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  • Introduction:Staging the City: Bernard Shaw and the Production of Urban Space
  • Desmond Harding (bio)

The silhouette of the great city, its roofs and chimneys, the towers and domes on the horizon! What a language is imparted to us through one look at Nuremberg or Florence, Damascus or Moscow, Peking or Buenos Aires. What do we know of the Classical cities, seeing that we do not know the lines that they presented under the Southern noon, under clouds in the morning, in the starry night? The courses of the streets, straight or crooked, broad or narrow; the houses low or tall, bright or dark, that in all Western cities turn their facades, their faces, and in all Eastern cities their backs, blank wall and railing, toward the street; the spirit of squares and corners, impasses and prospects, fountains and monuments, churches or temples or mosques, amphitheaters and railway stations, bazaars and town halls! The suburbs, too, of neat garden-villas or of jumbled blocks of flats, rubbish heaps, and allotments; the fashionable quarter and the slum area, the suburb of Classical Rome and the Faubourg Saint-Germain of Paris, ancient Baiae and modern Nice, the little town-picture like Bruges and Gothenburg and the sea of houses like Babylon, Tenochtitlan, Rome, and London! All this has history and is history.

—Oswald Spengler, "The Soul of the City"1

Over the course of an extraordinarily extensive career as playwright, essayist, polemicist, and public intellectual, Bernard Shaw dedicated himself to the most controversial questions of the time, remaining a major critical presence who represented, theorized, and foresaw, in diverse historical circumstances, key problems of urban modernity. Beginning in the Reading [End Page 1] Room of the British Museum, where he encountered the writings of Karl Marx, the iconoclastic Anglo-Irish polemicist came of age intellectually in Victoria's England, a time in which London was already well established as a metonym for British imperial power, the place where the empire was built and around which it revolved. Through the intermodern period, whether in speech, pamphlet, or play, Shaw's negotiation of London's heterogeneity and uncontainability, its complications, horrors, and yet at the same time also its exhilarating sense of possibility for new identities and new embodiments, continued unabated, articulating anew fascinating insights into the idea of the city.

The essays gathered in this special issue of the SHAW Annual, "Shaw and the City," provide a composite picture of Shaw coming into his several roles as dramatist, critic, and cultural commentator in active exchange with the metropolis as a site of convergent literary traditions and histories, as well as a crossing-point of emerging national, cultural, political, social, and artistic boundaries. In addition, they provide a framework and a vocabulary to link Shaw's drama to the urban world around it. While several of the essays herein broaden the field in which to understand Shaw's representation of economic and social relationships, there is also a marked emphasis on the playwright's use of theatrical space to examine the practices of everyday life, or as Michel de Certeau puts it, the "'ways of operating,' or doing things" that inform different conceptualizations of space, including urban space, domestic space, gendered space, and ultimately social space.2

In recent decades, new theories and practices of urbanism, city planning, cultural theory, and social anthropology have successfully complicated the assumptions behind the old polarities in much of the scholarly work on the city, which for the most part relied upon a distinction between themes of urbanism and antiurbanism. One consequence of this paradigmatic shift in epistemologies, theories, and methods is the acknowledgment that cities are distinct sociocultural spaces linked to wider networked urban systems, regional and global.3 Informed by international social and political changes, theoretical advances such as feminist theory, poststructuralism, postcolonialsm, and transnational studies, investigators now grapple with a new urban world in which social processes are informed as much by "the important role played by memory and the imaginary as interpretive schema by which different social groups experience the city" as they are grounded in capitalist political economic practices.4

Because cities take their shape through representation and the discursive practices that construct...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1480
Print ISSN
0741-5842
Pages
pp. 1-15
Launched on MUSE
2012-09-11
Open Access
No
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