Cultural Capitals Early Modern London and Paris
By Karen Newman
Princeton University Press Copyright © 2007 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
Extension is the essential property of the [physical] world, just as thinking is the essential property of the mental world. -DESCARTES
Sir William D'Avenant's The First Dayes Entertainment at Rutland House, performed in 1656 in London, as its title page precisely records, "at the back of Rutland House at the upper end of Aldersgate Street in Charter House yard," is sometimes said to herald the revival of the regular drama in England. Often mistakenly termed an opera, D'Avenant's strange theatrical presents Diogenes and Aristophanes seated on two gilded rostra or platforms, declaiming against and for public entertainment, but it ends oddly with a debate between "a bourgeois of Paris" and his "opponent of London," each of whom surveys the capital of the other, enumerating urban ills, pointing out shortcomings in urban planning, and ridiculing metropolitan manners. As a Royalist who spent four years in Paris with Hobbes, Cowley, Waller, and the exiled English court, D'Avenant was ideally positioned to debate the relative merits of London and Paris. His Parisian bourgeois and his London citizen opponent trumpet each city's imperfections and retail widely repeated censure of each capital: London's narrow crooked tunnel-like streets, sooty, smoky skies, and tobacco-loving populace, its avaricious watermen and the notoriousParisian mud or la boue de Paris, overnice Parisian manners, food, and dress, and the disorderly conduct of Parisian servingmen and pages. D'Avenant's two citizens survey customs, diet, dress, child rearing, architecture and housing, traffic, even air quality. Inhabitants and visitors to early modern London and Paris alike suffered, complained, and represented verbally and visually urban ills with which we are all too familiar-noise, filth, disease, starvation, immigration and crowding, violence, crime, traffic, the incongruous and unseemly juxtaposition of the very rich with exploited labor power and the very poor. City dwellers and visitors also enjoyed the myriad pleasures of metropolitan life and the cultural capital cities afforded: theater and the book trade, shopping and collecting, walking the streets, seeing and being seen. Urban historians and geographers as well as cultural critics have studied, written and speculated about the extraordinary impact of urbanization on the modern world, described by Kingsley Davis in his famous article, "The Urbanization of the Human Population." "The large and dense agglomerations comprising the urban populations," Davis observes, "involve a degree of human contact and of social complexity never before known." By all counts, the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw remarkable urbanization in western Europe. Whereas Venice and Antwerp dominated the urban landscape of Europe in the sixteenth century, by the 1590s both were in decline. Both London and Paris grow prodigiously in the period: London may have quadrupled its population between 1550 and 1650, from more than 80,000 to some 400,000 or more; by 1700 its population was well over half a million. Though Paris did not grow at the same rate, and though a smaller proportion of the overall population of France lived in Paris-2.5 percent as compared with about 7 percent in England-Paris was larger earlier, and its population increased despite the wars of religion and later the Fronde, from roughly 250,000 in 1564 to some 500,000 by 1645. Though London and Paris both saw a remarkable demographic explosion during the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, England and France saw a slowdown in both economic and demographic growth in this period. Stagnation and recession precipitated what some historians have called a "crisis" that ultimately cleared the way for new concentrations of capital and the settled prosperity of the Enlightenment. Others have criticized the "crisis" argument, claiming instead that the 150 years from 1500 until the mid-seventeenth century saw extraordinary changes: centralization, internationalization, the Reformation, an increase in population, trade and price hikes, social mobility, and cultural skepticism. Such changes produced first boom, then bust, anxiety and disorder that subsequently provoked the political disturbances that swept Europe in the seventeenth century: the English civil war, the Fronde, the Catalan revolt, the Thirty Years' War. These problems and changes, so the argument goes, were not finally resolved; instead governments sought to mitigate their effects, to enforce settlement in various arenas that dissipated anxiety, uncertainty, unrest, and disorder. But for our purposes, "crisis" or not, both boom and bust precipitated flight to the cities. Not since antiquity had urban populations approached the half-million mark with their attendant demands: reliable food supplies, fresh water, schemes for managing traffic, for firefighting, street lighting, and cleaning, and a host of other issues.
