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Subterranean urban politics: Insurgency, sanctuary, exploration and tourism

A presentation, drawing on my book 'Vertical', exploring the politics of the urban subterranean. The wide-ranging discussion explores the subterranean as a source of class threats and insurrections; as a sanctuary; as a space of exploration; and as a site for tourism.

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Subterranean urban politics: Insurgency, sanctuary, exploration and tourism

  1. 1. Subterranean  urban  poli.cs:     Insurgency,  sanctuary,  explora.on  and  tourism   Stephen  Graham   Newcastle  University  
  2. 2. 1.  Introduc,on:  Urban  root  systems,     urban  imaginaries     “Imagine  grabbing  ManhaAan  by  the  Empire  State   Building  and  pulling  the  en.re  island  up  by  its  roots.   Imagine  shaking  it.  Imagine  millions  of  wires  and   hundreds  of  thousands  of  cables  freeing  themselves   from  the  great  hunks  of  rock  and  tons  of  musty  and   polluted  dirt.  Imagine  a  sewer  system  and  a  set  of   water  lines  three  .mes  as  long  as  the  Hudson  River.   Picture  mysterious  liAle  vaults  just  beneath  the  crust   of  the  sidewalk,  a  sweaty  grid  of  steam  pipes  103   miles  long,  a  turn-­‐of-­‐the-­‐eighteenth-­‐century   merchant  ship  bureau  under  Front  Street,  rusty  old   gas  lines  that  could  be  wrapped  twenty-­‐three  .mes   around  ManhaAan,  and  huge,  bomb-­‐proof  concrete   tubes  that  descend  almost  eighty  storeys  into  the   ground”  Robert  Sullivan  (1947)  
  3. 3. Dialec.cs  of  above  and  below:   Gravity,  God,  language  and  the  body:   “What  is  denied,  rejected,  excluded  in  the  world   above  with  reference  to  people,  class,  race  or  gender   is  thereby  included  and  collected  within  the   underground  space”  Yi-­‐Jen  Chang       Common  in  the  history  of  the  rela.onships  between   people,  waste  and  social  class,  distance  downwards   towards  and  into  the  earth  was  widely  constructed  as   a  proxy  of  increasing  inhuman  abjec.on.   Distances  upwards,  by  contrast,  were    o[en  the   source  of  moral  and  social  quality  and  –  literally  –   uprightness  and  civiliza.on  –  in  the  face  of  nature’s   gravita.onal  degrada.ons.  ‘Eleva.on’  thus  carried   with  it  parallel  no.ons  of  moral,  economic,  social,   theological  and  corporeal  superiority.   Ver.cal  bases  for  language  about  class,  wealth,   power,  happiness  and  moral  fitness  –  ‘Underclass’;   ‘Low’;  Sub-­‐human’  etc.   Also  obsession  with  standing  up  straight;  repression   of  ‘lower’  as  opposed  to  higher  ‘organs’  of  the  body   reaching    “its  limits  in  the  repression  of  the  common   abject  –  excrement,  putrefac.on,  dirt,  semen,   menses,  and  so  on”  Julian  Stallabrass  
  4. 4. The  ‘lower’  organs  of  the  body,  and  their  repulsive  func.ons,   thus  became  likened  to:  “the  city’s  ‘low’  –  the  slum,  the  rag-­‐ picker,  the  pros.tute,  the  sewer  –  the  ‘dirt’  which  is  ‘down   there.’    In  other  words,  the  axis  of  the  body  is  transcoded   through  the  axis  of  the  city,  and  whilst  the  bodily  ‘low’  is   forgoAen,  the  city’s  low  becomes  a  site  of  obsessive   preoccupa.on,  a  preoccupa.on  which  is  itself  in.mately   conceptualized  in  terms  of  discourses  of  the  body”  Julian   Stallybrass    
  5. 5.   2.  “Hardly  worthy  of  life  on   the  surface”:  Subterranean   Classes  and  Insurrec.ons     Jabob  Riis’s  famous  exposé  of  the   lives  of  New  York’s  very  poor,   How  the  Other  Half  Lives  (1890)   focused  par.cularly  on  how,  as  in   many  great  ci.es  then  and  now,   “much  of  New  York’s  so-­‐called   ethnic  underworld  lived  and  slept   in  underground  spaces  Riis’s   deemed  basement  inhabitants  to   be  “cave  dwellers”  who’s  physical   descent  into  the  city’s  subsurface   paralleled  a  complete  moral   collapse  to  a  point  where,    as   geographer  Thomas  Heise  puts  it,   “they  were  hardly  worthy  of  life   on  the  surface”    
  6. 6. Capitalist  urbaniza.on  and  the  basement  problem     Basements  “appear  again  immediately  somewhere  else  and  o[en  in   the  immediate  neighborhood!  The  breeding  places  of  disease,  the   infamous  holes  and  cellars  in  which  the  capitalist  mode  of  produc.on   confines  our  workers  night  a[er  night,  are  not  abolished;  they  are   merely  shi[ed  elsewhere!”  Friedrich  Engels  
