Where London Stood

wls-artefacts-group1a-smallWhere London Stood is an online notebook of ruminations on the representation of contemporary cities as ruin. I hope to examine all those images of ivy-clad or blasted ruins from Science Fiction films and books (including London, Paris, New York, or Washington) and see what I can make of them as an archaeologist.

At the moment, I am still pulling resources together and hoping to see what I can draw out from the material.

The project has been online, since winter 2000: first as static html pages (see this Wayback Machine link) and then using wiki software from June 2005. Although it is currently not a truly collaborative project — there is no Where London Stood group — the adoption of the wiki format had all sorts of advantages which I explain on the other site. It also had one huge disadvantage: it got hit to high heaven by SPAMMERS.

Despite this, the project has received significant favourable feedback over the years, and I look forward to reviving it in the next couple of months.

You can jump to the project site by clicking here. Meanwhile, all blog posts on the topic are tagged “Where London Stood.”

4 thoughts on “Where London Stood”

  1. Fascinating project, the ruined cities thing. I briefly flirted with a PhD researching the phenomenon whereby the geographical other to London favoured by early modern writers (Verona, Rome, Venice, Paris, etc. figure as cypher Londons in Shakespeare, Jonson, etc.) gives way to the chronological other in, roughly, the nineteenth century, perhaps in the wake of Mercier’s text, as the chosen means of portraying the city in alienated circumstances: London away from London becomes London after London. But always the two are intimately linked: for the Renaissance imagery, the wheel of fortune becomes the earth, changes in time changes in place, ascendance roaming geographically. In London after London, distant ruins are always also present – in News from Nowhere, the visit to the British Museum places London amongst the other collections; in Ballard’s extraordinary Drowned World, the tropics having come to London, the past of the city (our present) is submerged under alien climate, a swim down underwater to the Planetarium equivalent to a journey down South to seek death. Of course that’s not PhD material, and it ended up folding back into the fictional projects from which it had emerged. You site I found research a post soon to be completed on Piranesi ‘in’ London: http://londonarchaeologist.blogspot.com/

  2. Well, you might be surprised by what one can beat into a PhD dissertation and I certainly think this sounds like an interesting topic. I particularly like the observation that “London away from London becomes London after London” — but at this point, it’s something that I feel intuitively rather know for certain.

    Any ideas why this shift happens? I wonder what’s gained from the “othering” of London in this way.

  3. I thought I had notification of replies here, but didn’t, hence the wait.
    For the Renaissance, I think reasons include centrally the related phenomena massive expansion in globalising forces and the increasing social fluidity under capitalism. Recurrent themes in the drama have characters in fashionable foreign fabrics for instance, ‘othering’ the city from within, mixing up class and national signs at once. Fixed land’s giving way to capital as the centre of power, given to created identity. Theatre’s at the heart of this. Foreign costumes, travel, and the assumption of alien identities become theatrical tropes for the fictional experience itself.
    That was at a time when world exploration was at its outset. For the change to chronological from geographical othering, I think one factor is simply that the massive project of the domination of global space by capital had been realised much more fully, the present has been colonised; to make imaginative space for Utopia, for instance, travel to the New World may no longer be enough, the outside is no longer simply physical, but would have to be structural, through destruction. That’s only one factor, and I’m sure there are more. What reasons would you attribute it to?

  4. That’s a great answer — I suspect you’re really onto something and would be interested to see how this develops. I don’t really want to encourage someone to go to grad school [US] or do a post-grad degree [UK] but, if you do …

    Myself? Well … please note that this is all along the lines of a hunch that I haven’t had chance to follow through yet … I thought that I might start to explore the role that cultural and political dissent played in people’s representations of their cities as ruins, which seems to kick start the work from Ancien Regime/ pre-Revolutionary France. “Interestingly” enough, from what I’ve read so far, the critique seems to be more about injustices at home that abroad in the subject nations and cultures.

    [From this point on, the idea of contemporary city as ruin gets co-opted and at least partly neutralized by Nineteenth century capitalism to support the imperial self-image of the Great Powers. (Capitalism is great at colonizing dissent and re-selling it.) The imagery permeates pop culture and there’s a vaguely self-pitying realization that all great empires fall (and so it will be with “us”) but it’s no longer a clarion call for revolution.

    If the hunch is correct, throughout the period, you’d see a tension between critique and co-option. The power of the original critique can’t be elided entirely — it’s always there, lurking at the bottom.

    More thought needed on my part, obviously. And tomorrow morning, I might feel completely differently about this.]

    PS. I strongly suspect that my moving of your post to a different section may have screwed up the notification system. Hence the absence of a notification of my original reply. But I’ll have a poke around the settings and see if there’s anything I can chnage. Apologies! And, while I’m at it, apologies for my actual delay in replying.

    PPS. I wish I could save drafts of replies. I suppose one should be grateful, however — if I could, this might not be posted for another couple of days. :-/

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