian Catholic Habsburg authorities. Many public executions during the French Revolution were conducted at Place de la Concorde, one of the major public squares in Paris, and at Place du Trône-Renversé, now Place de la Nation, where victims were guillotined in the open-air.

Less horrifying but no less deplorable was the use of pillory and stocks at urban squares by authorities as a form of spectacular punishment and humiliation of offending individuals, and entertainment mixed with intimidation of the public. A prominent pillory, where the condemned were publicly flogged, was situated next to the statue of King Charles at Charing Cross, London. Typically, a person condemned to the stocks was subjected to a variety of abuses, ranging from having refuse thrown at them, to prickling and whipping of the unprotected limbs. Pillory or public stocks as a means of humiliation of offenders at public spaces, and intimidation of the public, were used till the nineteenth century in various places throughout Europe. Area around the pillory was a popular place of street entertainment, the surrounding taverns bursting with patrons watching the crowds and the humiliation of the malefactors.

In 1849, Charles Dickens, along with 30,000 other spectators, watched the hanging of the Mannings, a notorious pair of murderers. Hastening the Capital Punishment Amendment Act 1868 was a letter Dickens sent to The Times in 1849, in which he argued against public executions:

[…] The horrors of the gibbet and of the crime which brought the wretched murderers to it, faded in my mind before the atrocious bearing, looks and language, of the assembled spectators. When I came upon the scene at midnight, the shrillness of the cries and howls that were raised from time to time, denoting that they came from a concourse of boys and girls already assembled in the best places, made my blood run cold. As the night went on, screeching and laughing, and yelling in strong chorus of parodies […] were added to these. When the day dawned, thieves, low prostitutes, ruffians and vagabonds of every kind, flocked on to the ground, with every variety of offensive and foul behaviour.[…] I am solemnly convinced that nothing that ingenuity could devise to be done in this city […] could work such ruin as one public execution, and I stand astounded and appalled by the wickedness it exhibits. (Dickens 2011: 201)

The intention to intimidate the public through the display of executions clearly backfired on the authority. Public execution sites brought together the worst among the mob, and the carnival atmosphere at the sight of gallows only made light of yet another killing, albeit one sanctioned by the courts. Within such context the Bentham’s notion of the Panopticon applied in the fashion of Ledoux’s urban design seems a relatively progressive crime prevention alternative to public punishment.

The last public beheading in England took place outside the Newgate Prison in 1820. That was after a period that lasted likely more than a millennium, throughout which the penalty for men convicted of criminal offenses or high treason, graduated during the reign of King Henry III (1216–1272) to being hanged, drawn or quartered at urban squares, in front of crowds that often took part in the executions. A convicted criminal or traitor, after being emasculated and disemboweled, was then beheaded. The criminal’s body without the organs was then chopped into four pieces, all in public view. Centuries later, Body without Organs was the ghoulishly absurd notion that were to haunt the schizophrenic playwright Antonin Artaud (1947/1976: 571), only to return, by way of the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Simone de Beauvoir, onto a metaphor for urban space of twentieth century’s modernity.

On May 29, 1868, the Capital Punishment Amendment Act received Royal Assent, thus ending public executions in the United Kingdom as of that date. From then on all prisoners sentenced to death were to be executed within the prison walls, their bodies buried in the prison grounds. A decade later, in Paris, Henry Becque, a playwright, introduced his idea of the Theatre of Cruelty. Following WWI, Antonin Artaud (1896–1948) reintroduced the Theatre of Cruelty as a “sense of violent rigor and extreme condensation of scenic elements that is the cruelty on which it is based […]” (Artaud 1968: 66). The Capital Punishment Amendment Act 1868 and Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty seem to mark a course of changing attitudes to the public display of cruelty, but also to venues where these attitudes have been expressed, from late antiquity to modernity.

4.3 Evolution of the Urban Streetscape: Rise of Uniformity and the Loss of Place

It was due to their multiple functionality, often dubious or deplorable, that public open spaces such as urban squares were relatively well-maintained throughout the Middle Ages and modernity. In contrast to such communal open spaces in settlements from prehistory to early modernity, urban streets have endured gradual deterioration, largely due to increasing population and the lack of correspondingly adequate sewerage. One purpose of orthogonal design of streetscapes in Bronze Age Harappan cities, in Iron Age Greek colonies by Hippodamus of Miletus, and in Roman encampments and outposts, was also to facilitate water and effluent runoff from streets, sometimes leading straight into the sea, rivers or deep ravines. The great success of irrigation canals of the Indus Valley civilization, and increasing prosperity of their agricultural settlements, may have inspired the linear streetscapes of cities such as Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. The perceived aesthetic impact of orthogonal streetscapes, however, was probably secondary.

