PD Smith

Restless Cities

28 June 2010 | cities | 2 comments

As part of my research on cities I've been reading Restless Cities, edited by Matthew Beaumont and Gregory Dart, just published by Verso. It's a wonderful series of meditations on the experience of the city that communicates "a sense of the metropolis as a site of endless making and unmaking". Contributors include Chris Petit, Marshall Berman, Patrick Keiller, Geoff Dyer, Michael Newton, and Iain Sinclair.

Michael Sheringham's piece on "Archiving" was immensely rich and suggestive in its exploration of the city as a repository of memories, as "layer upon layer of compacted material detail". I was particularly struck by his idea that as well as the written history of a city, there is a unique and personal history experienced by each inhabitant - the Tube station where you met your lover on the first date, the street where a grandparent used to live, the anonymous office block where you used to work. The city's street corners are dense with histories both written and unwritten. The city, says Sheringham, is "a memory machine."

It reminded me of Calvino's beautiful fantasy, Invisible Cities, in which he says that a city’s past is written into its fabric like the lines on a labourer’s hand, “in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.”

You can read my review of Restless Cities on the Guardian's website.

2 comments so far:

  1. Paul Halpern | 01 July 2010

    Your review raises many interesting points about the importance of cities as repositories of memories. When I've visited cities with long histories such as Rome, Paris and Berlin, I've felt overwhelmed by the ghosts of past events. Invisible Cities has long been one of my favorite books, and I hope, based upon your recommendation to add Restless Cities to my reading list.

  2. whh | 30 July 2010

    Verso books rarely disappoint. Thank you for the tip. I will be ordering this book.

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