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The City and The City Close Reading

This close analysis will analyse Miéville’s The City and the City in regard to Adorno’s thesis of the form registering the crisis of a particular historical period. It will look at the choice of names, the form of the novel and the form of a doppel-city.

The use of names are particularly interesting as they all allude to areas of division either split cities or areas with a demarcation line, continuing the theme from the main plot. The name initially given to Mahalia – ‘Fulana Detail’ – alludes to the Mexican saying ‘Fulana de Tal’ meaning ‘that girl whatever her name is’. It is interesting that even when the name is not known, a name is given to the corpse. In this way ‘Fulana Detail’ can be seen to epitomise the modern fascination with categorising the world. By alluding to a Mexican theme, Miéville brings the first geographical point into play and alludes to the area of El Paso del Norte, a split city originally part of Mexico which was partly taken by the Americans in the Mexican-American War.
After Mahalia’s name is discovered, two more split cities are alluded to. ‘Mahalia’, a Hebrew name meaning ‘tender one’, and ‘Geary’ an Irish surname, allude to two divided spaces – the confliction between Israel-Palestine and between the Northern and the Republic of Ireland. In the Irish troubles, for example, family members could often be on opposing sides, as if living in two cities. Mahalia’s hiding name, Marya, again introduces another place into the equation as Marya is a Russian name. It can be seen to allude to a further split city, that of Narva which split to become part of Estonia and Russia.
Even the names of the two cities allude to areas of conflict, namely the Hungarian-Romanian War of 1919. A slight alteration from Besźel, the city, to beszél takes us to the Hungarian word for ‘talks’. For ‘Ul Qomo’, although a made-up name, the ‘ul’ relates to Romania as it is their word for ‘the’. The breadth and variety of places alluded to depicts not only the multicultural nature of modern capitalist society but also the global nature of the issues Miéville is discussing.

Form of the Novel
Even the protagonist’s name, Tyador, alludes to the issues of the novel, however his name harks to Theodor Adorno. This can be used in further evidence for the novel registering the crises of its time, one of Adorno’s theses. Adorno wrote about the negative dialectic, the notion that being becomes nothing as it is unstable by itself and thus must be negated in order to ensure its existence. The dialectic in this case relating to the enquiry into contradictions. However dialectic also means the art of investigating the truth of opinions. In a way Adorno and Mieville can be seen as detectives like Tyador in that they unravel the secret workings in society which govern the way we live and put to question ideas that are accepted throughout society and the form, a police procedural/ detective novel, and plot can be seen as an allegory of critical theorists. They are in Breach as critics of both the places and location itself (referred to in further detail in ‘Where does the text mean?’).

Form of the Doppel-City
However, before Breach can be determined, the two cities must be uncovered. If we are to see Miéville as clearly following Adorno’s principle of form registering the crisis then we must consider what the form of a doppel-city is registering. There are a multitude of readings it can have, all of which address a crisis of modern times. The two cities can be viewed as the ‘two nations’ (Disraeli in Sybil) – the rich and the poor, or rather middle and working class. How, for example, in London there are sections that are predominately middle class or working class and other places in which they cross-hatch and in those places one must unsee the differences.
A Marxist reading of the cities could see the two cities as an allegory of the self and Other in psychoanalytical terms. It can be seen that Miéville is here suggesting that in a capitalist society, the concept of the individual is encouraged – with principles of laissez-faire for example, and thus those around you are the ‘Other’. They are competition, they are something to be ignored, you need to centre on yourself in order to get ahead.
Other dichotomies can also be seen in this way, such as race and sexuality. However it is important to discover what Breach is therefore an allegory of. The concept of unseeing has related to conflict for millennia. In a war you must dichotomise between yourself and country, and they enemy. You must unsee them for being human and rather as something to oppose against. However, like Beszel and Ul Qoma, there are many more similarities than is allowed to be thought of. It is rather the ideology of them being different that separates the two areas. A contemporary example would be in the Irish troubles where Jean McConville was shot for taking in a British Soldier. In this case she has committed ‘Breach’ for recognising the other side as human and supposedly conspiring with the opposition.
Breach can also be seen as the internal conditioning to behave in a certain way to the other. If we are to see the two cities as the dichotomies of race and sexualities then we must unsee these differences or potentials in preference for the person underneath. However this disregards the notion that the cities are against each other. It is more potent if we see the two cities as two opposing forces such as workers and administration. For example, in the work place although the workers and administration are set against each other in terms of ideologies, they must unsee these differences and continue to work. If the workers come to see the administration as their enemy then Breach steps in and controls this. In this way Breach can be seen as authoritarian, maintaining the rules which are otherwise self-regulated. This can be seen as an allegory for governments in which the power is held by a few who are unlike the majority of the population and the rules are mainly self-regulated due to the permeation of ideologies.
However the overwhelming presence of Breach means that it can be seen as an allegory of surveillance in contemporary society. In this way the word ‘Breach’ to describe those who survey everything and everyone is important. ‘Breaching’ connotes violating and therefore it can be argued that Miéville is arguing that the constant surveillance is violating personal privacy and spheres. This has particular prevalence in today’s political climate with the NSA AND GCHQ spying.