Aesthetic impact of streetscapes was also not the primary concern in Roman colonies, where orthogonal street layout had religious and possibly overriding consideration of visual oversight and surveillance. The facility of surveillance and control as an inherent urban feature could be seen implicit already in the plan of an Egyptian workers’ colony at el-Lahun, c. 2000 BCE (Rawlinson 1887: 343) (Fig. 4.1).
Fig. 4.1

Workers colony, el-Lahun, c. 2000 BCE. (Drawn by Paul Van Pul)

Most ancient and medieval towns, however, were slowly accreting in a nonlinear fashion over centuries. The vast majority of medieval cities and towns of the Romanesque and the Gothic formed around market squares or at major crossings of trading routes such as roads or rivers. Cities grew on both banks of rivers which were used for washing and as sewage and animal waste runoff. While cities and towns usually expanded in a centrifugal fashion, often through annexation of surrounding villages, a few medieval towns grew in parallel with, and along trading routes. Streetscape patterns that ensued from such physical conditions, though not entirely random, were further constrained by a physical city boundary of bulwarks or walls.

Pending affordability of each community, medieval towns built various earthworks around them for protection, and affluent cities had walls with gates locked at night or at a time of crisis such as during a siege. Stores and workshops doubled as homes for the tradesman that owned them and worked in them. Since most of the townsfolk were illiterate each shop owner used a picturesque relief carved or affixed on a building, showing the trade the shop occupying it was engaged in. Lined with houses upon which such amiable signage was carved, until early modernity most urban streets had no official names and houses were not even numbered. The population of an entire city did not exceed a few thousand people and was often the size of a present-day neighborhood. Only capital cities such as Baghdad or Constantinople had populations approaching a million inhabitants during the Middle Ages. Other major medieval populations were about 400,000 in Beijing, 350,000 in Cairo, 200,000 in Delhi, 200,000 in Milan, 200,000 in Antwerp, 100,000–300,000 in Paris, or 75,000 in London. In most urban communities, much smaller than their capital counterparts, people knew each other, and personal interaction on streetscape was often one of spontaneity.

The tangled layout of streetscapes, which for brevity could be referred to as Romanesque, was common to most cities throughout much of Europe, the Mediterranean and beyond, during antiquity and the Middle Ages. The capriciously interlaced Romanesque streetscape, while functioning quite efficiently at low speed of traffic and mostly low-rise buildings, in a way also complemented the nature outside the city. The narrow, twisted streets needed to accommodate only people and animal traffic, rather than greenery, while a short walk outside the city there always was nature in abundance. It was the city wall, or some other earthworks, as physical growth boundary, that had forced the tortuous urban streetscapes of antiquity and the Middle Ages, while at the same time giving rise to a compact city-form. But growing and restive population in the twisting streets of medieval cities became a menacing concern to the ruling authority, the local lord or the sovereign.

To facilitate easier oversight of authorities, cities were divided administratively into parishes and districts. In response to the fear of insurgency, and in contrast to the actual physical layout of streetscapes in most ancient and medieval cities, the evolving conception of the Ideal City, since antiquity, had been nourished by the notion of harmonious and uniform geometry offering the implicit ability of surveillance, and seemingly affording correspondingly harmonious, hierarchically and rigidly stratified community. Such geometric and social uniformity emerges from Plato’s physical layout of both Atlantis and Magnesia. In Magnesia Plato instructs to

divide the city into twelve portions, first founding temples to Hestia, to Zeus and to Athene, in a spot which we will call the Acropolis, and surround with a circular wall, making the division of the entire city and country radiate from this point. The twelve portions shall be equalized by the provision that those that are of good land shall be smaller, while those of inferior quality shall be larger. (Laws V: 745c–811ce)

Neo-Platonic schemes of an ideal city were multiple visionary plans from Platonopolis of Plotinus in the early Middle Ages to the Garden City of Ebenezer Howard at the turn of the twentieth century. The one type of actually constructed settlements that followed a Neo-Platonic scheme, already in the Middle Ages, were the bastides, small fortress towns, mostly in southern France and northern Spain. Contrasting the prevailing random street plan the bastides were orthogonally planned new towns, during the late twelfth and early thirteenth century. Expedited by the twelfth-century translation into Latin of Euclid’s Elements by the English monk Adelard of Bath (1080–1152), the bastides were laid out on a grid plan with a central square, drawing also on the standard plan of the Roman military settlement, the castrum, a millennium earlier (Boerefijn 2000; Lilley 1998). By the fourteenth century, at the onset of the Gothic, there were hundreds of bastides throughout south-western Europe (Morris 1994: 119–120), inspiring the construction of new towns of the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