Demographic urbanization represents an important material definition of cities, but scholars of urbanization also study the diversity of nonagricultural occupations and what is sometimes called the urbanization of society. While medieval towns and the smaller urban settlements of the early modern period were pervaded by the countryside, during the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries European societies became increasingly urbanized. Scholars of urbanization describe what they term structuralurbanization, or the concentration not only of populations but also of activities such as the operation of a centralized state, the production and exchange of goods via large-scale markets, the organization and delivery of resources, especially water and services such as trash collection, and coordinated movement through space. Such rapid growth, population concentration, and the development of large-scale, coordinated activities fostered an unprecedented concentration of both financial and cultural capital and promoted distinctive urban behaviors, social geographies, and new forms of sociability in the early modern city. Though Amsterdam, like London and Paris, grew at a rapid rate and became arguably the urban economic capital of Europe, it never achieved cultural dominance. As Simon Schama has shown, though the Dutch resisted the growing military power of France in the seventeenth century, Amsterdam capitulated "to its cultural tone." So while I recognize the economic importance of the early modern Dutch cities of Antwerp in the sixteenth century and subsequently Amsterdam, my focus will be on London and Paris, which became, as my title indicates, cultural capitals. Both extended across overlapping, sometimes disorderly, communities; their inhabitants were drawn from throughout both countries and abroad, and that variety produced complex societies with multiple identities and loyalties; increasingly, the means of production and distribution were concentrated in London and Paris, audiences grew, and contact with various forms of literacy spread literacies. Cultural producers and consumers were drawn to urban centers that proffered the social knowledge that was one of the principal axes of stratification in early modern Europe; at the same time, cities offered more sites for social exchange across those very boundaries.
Despite the extraordinary pace and extent of urbanization in early modern Europe, urban historians have largely ignored the early modern city, often termed "failed," in favor of the medieval town or the nineteenth-century industrial city. Raymond Williams observed almost thirty years ago that the city as a "distinctive order of settlement, implying a whole different way of life," dates from the seventeenth-century predominance of London and Paris, yet cultural historians of the West have persisted in claiming the nineteenth century as the preeminent metropolitan moment. Dickens's London and the Paris of Baudelaire, Haussmann, and Zola have been the primary focus of scholars of the city as both trope and place. The great metropolitan themes-speculation and capital, the commodity, the crowd, the street, and flânerie-have been read as historically specific to nineteenth-century urban culture. "Paris, capital of the nineteenth century," in Walter Benjamin's often-cited phrase, has been read as a production in time, an effect of the proverbial march of "modernity." Despite Benjamin's own sustained assault on the "ideology of progress" and his aim, as announced from the earliest entries in the Passagen-Werke, "to drive out any trace of 'development' from the image of history," critics and commentators ascribe Paris's metropolitan preeminence to various forms of political, social, and technological revolution, to "advances" in architecture and engineering, in manufacturing and marketing, brought about by industrialization. Though I recognize the significance of time as a determining condition of social life as well as the specificities of nineteenth-century urban culture and its symbolic forms, this book challenges such teleological narratives of the city. Instead it focuses on space and place as determining conditions of economic, social, cultural, psychic, and affective life and on the constitutive relations of time and space. Its purpose is not merely to look backward to point out the significance or resonance of particular urban themes, for the stakes of this attention to space and time are not merely thematic: the nineteenth-century city and its arcades and commodity culture are said to entail hegemonic positions of enunciation and thereby to produce a particular mode of "metropolitan" or bourgeois subjectivity. Metropolitan subjectivity was theorized by Georg Simmel in his essay "The Metropolis and Mental Life" as a problem of the individual attempting to assert autonomy in the face of metropolitan stimulation and distraction: noise, traffic, a market economy, the crowd. Yet already in early modern Europe, new configurations of time and urban space produced discursive figures of address and modes of subjectivity that have been claimed exclusively for modernity.
