Full Text

city

TONY TANNER


Subject Literature

Key-Topics city

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631207535.1997.x


Extract

The ancient world provides us with two mythic origins and originators for the city. There is Plutarch's Theseus, the legendary founder of Athens, whose city is organized, coherent, reasoned and reasonable, abstract, bound and guarded by laws. Then there is the city of Cain; for, in the Bible, it is Cain – a cursed and banished murderer, a marked man condemned to be a vagrant and vagabond – who builds the first city. Since Cain was a criminal, a fugitive, a nomad, we may think of a city full of aliens, vagrants; anonymity, randomness; the lost and the damned. The city, particularly as it has developed during the last 200 years, has often aspired to the condition of Theseus's Athens; but it has more often been described as being more like a city of Cain. The city and Western literature are effectively coeval. But the great literary concentration, exploration, and evocation of the city really starts in the nineteenth century. This was when the city started to become both mysterious and ubiquitous, unknowable and inescapable, housing the past and determining – or destroying – the future. Increasingly, meaning no longer comes from the church, the court, or the manor, but is produced – and reproduced – in the city. Already Wordsworth was realizing that “the great city” was producing a new kind of experience, perhaps a new kind of person: How often, in the overflowing streets, Have I gone ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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