At late Middle Ages, the architectural and urban aspects of the Gothic coincided with the slow inception of urbanization in north-western Europe, in particular. Contrasting the simplicity of the bastide plan was the elaborate vertical feature of the built form of the Gothic design, facilitated by the advent of the pointed arch. Ribbed vaults and transverse arches had allowed for ever taller vertical construction, primarily of churches, that had spread from regions of the Islamic Mediterranean, in the south, and from the northern Holy Roman Empire, throughout much of today’s Germany. The Gothic streetscape largely absorbed the earlier built Romanesque random street pattern. But planned new towns, often at the behest of Feudal overlords, proliferated, usually laid out on orthogonal grid patterns of varying sophistication such as the Florentine new towns of San Giovanni and Terra Nuova (Friedman 1988: 120–129). New towns of the Renaissance were often laid upon more elaborate geometric plans, either orthogonal (such as Freudenstadt) or radial-concentric (such as Henrichemont) (Fig. 4.2).
Fig. 4.2

Henrichemont, central France, c. 1609. (Drawn by Paul Van Pul)

The contrast between the rigorous, mostly orthogonal, streetscape of the bastides and the new towns, against the tortuous, fickle streetscapes of the Romanesque gave rise to René Descartes’ reverie in the stove-heated room of autumn 1619. From Descartes’ description of his multifold dream emerges subtle impact that streetscape contrast carries upon consciousness. The archaic Romanesque city-form and its tortuous narrow streets juxtaposed against the new towns’ orderly aligned streetscapes from which the Renaissance planned urban environment had arisen, had given Descartes a pivotal perceptual contrariety.

To the defenders of ancient cities, as Aristotle notes in Politics, Book VII, it was the chaotic streetscape layout that had warranted safety against outside intruders. And since no two random streetscapes could be identical, the Dionysian deems any streetscape unique. The Platonic, or Neo-Platonic streetscape, on the other hand, embraces the Apollonian urban outlook of elegance, transparency and surveillance suggesting a template of an ideal city plan: “He that knows one of their towns, knows them all, they are so like one another,” writes Thomas More in Utopia (1516/2016) of the ideal cities on the mythical island of Utopia in the early sixteenth century. Further praise is conferred by More upon the ideal cities of Utopia through early modernity’s marks of uniformity, size and automation:

Their buildings are good, and are so uniform that a whole side of a street looks like one house. The streets are twenty feet broad; there lie gardens behind all their houses.[…] Their doors have all two leaves, which, as they are easily opened, so they shut of their own accord. (Utopia II)

All the same, admiration for the aligned planned streetscape expressed by Descartes in the Discourse on Method ought to be seen also in the context of his interest in military architecture (Descartes 1619/1991). The elegance of Haussmann’s redesign of Paris in the nineteenth century corresponded to the perceived need to quell continual rioting in the French capital and the fears of his patron, Napoleon III, for the survival of his rule (Kirkland 2013: 233–256). The drive for symmetry and harmony in space could be detected later in some areas of economic geography and regional science, such as Walter Christaller’s central place theory in the twentieth century. As Michel Foucault observed, this outlook prevailed as an academic abstraction through much of the industrial age:

[A] good country is one that, in short, must have the form of a circle, and the capital must be right at the center of the circle. A capital at the end of an elongated and irregular territory would not be able to exercise all its necessary functions. In fact, this is where the second, aesthetic and symbolic, relationship between the capital and the territory appears. The capital must be the ornament of the territory. But this must also be a political relationship in that the decrees and laws must be implanted in the territory [in such a way] that no tiny corner of the realm escapes this general network of the sovereign’s orders and laws. The capital must also have a moral role, and diffuse throughout the territory all that is necessary to command people with regard to their conduct and ways of doing things. The capital must give the example of good morals. The capital must be the place where the holy orators are the best and are best heard, and it must also be the site of academies, since they must give birth to the sciences and truth that is to be disseminated in the rest of the country. Finally, there is an economic role: the capital must be the site of luxury so that it is a point of attraction for products coming from other countries, and at the same time, through trade, it must be the distribution point of manufactured articles and products, etcetera. (Foucault 1978/2009: 27–28)

By the eighteenth century the death knell was sounded for medieval streetscapes. The pressure of demographic growth led to the demolition of ramparts and the incorporation of suburbs, with new districts built around a more rational grid layout. This involved the creation of new urban squares, street lighting and wider roadways. Royal orders in France and papal orders in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century restricted or prohibited vaulted construction while enforcing alignment rules designed to widen roadways. Prohibited in many cities through France and Italy were ledges or other projections jutting forth from the facades of buildings. An eighteenth-century regulation in Paris forbade construction of streets narrower than 9.75 meters.

Worth noting is the kind of street encounter among inhabitants associated with the Platonic, Apollonian urban disposition, and the one emanating from the Dionysian, incorporated in Aristotle’s urbanist outlook. Where the Apollonian urban character of solemnity, elegance and transparency implies expectedness in street interaction among inhabitants, the Dionysian, haphazard streetscape foments chance encounter among people passing through it. Whereas Dionysus could be said to imply spontaneity and playfulness on the street, the sun-god Apollo in his patronage of the planned city runs a darker streak through its translucent streetscapes: rigor and disciplined uniformity in design call for restraint behavior, reticence and control. From the Dionysian spontaneity in urban space, a place emerges, slowly, unexpectedly, sometimes in an entirely unforeseen manner. The unacknowledged but overriding human feature of the carefully planned Apollonian layout is the gaze: its transformation in a masterplan is surveillance and the demise of place.

