By Matthew Taunton

Many stories of fictions of urban existence take the flâneur because the attribute metropolitan kind and streets and plazas as definitive city areas. novels and movies set in London and Paris from  L'Assommoir  to Nil through Mouth , this e-book shows that mass housing is equally central to images of the smooth urban.

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Sample text

The Lorilleux (Coupeau’s sister and her husband) react with incredulous envy when their sisterin-law adopts ideas above her station: ‘jealousy was driving them crazy’ (133). A decisive step in the Coupeau’s descent into poverty, moreover, is marked by their move from the shop in the ground floor to ‘a garret in the slummy part’ of the building, seeming to reinforce the idea that significant class divisions exist within the immeuble (Zola 1995: 312). Ostensibly, the narrative suggests that Gervaise’s ‘slow decline into depravity’ (Zola 1995: 144) results from her choice of a luxurious lifestyle that is beyond her means.

She writes: ‘Perec’s removal of his building’s façade in order to reveal the memories and lives of its inhabitants can be read as an attack on the philosophy that constructed it in the first place’ (Mitchell 2004: 11). Perec’s ideas were formed in the context of the intellectual ferment of the Left Bank in the 1960s: he knew Henri Lefèbvre, and was undoubtedly influenced in certain respects by the Situationist International (Bellos 1993: 280–1). Mitchell thus sees his response to Haussmann as part of the critique mounted by Lefèbvre and others (Mitchell 2004: 2).

A starting point might be Perec’s Species of Spaces, first published as Espèces d’espaces in 1974, around the time that Perec conceived the idea for his most celebrated novel. Species of Spaces is a collection of essays that negotiates the city in a way that chimes in some interesting ways with The Arcades Project. It is constructed as a series of vignettes which approach the issue of space at different levels of scale, starting with the page, then the bed, the bedroom, the apartment, the apartment block, and so on to the world, and finally space.

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