Imaginary Cities, by Darran Anderson, is vast in scope and scale. It looks at cities throughout time, their founding and evolution, the effect their existence has had on man. The cities discussed are not restricted to those which can be visited. They include cities which exist only in history, those of myth and legend, fictional cities, and those which were conceived but never born. The cities are examined from a variety of perspectives but always with a view to their influences and effect. This is a perceptive, challenging and fascinating wander through time and space whilst looking at how history is defined.
We do not remember. We rewrite memory much as history is rewritten. We are unreliable narrators even to ourselves. Time is much more complex and relativist than our linear way of thinking permits.
A note on this review. As I read the book I made notes. Much of what follows is taken from the book, ordered and paraphrased by me. Sometimes it is hard to cut back on all that I wish to highlight to a potential reader. This is very much a book that I want to encourage those with an interest in the subject to read, because I will struggle to do it justice.
Cities are conceived as utopias yet it is worth recognising that all dystopias are utopias for some inhabitants at least. To create an ideal city is it necessary to dispose of non ideal inhabitants? From ancient walled cities to modern, gated communities the barriers were erected to keep the Other out. Those who benefit from the status quo fear change even though it is the polyphony of a city that is its beating heart.
Might we see the Fellowship of the Ring as sabateurs of necessary progress, a ragged luddite band of aristocrats, peasent revolutionaries and priests preventing necessary industrialisation of Mordor?
The future will be built from the reconstructed wreckage of the past and the present. There is little in the behaviour of mankind to suggest we will abolish degradation, poverty and ruin given our inability to extricate from greed, power and sadism. With improvements in cleanliness and thereby health we exist, perhaps without realising, in what would once have been sought after as a utopia.
With cities as with people the condition of the bowels is all important. Slums may well be breeding grounds of crime, but middle class suburbs are incubators of apathy and delirium. The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
Power is the control of space: in prison, factory or stately home; in kettling, erecting walls such as currently exist in Belfast or Gaza; in backstage passes, first class travel, or the ability to live in freedom within our own homes.
Every vast Emerald city requires vast emerald mines yet the powerful demand that everyone be happy by whatever means necessary: behavioural conditioning, drugs, lobotomisation.
Many accept the premise that the more you own the more you are and the more deserving of it you have been.
The edifices of the powerful have always dominated the city skyline, from the spires of churches to the glass towers of finance.
This is but a tiny taster of the subjects explored by the author. The book is long but every word is worth reading. It is a challenge to consider the world we inhabit, how it came to be and what will replace it. This is an exploration of psychogeography, architecture and philosophy; what is real and what reality even means; man’s inability to escape his influences, including fiction and the fiction that is accepted in our present and as history.
These tales of alchemy, devils and gold, theft and ambition and death, we give the insufficient title, history.
I do not review a great deal of non fiction but am so glad to have been sent such an astounding and readable tome. The depth, breadth and quality of writing is phenomenal. This is seminal stuff.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Influx Press.