4.4 City Without Streets and the Superscale: De Beauvoir Versus Deleuze

Ever since the rise of modernity, urban planning, most vividly represented by Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s redesign of central Paris in the nineteenth century, has embraced, silently within its comprehensive plans, the concept of the ideal city. Rejecting the tortuous, constricted streets of the medieval city-form as counterproductive to transportation, public health and safety and security, Haussmann ratified the rejection of randomness and enigma inherent in spontaneously accreted streetscapes (Chapman 1953). The ensuing comprehensive notion of the masterplan has been typified by an underlying, universal concern for transparency and predictability in streetscapes, primarily as a facility to allow for continual traffic flows, and as prevention of transportation conflicts (DeJean 2014: 122–144).

Urban transportation throughout the nineteenth century and across the North Atlantic regions of Europe and America had been quickly mechanized. The omnibus was introduced as a horse-drawn carriage with the capacity of about a dozen seats, starting its first operation at Manchester, England, in 1824, in 1826 at Nantes, and in 1828 in Paris. Alphonse Loubat (1799–1866), a French inventor helped develop the first horse-drawn tramway at New York City in 1827. In 1832 Loubat built the first tram line, for horse trams, which operated between 1853 and 1855, the year of the World Fair in Paris. In 1860 George Francis Train, an American entrepreneur and inventor, arrived in England, subsequently founding horse tramway companies in Birkenhead and London, and a short-lived horse tramway in Cork, Ireland.

Michaux’s invention of the velocipede in 1857 was a serious competition to the horse-drawn traffic in Paris. The success of the velocipede was conditioned by Haussmann’s wide, elegant thoroughfares whereby the modern streetscape of Paris gained, in return, an added feature. Supplementing streetscape uniformity and superscale of new tenement buildings had been now also speed. The horse-drawn public traffic could not possibly compete in velocity with the human-powered automation and the traffic speed of the velocipede.

Compressed-air traction cars and steam engines had addressed both speed and mass transit in the second half of the nineteenth century, contributing to the bankruptcy of Michaux’s company.

Steam locomotives enclosed in a wooden box structure, in the likeness of a railroad passenger coach, were used in urban transportation in the United States from the 1930s till c. 1865, the end of the Civil War. In England, at Loughborough, Henry Hughes began manufacturing urban steam-tram engines in 1876. Kitson & Co. started to build steam-trams in 1878. On the Continent Georg Krauss converted some horse-drawn trams into steam-trams in Munich and Vienna in 1876, steam-trams were built and operated in cities across France through the 1880s, and a steam-tram engine was introduced at Brno, then Habsburg Empire, in 1884. Throughout the 1890s steam-trams in cities begun to be replaced by electricity-powered trams. Streets and sidewalks became also important components of budding metropolitan transportation since walking and public transit came to be inseparably connected.

Urban transportation became a major consideration in the management and administration of cities at the turn of the twentieth century. With the advent of the internal combustion engine and the mass production of automobiles urban transportation problems throughout the industrialized west accrued and intensified. Geographic expansion of cities and incessant construction of urban freeways fed into one another, requiring comprehensive plans to address myriad urban issues emerging as a result, all the while leaving street corners and sidewalks increasingly neglected. Whereas in the medieval city sidewalks were nonexistent, in the industrial and postindustrial metropolis the commitment to alleviate traffic congestion and to ensure safety, bound with the need to share the public thoroughfare, had gradually led to streets being split into different sections, a simple walk between them now constricted by rights of way or crosswalks. The street, now cluttered with signposts of information, instructions, advertisements and directives became a stage for mechanized choreography directed, first by traffic police, later by traffic lights. To a considerable extent, automation, uniformity and superscale, on the one hand, and the masterplan, as a latter-day version of the Ideal City on the other hand, fed into one another while consideration of human scale in streetscapes became secondary or nonexistent (Jacobs 1961: 178–186).

Seeds of the disconnection between human and metropolitan scales, however, were planted long ago with the archetypal notion of the ideal city. Countering these trends were the attempts of William Morris and Camillo Sitte, defending traditionalist attitudes to urban planning during modernity. Writing in Vienna at the end of the nineteenth century Sitte campaigned against uniform alignment of streets and urban squares, hailing the erratic streetscapes of early Renaissance cities in northern Italy. In his City Planning according to Artistic Principles Sitte pointed to humanistic values of spontaneity, serendipity and surprise associated with irregular streetscapes (Collins and Collins 2006: 61–63; Sitte 1889/2006: 170–190). In a careful survey of late-medieval and Renaissance towns in northern Italy, Sitte had observed that instead of superficial green nature, the medieval streetscape design—or often, the entire lack of planned street layout—have created a built environment tantamount to extension of the natural environment. The unpredictable streetscapes of the medieval town had been impregnated with a visual mastery of small plazas, facilitating continuous human encounter as well as prevalence of visual appeal.

