- Bleeding London and Re-Mapping It:Local Empire in a Global City
By the end of Geoff Nicholson's 1997 novel Bleeding London, Stuart London has completed a three-year quest to walk every street in London. His guide has been the London A–Z map book, and his motivation has been his own obsession with the city whose name he bears. Upon completion of his trek, he learns from his wife, Anita, of a Japanese scheme to build a mini-London theme-park in Japan. They want to build their London, she says, 'out there in Japan in a place called Hakkaido [sic], an island up in the north', because, although they love London, the real thing is 'too big, dirty, dangerous and expensive', not to mention the fact that 'it's too far away from Japan'.1 The Japanese mini-London will have all the key tourist attractions, 'all scaled down to about half-size and within a couple of minutes' walk of each other' (332), but crucially it will also have versions of Harrods, Selfridges and other famous London shops, because, as Anita points out, 'people want to shop when they come to London' (332). With Anita's succinct summation, Bleeding London offers two takes on London and has them fight it out for supremacy: London as commodified object of touristic consumption; and Stuart's version, a re-mapping of the city through intimate physical contact, creating for Stuart a London that overcomes the cartographic map, yet also overcomes his attempts at alternate forms of mediation. Commodified, touristic London eventually wins out, and Stuart joins the scheme as consultant.
For Anita, there is nothing absurd about the Japanese plan: indeed, it is the natural expression of a Japanese fascination with London, and the logical end of a commodification of London that she no less than the Japanese has been a party to. The Japanese plan constitutes not only the novel's satirical conclusion to the efforts of the main characters to claim London for themselves, but also global capital's coup de grâce, its final triumph over what an earlier stage of capital abjured: a commodifiable image of the city, one that offers the global consumer a stable and reliable source of 'English' products, sentiments, and experiences. This [End Page 11] essay will contend that Bleeding London can be read as a case study of how the commodification of London has diluted 'London-ness', and how global capital's answer is to make London more 'real' through the further commodification of London. No reading of Bleeding London could miss the joke that Japanese mini-London is at once a parody of the global cosmopolitan's superficial fascination with London (and yes, of the Japanese tendency to build such parks, like the compact Holland called Huis Ten Bosch, and the brace of little Englands, Canadas, and so on that dot the Japanese landscape) and a poke at New Labour's millennial attempts to re-brand London as the centre of a brave new England. Neither could a reading of Bleeding London miss how it intertextually revisits territory explored in Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, particularly the idea of mapping the city in terms of sex acts (as one of the main characters in Bleeding London does). In both novels, however, this attempt to reorient London cartographically serves not to emancipate the subject; rather, their attention to the micro-geography of the body blinds them to the forces shaping the historical moment.
This 'localized' blindness lies behind the capitulations on the part of the novel's locals – its native Londoners and British nationals. While the characters accomplish their goal of rendering London unrecognizable to state-sanctioned attempts to harmonize the London experience into a brandable, marketable tourist destination, this goal comes at a price. In one sense it is easy to see why Jürgen Schlaeger cites Bleeding London as an exemplar of what he calls a literary trend towards taking descriptions of London out of the hands of various social scientists, 'heritage mongers and tourist authorities', a trend that includes such texts as Jonathan Raban's Soft City – What Cities Do to Us and...