Modernity has been variously defined, periodized, and theorized. It has sometimes been understood "simply as the 'new,' the contemporary, marking a separation from the past and offering reimaginings of the future," but such a reductive view fails to address how institutions, spaces, and processes "remake time and give content to understandings of what is historically new." Social theories of modernity have frequently posited a distinct rupture or break between premodern and modern societies, a "Big Ditch" produced, it is argued, either by changing modes of production and consumption or by a newly instrumentalized rationality traced to the scientific revolutions of the seventeenth century. Bruno Latour has perhaps most forcefully questioned the notion of a great divide between presumed rational modern societies and allegedly irrational premodern ones. What he terms "the Great Divide" is a ruse that hides continuities with the past and generates repression or erasure, ordering and reordering, sorting and dividing, in order to produce "the impression of a modernization that goes in step with time." Rather than argue for an earlier, originary moment at which metropolitan modernity is imagined to begin, Cultural Capitals considers how urban space and its local geographies, newly configured in part by demographics, in part by early forms of capital accumulation, and in part by technological transformation-all features of temporal change-produced forms of cultural capital and articulated certain discursive figures, modes of subjectivity, and enunciation usually claimed solely for modernity. The printing press, the expansion of the known world through the so-called voyages of discovery, and of the unknown world through new scientific hypotheses, new artistic and linguistic modes of representing and interpreting the world, state formation, new bureaucratic forms, changing modes of production and consumption-all worked to produce different ways of thinking, believing, and acting that we have come to call modern. My argument is not that seventeenth-century figures, topoi, and subjects are the same, identical with those of the more recent past, but that productive relations among city, subject, and text often claimed for the nineteenth century, and more recently the eighteenth century, are already at work in the verbal and visual cultures of early modern London and Paris. By shifting the analytic to space in time, this book demonstrates relations and continuities rather than rupture and break; in doing so, it seeks to debunk the penchant to understand the present as radically cut off from the past and thus contributes to Latour's critique of the great divide. The book also exposes the tendency to pastoralize the past that has characterized work by cultural critics of both modernity and postmodernity. The modern concept of space as unlimited extension, as in my epigraph from Descartes, is arguably historically specific to the early modern period in Europe: no medieval Germanic or Romance language possessed a word for our modern idea of space. The Latin word spatium is first found in French before passing into other European languages, but until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it designated simply a topographic interval or, as Paul Zumthor points out, more often a chronological space or gap. The advent of this new notion of space and the technologies for representing it is linked in early modern Europe both to the developing nation-state and to colonial expansion. Social theory, particularly those traditions that derive from Marx, Weber, and Adam Smith, has often privileged the category of time over that of space by focusing on processes of social change, modernization, and technical, social, and political revolutions. As David Harvey describes this process in his work on postmodernism, which has turned frequently to space as an analytic category, "progress is the theoretical object [of social theory], and historical time its primary dimension.... progress entails the conquest of space ... the annihilation of space through time." In "Questions on Geography," Foucault speaks as well of "the devaluation of space that has prevailed for generations." "Space," he observes, "was treated as the dead, the fixed, the undialectical, the immobile." In his study of seventeenth-century classicism, The Order of Things, Foucault opposes temporal and spatial epistemological strategies to analyze not the "progress of knowledge" (xxii) through historical time but what he terms "configurations within the space of knowledge." Spatial metaphors abound: within "what space of order" was knowledge constituted? he writes of bringing to light an "epistemological field" and, in a well-known distinction, dubs his enterprise "not so much a history" as an "archaeology," a disciplinary practice that entails the compression of time in space. Foucault's text is rife with spatial language: fields, domains, sites, landmarks, foundations, grounds, propinquities. And not only nouns, but verbal forms of the spatial as well, including extend, delimit, ground, mark, constitute, configure. Foucault himself was profoundly influenced by the philosophy of Henri Lefebvre and the so-called situationists, by Lefebvre's critique of the myriad metaphoric uses of space-we speak and write of the space of ideology, of the nation-state, of literary space, the space of dreams, the topologies of psychoanalysis, of mental space, to name only a few. In The Production of Space Lefebvre insists on the materiality of space and the work of space in social reproduction. He criticizes the geographer's traditional descriptive models, whether empirical or marxist, for their failure to express the variety of urban experience: space as experienced, as perceived, and as imagined. Not only Foucault's preoccupation with an epistemological "espace du savoir" but also his analysis of material space, including Bentham's panopticon, his critique of topography and surveillance, and his analysis of various systems of classification as forms of spatial ordering owe a debt to Lefebvre's work. These analyses of and reflections on space have in turn profoundly influenced the theoretical assumptions, substantive preoccupations, and practices of cultural critics in various disciplines, from Fredric Jameson's work on the Bonaventure Hotel and Edward Soja and Mike Davis on Los Angeles, to urban geographers like David Harvey and Saskia Sassen, to postcolonial theorists, anthropologist, ethnographers, and architectural historians.
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