Sitte’s groundbreaking analysis of medieval squares has been extended later in the twentieth century in a typology of urban squares by the Luxembourg architect Rob Krier (1975/1979: 30–50). Significance of human scale in urban planning and design to counter uniformity and automation has been emphasized by the likes of William ‘Holly’ Whyte (1980) or Marshall McLuhan (1966). Toward late modernity authors have singled out human scale as defying culpable urban features of contemporary metropolis through the affirmation of human encounter in city-form (Lund 2003; Wilson 2017).

But it was also during the twentieth century that two of the most monumental Neo-Platonic urban ideals have been carried out as artificial cities, planted on virgin grounds. The masculine, Apollonian myth of the ideal city was symbolized by Walter Burley Griffin in his award-winning radio-centric design proposal for Canberra in 1912 (Proudfoot 1994). And in Brasília, the federal capital city of Brazil, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the same masculine myth had been perpetuated during the 1960s (Palazzo and Saboia 2012).

The Harvard economist, Edward Glaeser, has recently dubbed Brasília a “warning to urban dreamers” (Glaeser 2012). Brasília’s monumental public buildings, the work of the architect Oscar Niemeyer, are breathtaking in their magnificence: Catedral Metropolitana, Congresso Nacional, Praça dos Trés Poderes, Palácio da Justiça or Palácio do Planalto. But to Simone de Beauvoir Brasília’s overwhelming abundance of superscale in its buildings is only matched by its emaciated urban voids functioning as passage circuits, transit circulations between origins and destinations. To de Beauvoir Brasília is a city without streets:

[W]hat possible interest could there be in wandering about among the six- or eight-story quadra and super-quadra, raised on stilts and all, despite superficial variation, exuding the same air of elegant monotony? […] But the street, that meeting ground of riverside dwellers and passers-by, of stores and houses, of vehicles and pedestrians – thanks to capricious, always unexpectedly changing mixture – the street, as fascinating in Chicago as in Rome, in London as in Peking, in Bahia as in Rio, sometimes deserted and dreaming, but alive even in its silence, the street does not exist in Brasilia […] (De Beauvoir 1992: 273)

The predicament of Brasília as city without streets accords, in the Americas as elsewhere, with many planned urban environments (Dunnett 2000). De Beauvoir’s unflattering view of Brasília’s streets presents it as an amalgam of elegant shipment conduits representing the planned city of modernity and postmodernity. A view that the city is inherently nothing, but a conglomerate of transit channels and junctions has emerged in A Thousand Plateaus (1980/2004) by Giles Deleuze and the psychiatrist Pierre-Félix Guattari. The essence of any city since antiquity, the authors seem to argue, is a compendium of transit lines and intersection points. Urban quintessence, to Deleuze and Guattari, arises from the abstraction of city-form as a universally common feature of origins, destinations and the transport of people and goods between them. Such globalizing abstraction to Deleuze is ‘deterritorialization,’ a theoretical platitude applicable to any city, anytime and everywhere. Deleuze’s deterritorialized notion of the city could be read as a description of urban essence, yet it could also be easily interpreted as a facetious critique suggesting that the entirety of the urban range since antiquity has been dehumanizing:

[T]he town is the correlate of the road. The town exists only as a function of circulation, and of circuits; it is a remarkable point on the circuits that create it, and which it creates. It is defined by entries and exits; something must enter it and exit from it. It imposes a frequency. It effects a polarization of matter. Inert, living or human; it causes the phylum, the flow, to pass through specific places, along horizontal lines. It is a phenomenon of transconsistency, a network, because it is fundamentally in contact with other towns. It represents a threshold of deterritorialization, because whatever the material involved, it must be deterritorialized enough to enter the network, to submit to the polarization, to follow the circuit of urban and road recoding. The maximum deterritorialization appears in the tendency of maritime and commercial towns to separate off from the backcountry, from the countryside (Athens, Carthage, Venice). (Deleuze and Guattari 1980/2004: 477–8)

To Deleuze the city, since antiquity, has been a deterritorialized system, a capsule of transit hubs. Human condition in the deterritorialized city is derived from urban voids of a built environment that processes people. Such urban voids are not meant to facilitate human encounter, but “Deleuze sees in them a vague beginning of an impersonal ethics of urban modernity” (Saldanha 2017: 155).

