The Bird's-Eye View: Looking at the City in Paris and Algiers

In the forty years following 1830, hundreds of travelogues, city descriptions, and histories of Algeria appeared, forming a literary topography for the new colony. This literature, part of the exoticist tradition in North Africa, did not develop in isolation: descriptions of Algiers took shape concurrently and symbiotically with descriptions of Paris published in even greater numbers. Conversely, perspectives and polemics from the metropolitan center were often informed by writing about the city on the colonial periphery. The French learned to describe cities through modes of observation elaborated in both Paris and Algiers. Moving to the supposed antipodes of the modern, to the anti-Paris constructed in the French imagination of Algiers, questions the received history of modernité. It suggests other loci for the tropes and techniques associated with it, and opens a new way to understand the role of the colony in the development of nineteenth-century French culture. (SG)