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The City and The City Spatial Reading

Space within The City and The City

For this section of the presentation I will look to explore briefly into a few main analytical points to do with both Miéville’s use of space within the novel, such as the two cities co-inhabiting the same area, as well as its effect on the narrative and the significance it has in understanding ‘where the text is’ geographically.

The first point examines the idea of the multiple others within the novels who have to negotiate and live within the same space, yet are forced to ‘unsee’ one another simultaneously. One way of analysing this is through looking at Jacques Derrida’s philosophy of deconstructionism which has influenced many postmodern ideas today. There are many possibilities within the novel for what can be deemed as the other. For example, the two cities themselves of Besźel and Ul Qoma, along with Breach and to some extent even Orciny can all be shown in comparison to the other. In terms of deconstructing the binaries, it can be argued that Breach is viewed as the ‘dominant’ other in comparison to that of the two cities due to its total authority over them and how it remains a constant force within the narrative. In the text, it is clear that both cities have an understanding that the other exists and in fact come into contact often. Borlu explains how ‘In the morning trains ran on a raised line metres from my window. They were not in my city. I did not of course, but I could have stared into the carriages – they were quite that close – and caught the eyes of foreign travellers.’ (p. 30) The significance of the multiple others being interwoven within the same space brings up multiple issues, namely that the people are in constant danger of invoking Breach. It can be argued that the inter-connectedness of the different cities along with the ‘foreign travellers’ can be extended into modern day London and the notion of multiculturalism. With this, like with Besźel and Ul Qoma, the ‘others’ co-inhabit the same space as each other but are different in both attitude and culture. Another modern day example of this can be seen on the tubes and streets of London. No one particularly registers the other is there, but most are able to manoeuvre the space around them to avoid contact. This is similar to the cross-hatched traffic in Besźel where cars are forced to manipulate the space between the cities in order to avoid collision.

The concept of Orciny and the ideology surrounding it is a very significant aspect within the novel. We find out that Orciny is a made up third city said to inhabit an extra space to that of the two cities, it is an artificially created space by Bowden within his book ‘Between Two Cities’. What is interesting here however is how Orciny only comes into being and a real space and not just artificial, when there is someone to believe in it. This is what Mahalia Geary is for as her belief in the imaginary space between the two cities is what allows Orciny to become a real space within the novel. Essentially without Mahalia to believe in Orciny, the idea and its system that Bowden set up, would disintegrate. When she finds out ‘she’d been lied to’ (p. 340) which results in her death. One reading of this is how the book itself contains three sections titles, Besźel, Ul Qoma and Breach, which are the only ‘real’ geographical spaces within the text. However the thesis of Orciny is something that penetrates the narrative throughout which could be seen as Mievelle similarly wanting the reader to believe in this artificial space between the lines of the novel itself. Another reading of this is how the physical space of Orciny can be seen as metaphorically being mirrored on to the conscious of Mahalia Geary. Without Mahalia there to reflect the space of Orciny onto the real world through her creation of it, then it doesn’t exist and remains a figment of imagination. In his study on conscious theory, David Chalmers suggests that ‘the structure of consciousness is mirrored by the structure of awareness’ (Chalmers, p. 225) and vice versa. From this, we can apply it to how Mahalia’s awareness of Orciny through her exchanges between them, which she believed to be real, is mirrored onto her conscious creation of the physical space of Orciny.

This concept of a need for the belief in a system, such as in the belief of Orciny as the secret third city, can be applied to the idea of capitalism within the text. Mahalia transports the archaeological piece, the commodity, between the two cities on the archaeological site where she believes it to be received by the people of Orciny (Explained on p.315). Capitalism itself is an artificial system that requires a belief in the market in order for it to function properly. When Mahalia loses this faith, or if people begin to lose their faith in the capitalist market, it collapses and results in it becoming worthless – much like how Orciny becomes a worthless and artificial space when the truth is found out. The dangerous repercussions, as mentioned earlier, result in Mahalia’s death and suggest that a similar bad ending is in store when the belief system fails. Orciny can therefore be seen as the space that bridges the two systems of society in Besźel and Ul Qoma through transporting the commodity.

Movement within the spaces between the two cities is another interesting aspect of the novel. There is the representation of the physical movement, such as the traffic needing to avoid other cars and Breach as it moves amongst the two cities. There is also a more metaphorical movement within the novel such as how Ul Qoma is seemingly more progressive economically and socially than Besźel which is shown as more traditional and at a stand-still, as touched upon within the Historical Reading section. One important aspect of spatial movement is when Borlu at the end of the novel has become a part of Breach and is described as having to alter his physical movement, how he walks, in order to fit into both Besźel and Ul Qoma simultaneously. ‘I was learning from him how to walk between them, first in one, then the other, or in either, but without the ostentation of Bowden’s extraordinary motion – a more covert equivocation.’ (p. 368) By not being in one space or another acts as a metaphor for the entire novel in its attempts of dealing with the significance of space within its narrative.

Works Cited:
Chalmers, David John. The conscious mind: in search of a fundamental theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print.
Mieville, China. The City & the City. London: Pan, 2011. Print.