Far from being solely a postmodern urban circumstance, Deleuze’s deterritorialized urban environment, runs a streak reaching, indeed, to antiquity. Human automatism and uniformity, as features of the social structure of Plato’s ideal cities, Atlantis and Magnesia, correspond to the ideal city’s physical layout, and run in parallel, from the legislators down to common folk. As if uniformity and automatism were inherent, archaic features, going millennia back to Plato’s ideal cities:

The conditions suppose a population with no disrelish for […] social regulations, who will tolerate life-long limitation of property, restrictions such as those we have proposed on procreation, and deprivation of gold and other things which it is certain, from what has been said already, that the legislator will prohibit; they presuppose further the central position of the capital, and the distribution of the dwelling-houses over the territory, as he has prescribed, almost as though he were telling his dreams or fashioning a city and its inhabitants out of waxwork. (Laws V: 746 in Hamilton and Cairns 1962: 1330)

The Platonic and Neo-Platonic urban outlooks through the ideal cities of late antiquity, Middle Ages, to modernity, and to Deleuze’s postmodern abstraction of the city, could hardly be typified other than Apollonian. Yet Apollonian transparency arising from the designed streetscape of an urban plan finds its place also in Aristotelian urbanism, where it matches equally important Dionysian randomness emanating from the enigmatic streetscape of haphazard accretion. Where the Apollonian outlook of the Platonic ideal city is a uniform shell of solemnity, Aristotelian urbanism embraces both the Apollonian and the Dionysian in city-form.

Deleuze ’s deterritorialization, as an abstracting feature held in common by all, detached from the uniqueness of the particular, is a generic observation upon the environment and does not apply to cities only. In Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari introduce the deterritorialized notion of Body without Organs, or BwO. A template to any human body, BwO is perceived as a shell, a masterplan, into which each and every body evolves to be fitted:

The body without organs is an egg: it is crisscrossed with axes and thresholds, with latitudes and longitudes and geodesic lines, traversed by gradients marking the transitions and the becomings, the destinations of the subject developing along these particular vectors. (Deleuze and Guattari 1972/1977: 19)

Here Deleuze’s definition of BwO is thought of as the preconceived, generalized or deterritorialized notion of a body. De Beauvoir condemnation of Brasília, too, views the city without streets, CwS, as a pre-planned conglomerate of beautiful superstructures and fashionable transport channels in lieu of ordinary streets. Humans are inserted into the CwS only after it has been first conceived of, and planned, then constructed, ostensibly in their behalf. This is also how North American suburban subdivisions have been built.

In contrast, the exact urban opposite to CwS is the Romanesque town that had been accreting slowly, with no preconceived centralized plan but through multitude of ad-hoc actions by residents who were an integral part of their town from its very inception. The closest a North American city precinct has come to such a traditionalist urbanist notion, was the poverty-stricken inner-city neighborhood. During the twentieth century such precincts had dwindled, not due to prosperity of the incumbent residents, but often due to invasive gentrification of affluent suburbanites seeking urban authenticity, nowhere to be found in their own suburban neighborhoods. Twentieth century’s invasive gentrification of the inner city had often proceeded along the lines reminiscent of de Beauvoir’s CwS.

Initially, Deleuze and Guattari had presented the deterritorialization concept in a definition of BwO, as an absurdity image of the residual after a body leaves a particular, geographically delineated, space. On this initial definition, BwO is the body’s lingering leftover of sounds, smell and fluidity,

a new dimension of the schizophrenic body, an organism without parts which operates entirely by insufflation, respiration, evaporation and fluid transmission (the superior body or body without organs of Antonin Artaud). (Deleuze 1969/1990: 100–101)

Thinking away the organs, the body’s sounds, smell and fluidity become the essence of BwO. Similarly CwS too could be perceived as the residual of noise, smell and fluidity left behind by the metropolis of modernity and postmodernity. Within CwS resentment becomes the human condition. The author Milan Kundera, Deleuze’s French compatriot of Czech descent, describes how noise, smell and speed emanating from contemporaneous streetscapes yield nothing but the disgusting and the gruesome of the city, much as BwO in Deleuze:

She said to herself: when the onslaught of ugliness became completely unbearable, she would go to the florist and buy a forget-me-not, a single forget-me-not, a slender stalk with miniature blue flowers. She would go out into the streets holding the flower before her eyes, staring at it tenaciously so as to see only that single beautiful blue point, to see it as the last thing she wanted to preserve for herself from a world she had ceased to love […] Suddenly, the sharp sound of a motorcycle pierced her being. She could not help but immediately look towards something that had caused such physical pain: a young girl in jeans, her black hair waving behind her, erect on a small motorcycle as if she were sitting at a typewriter; it had no muffler and made a horrific noise. […] Agnes looked at the hair streaming behind that noisy aggressor and realized she intensely wished the death of that girl. […] Her hate immediately frightened her and she said to herself: the world has arrived to the frontier of something disastrous; if it crosses it, everything will turn to madness: the people will wander through the streets with forget-me-nots in their hands or will kill each other on sight. It will take very little, the drop of water that overflows the glass: just one car, person or decibel more. (Kundera 1990: 21–22)

Kundera shows the condition of human beings in the metropolis where what used to be a street has transformed through modernity onto a battle-zone of mutual estrangement. Against the street as a medium of affirmative human encounter in antiquity, the Middle Ages, and early modernity stands Kundera’s passionate profiling of pernicious relations between people emerging from the metropolis past modernity. The waxwork paradigm of uniformity and automatism in the Laws, an ingrained feature of the ideal city from Plato to Le Corbusier, meets its own byproduct: human alienation.

