Fictions of the City: Class, Culture and Mass Housing in by Matthew Taunton

By Matthew Taunton

Many experiences of fictions of urban lifestyles take the flâneur because the attribute metropolitan style and streets and plazas as definitive city areas. novels and movies set in London and Paris from  L'Assommoir  to Nil by means of Mouth , this booklet shows that mass housing is equally central to images of the glossy urban.

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Additional info for Fictions of the City: Class, Culture and Mass Housing in London and Paris

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Indeed, the more recent transformation of the cellar’s function into a boiler room is one of the many obscure histories in Life: A User’s Manual that, while dull in itself, turns out to be quite revealing of deeper social forces. The Gratiolet family owned a majority share in the building until the early 1960s, when Olivier Gratiolet sold most of his remaining shares to Rorschach, and they always resisted having central heating installed, considering it to be ‘an unnecessary expense’ (Perec 1987: 74).

It is constructed as a series of vignettes which approach the issue of space at different levels of scale, starting with the page, then the bed, the bedroom, the apartment, the apartment block, and so on to the world, and finally space. This passage from the privacy of individual interiority to the global and the universal – via the forms of the home and the city – is like the opening of Père Goriot in reverse, and can be read as Marcus reads Balzac, as an attempt to knit together the various levels at which urban space is experienced, and show them to be mutually continuous.

He sets out to peel away the impersonal façade of Haussmannian uniformity and uncover the heterogeneity that it had seemed to threaten. Peta Mitchell Haussmann’s Paris and the immeuble 31 (2004: 1–15) argues that Perec consciously mounts a critique of the legacy of Haussmannisation in the novel. She writes: ‘Perec’s removal of his building’s façade in order to reveal the memories and lives of its inhabitants can be read as an attack on the philosophy that constructed it in the first place’ (Mitchell 2004: 11).

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