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Myths of Passage: Urban Space in Rachid Boudjedra, Michel Tournier, and Merzak Allouache Doris Ruhe BIG CITY AND MODERNITY: these concepts have become almost synonymous since at least the end of the nineteenth century. They both connote fascination and, at the same time, horror. Metropolises are seen as centers of cultural and intellectual exchange and as breeding grounds for everything that is new; they promise that experience will be more intense and that everyone will share in progress and prosperity. However, in them also lurks the danger that one will not meet the challenges, but be thwarted. Literature has helped to cultivate this myth. It provides a rich reservoir of symbolization and cognitive patterns, which in ever-new permutations continues to influence the way we speak of the city. Literary practice becomes a seismograph, which indicates changes in the urban environment while simultaneously promoting the habitualization (in Bourdieu's sense) of these changes. Interferences occur when traditional narrative models are used to depict new realities. What becomes of old but still current narrative patterns that relate the attempt of a newcomer to become established in the metropolis when these patterns are confronted with the post-colonial migration characteristic of big cities at the end of the century? By way of introduction I should like to refer to Hanif Kureishi's novel The Buddha of Suburbia' as a recent example of such a centripetal narrative model. The protagonist Karim, son of an Indian man and an English woman, embodies this trajectory. From the southern suburbs of London, where immigrants and underprivileged strata traditionally live, he not only works his way up to live in a more central neighbourhood, he also achieves professional success as an actor. Naturally his progress can be read as an allegory of the second immigrant generation penetrating the centers of political and media power. Kureishi makes his hero rise continuously through stages clearly recognizable as rites of social and erotic initiation. How closely the formation of the subject and experience of the city are linked can be seen from the fact that at the end Karim returns to London from the even more prestigious city of New York. Despite all the ambivalence visible for instance in the title of Kureishi's film London Kills Me, his return from the USA is an "arrival" in an absolute sense. 52 Fall 2001 D.Ruhe However ironically he refracts it, in portraying such a purposeful course Kureishi has followed a cognitive pattern not shared by most authors at the end of the twentieth century. His model is based on the assumption that the city still exists as a point around which power and meaning crystallize, and that the center and the periphery are not interchangeable. Modern theorists dispute this vehemently. For Paul Virilio this pair of terms is only a stereotype ; in his view "the binomial city/country" has also lost its meaning. Edward W. Soja speaks of the "peripheralization of the center and the centralization of the periphery."2 A purposeful itinerary towards a center that is a bearer of meaning, such as the one portrayed by Kureishi, is no longer possible under such circumstances. Nevertheless, just as according to Soja "in the postmodern city the modern city has not disappeared" (126), in literature, too, the new does not supersede the old all of a sudden; continuities rub shoulders with ruptures, new literary and theoretical contexts absorb old aspects. Thus Virilio's theses read like the concretization and present-day extension of the ideas introduced into the discourse of big cities in an almost visionary way by the German sociologist and philosopher Georg Simmel at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Simmel had already recognized the transportation revolution of the last century and the ever-faster distribution of commodities (for Virilio ineluctably linked with the development of modern cities)3 as a central factor. Starting from his analysis of the function of money, which serves to dissolve all traditionally stable forms and values, Simmel saw mobility as the characteristic of both the big city and the modern period. The growing speed of transportation—supplemented by media networking in Virilio —leads to a blurring of the boundaries of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 52-62
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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