4.5 Benjamin and Lefebvre on Power Images in the Metropolis

In 1869, a few years after James Hobrecht was fired by the Royal-Prussian urban planning police, the Panopticum opened its doors in Berlin, Prussia’s capital. Venture of the brothers Louis and Gustave Castan, it was Germany’s very first gallery of wax figurines, exceedingly popular at its beginning. By the end of the nineteenth century some 500 three-dimensional life-size figurines of the famous and the powerful were on display, among them the poet and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the geographer Alexander von Humboldt, the composer Richard Wagner or the philosophers Friedrich Schiller and Immanuel Kant. But it was here too that an ordinary commoner could gaze at the entire Prussian royal family, and scrutinize from close-up some of Prussia’s most prominent politicians and military leaders. A few steps from the street under the watchful eye of the Baupolizei, the door into the Panopticum opened to a dreamlike experience of whimsical capabilities. Here a pedestrian from a moment ago could become a preponderant sovereign on a fantasy-stage of make-believe power acquired with the purchase of an entrance ticket. In the dream house of the Panopticum, the roles became inverted and the powerful came under the surveillance of the commoners.

To Benjamin, the Berlin waxworks were a shrine to the compulsion for surveillance, whereby everybody in the metropolis now could scrutinize even the most powerful into minute detail:

The universalism of the nineteenth century has its monument in the waxworks. Panopticon: not only does one see everything, but one sees it in all ways. (Benjamin 1933/1999: 531)

The wax museum allowed for a temporary, albeit fake, switching of the surveillance roles between authority and its subjects, thereby channeling the subjects’ resentment onto a harmless venue of mendacious elation.

Yet resentment has often remained the human response to the urban masterplan, the modern rendition of the Ideal City. To be fitted onto spatial template of a preconceived built environment, and processed through its streetscapes and edifices, has been the tacit presumption of the master designer—baron Haussmann, the Baupolizei—projected upon urban inhabitants. Oblivious to communal memory or history the master designer has conjured disaffection through the masterplan, evoking the authority-subject fold as a gentle inflection of the master-slave relationship.

The modern version of the master-slave composite was introduced by Georg Friedrich Hegel in the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807/1998), tracking the evolution of human consciousness. In the initial stage human individual’s consciousness recognizes the Other, as a reflection of self. Each of two interacting individuals seeks recognition of self through struggle between one another. The result is the division of individuals into two classes. One class of individuals sees freedom as the most important value without which life is not worth living. These individuals become the Masters. The other class of individuals sees life as more important than freedom and, accordingly, is willing to sacrifice freedom for life. These individuals then become the Slaves laboring for their Masters. Gradually, however, Slaves become masters of their own labor, freeing themselves from their paradigmatic Masters.

Expanding Hegel’s master-slave relationship onto architectural construction Daniel Purdy points to Benjamin, showing that in addition to the sovereign or the designer who initiate a building, the Masters, and the human subjects producing the construction, the proletariat, or the proverbial Slaves, there is a third component, the building’s occupants:

Benjamin adapts the master/slave dialectic Hegel develops in his theorization of [the Tower of] Babel, so the construction and office workers are the real benefactors […], for they develop a communal consciousness as laborers quite opposed to the isolation of self-aggrandizing monarchs. […] Benjamin implicitly follows Hegel’s master/slave dialectic when he famously states in his “Work of Art” essay that buildings are either perceived visually by tourists, who see with the detached aesthetics gaze of kings and princes, or touched bodily by those who live and work within them. (Purdy 2011: 6–9)

Twentieth century’s failure of grand housing projects displacing inhabitants of poverty-stricken, run-down neighborhoods in the inner city, into uniform high-rise towers, is a fitting example to the loss of memory in a masterplan. Largely oblivious to communal history and relations in the inner-city neighborhoods, planners and architects of patronizing urban renewal projects, such as the most infamous Pruitt-Igoe (Heathcott 2012), seemed to have inadvertently echoed the absolutist docket evoked by master-slave. Urban estrangement and the urban masterplan are in an unholy embrace of a process of mutual feedback and reinforcement yielding alienation and resentment.

