The City as a Text

Karin Wenz, Assistant Professor of English, University of Kassel

The representation of the city is marked by ambiguity. Mobility within the city is opposed to a feeling of uprootedness, the freedom of non-obligation, informality and the multiplicity of possibilities are opposed to the impression of chaos, the fascination of novelty is opposed to the feeling of estrangement. These oppositions create tensions which constitute the city as a text. The perception and description of the city can be compared to the reading and interpreting of a text (see also "text vs. game"). The negative aspects are weakened by the attempt to find a coherent structure within the city. The experiences of the individual in modern cities, i.e. speed, simultaneity, and dissemination of  perception, have been transferred into ways of representation by the avant-garde: movement, fragmentation, montage, and quotation are technical keywords, which literature and art particularly adopt from the new film medium. The city emerges as a palimpsest, divided into segments. The palimpsest serves as a model of artistic practice which connects real, imagined and fictive spaces to create a unified picture. The overwhelming multiplicity of signs leads to their dissemination. The inhabitant of the city is a modern reader. Parallel to an analysis of a poem, the analysis of the city should accordingly uncover overlying readings of the city, and the displacement of the signifiers should be provided.