In antiquity Aristotle introduced the notion of the master-slave relation as one of two basic social features of the archaic city-state, and of the primeval household—the social building block of the city-state. Aristotle’s other relation within the household and the city-state is an alternative to the Apollonian master-slave relation, and it is the alliance of the sexes:

The first coupling together of persons […] to which necessity gives rise is that between those who are unable to exist without one another: for instance the union of female and male for the continuance of the species (and this not of deliberate purpose, but with man as with the other animals and with plants there is a natural instinct to desire to leave behind one another being of the same sort as oneself). (Politics VII: 11)

In contrast to the Apollonian master-slave relation, or the authority-subject fold, the alliance of the sexes could be characterized as primarily Dionysian. If so, there is a parallel between the physical makeup of the city’s streetscape advocated by Aristotle and the city’s social makeup as observed by him in actuality. The streetscape mix endorsed by Aristotle, consisting of elegant alignment as well as haphazard randomness, seems to reflect the Apollonian-Dionysian social formation of the city.

Whereas antiquity and the Middle Ages saw on occasion the Aristotelian streetscape mix, often more by default rather than by a deliberate plan, modernity could be characterized by incessant attempts to expunge the Dionysian from its urban environments. Henri Lefebvre has shown the imbalance in modernity’s unconscious gender projection upon the built environment, producing overt urban spectacles, on the one hand, and hidden places of contempt, on the other hand:

[T]he existence within space of phallic verticality, which has a long history but which at present is becoming more prevalent, cries out for explanation. The same might be said apropos of the general fact that walls, enclosures and facades serve to define both a scene (where something takes place) and an obscene area to which everything that cannot or may not happen on the scene is relegated: whatever is inadmissible, be it malefic or forbidden, thus has its own hidden space on the near or the far side of a frontier. [T]he city, has an underground and repressed life, and hence an ‘unconscious’ of its own. (Lefebvre 1974/1991: 36)

To be fitted onto spatial template of a preconceived built environment, and processed through its streetscapes and edifices, is the tacit presumption of the master designer, administered to urban inhabitants. In the master-slave relationship as defined by Hegel (1807/1998: 116–119), the master has a need to be acknowledged as such by the slave, and this acknowledgment is integral to its role as a dominating authority. Lefebvre argues that similar acknowledgment, along with uniformity, is sought through the masculine production of urban space in order to preserve the authority-subject embrace:

The arrogant verticality of skyscrapers, and especially of public and state buildings, introduces a phallic or more precisely a phallocratic element into the visual realm; the purpose of this display, of this need to impress, is to convey an impression of authority to each spectator. Verticality and great height have ever been the spatial expression of potentially violent power. [I]t posits, presupposes and imposes homogeneity in the subdivision of space. (Lefebvre 1974/1991: 98)

Two millennia of urban planning might be viewed as a gradual process of authoritarian masculine projection, culminating in urban modernity, as observed by Lefebvre. Urban planning throughout history has remained largely oblivious to the Aristotelian urbanist notion. The way this lapse has come to a head through modernity is demonstrated by the conversion of places of contempt in the city, onto places of deceptive misrepresentation. Poor precincts from early modernity that somehow survived the wrath of economic supply and demand have become outdoor museums of urban past extinguished, or places of abode to upscale consumers of urban development, rather than casual features of authentic urban space. Earlier in the twentieth century the Aristotelian premise of integrated streetscapes had been decidedly dislodged by the myth of the superscale, summed up by heroic slogans, such as “Make No Small Plans” by Daniel Burnham, or “Growth and Expansion,” the adage of Fred “Big Daddy” Gardiner, the mayor of Metro Toronto.

Contrasting the uniform and automated superscale approach has been the call for small, open-air streetscapes, injected into the mainstream environment of the metropolis to purposely provide deliberate ambiguity, and to bring contrast to, and relief from the incessant attempt to rationalize all urban space. A Neo-Romanesque streetscape of tumultuous lanes and twisting narrow alleyways inserts a spatial message of enigma, non-reason, unpredictability and surprise into the automated metropolitan superscale. A reconciliation of the metropolis with the Neo-Romanesque is also a synthesis of Aristotelian streetscapes with Lefebvrian critique of urban uniformity and authoritarian superscale. The purpose of efficient movement between an origin and a destination in a homogeneous urban space becomes secondary in a streetscape that provides a deliberate counterbalance to urban uniformity, of which the North American metropolis is a prime example.

The tangle of downtown back-alleys and surface parking lots, presently the blight of many a North American city, could be instrumental as a Neo-Romanesque response heeding the Aristotelean call that “a city should adopt both plans.” Conversion of existing leftover spaces, often-time places of contempt in the city, into small streetscapes, interjected within the mainstream metropolitan space, has been a silently emerging stratagem speaking to the urban crisis of postmodernity through revival of the traditional urban form (Akkerman and Cornfeld 2010; Pemberton and Phillimore 2018). Addressing the Aristotelian riddle of antiquity as well as the Lefebvrian critique of modernity and postmodernity is the Neo-Romanesque urbanist response that could instill human scale into the streetscapes of the metropolis.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and PlanningUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

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