  7. 7. French  1960s  ac.vists,  the  Situa.onists,  working  to  undermine   corporate  capitalism  ‘from  below,’  likened  their  work  and  that  of   similar  movements  to  that  of  an  ‘old  mole’  burrowing  through   the  founda.ons  of  bourgeois  life  ‘above’.     Sought  to  ‘undermine’  or  ‘dig  away  at’  capitalist  society  by   amplifying  what  they  called  the  ‘irreducible  dissa.sfac.on   [which]  spreads  subterraneanly,  undermining  the  edifice  of  the   affluent  society“    Noted  in  1962  that  the  ‘old  mole’  was  “s.ll  digging  away.”  
  8. 8. Sewer  as  Urban   Underworld       “To  place  anything  in  the   sewer  is  to  define  it  as  a   waste  product  of  the   world  above  it”    David  L.  Park  
  9. 9. Ver,cal  insurrec,on:  The  sewer  as   democra,c  otherworld       Pre-­‐Haussman  sewers  liAle  less  the   “conscience  of  the  city”  “are  no   more  false  appearance,  no  possible   plastering”,  he  stresses.  “The  filth   takes  off  its  shirt,  absolute   nakedness,  rout  of  illusions  and  of   mirages,  nothing  more  but  what  it   is  .  .  .  The  last  veil  is  rent.  A  sewer  is   a  cynic.  It  tells  all.”     "Crime,  intelligence,  social  protest,   liberty  of  conscience,”  Jean  Valjean   con.nues,  “the[,  all  that  human   laws  pursue  or  have  pursued,  have   hidden  in  this  hole".  
  10. 10. Subterranean  Haussmaniza,on:       “Hygiene  is  the  modern  project’s  supreme  act”  Lahiji  and  Friedman,  Plumbing,  
  11. 11. Ra,onalized  subterranean     engineering  as  moral     and  physical  ordering   “What  is  arguably  the  most  exci,ng   sequence  in  the  whole  of  nineteenth   century  French  fic,on”,  writes  historian   Christopher  Prendergast  (1992)  of  Les   Misérables,  “is  uVerly  unimaginable  in   the  sani,zed  and  regimented  sewers  of   the  Second  Empire.”  
  12. 12. Hiding  the     Excretory  City  
  13. 13. “One  Quick  Flush  and  You’re  Gone”:     Plumbing  -­‐  Shit  into  Sewage   “Plumbing,  with  every  sanitary  flush,  with  every  gleaming   knob  and  valve,  every  glint  of  the  surface  of  the  porcelain,   is  meant  to  allow  you  efficiently  to  forget  about  the  fact  of   your  personal  self.  One  quick  flush  and  you’re  gone”   Margaret  Morgan,  (2002)     Rose  George  (2011)  puts  it,  “the  success  of  city  sanita.on  is   evidenced  by  its  removal  from  conversa.on”     In  the  process,  in  many  ci.es,  the  human  act  of  exploi.ng   gravity  by  defeca.ng  ver.cally  down  into  the  sani.sed   toilet  in  the  modern  home  becomes  strangely  disconnected   from  the  sewers  that  lie  below  –  and  their  socionatures...  
  14. 14. The  Sewer  Uncanny  and  Its  Limits   Freud,  (1919)  “the  uncanny  [‘unheimlich’  in  German]  is  that  class  of  the  frightening   which  leads  back  to  what  is  known  of  old  and  [is]  long  familiar...  which  has  become   alienated  from  it  only  through  the  process  of  repression.     With  the  sewer  rejected  and  pushed  away  from  the  contemporary  imagina.on,   so  the  argument  goes,  the  boundary  between  the  surface  of  the  city  and  the   subterranean  sewer  becomes  marked  as  the  horizontal  boundary  between   “the  irra.onal  and  ra.onal,  culture  and  nature,  the  invisible  and  visible”  (MaAhew   Gandy)   Sewers  thus  become  secret  sites  for  marginality,  haun.ng,  tyranny  and   monstrous  mythology.  As  marginalised  spaces  they  lurk  threateningly  in   opposi.on  to  the  ra.onalized  and  ordered  spaces  of  the  urban  surface.  This   boundary,  of  course,  is  extremely  permeable:  at  any  .me  what’s  down  below   can  rear  up  and  challenge  the  clean,  ra.onal,  bourgeois  city  above.  
  15. 15. Mythical  sewer  monsters  “have  not  only  been  removed  from  the   world  above  but  transformed  by  that  removal,”  David  Pike   emphasises.  ”Bloated  by  the  sewage  on  which  they  feed,  their   excess  size  reveals  the  paradoxical  fecundity  of  waste”  
  16. 16. The  use  of  psychoanaly.cal  ideas  are  deeply  problema.c.  They  work  to   obscure  the  social  rela.ons  of  capitalism  and  urbanism  under  which  such   environments  are  manufactured,  maintained  and  restructured.   In  filling  the  ‘lower’  city  with  an  endless  array  of  demons,  monsters  and  urban   myths,  these  ideas  work  to  make  the  lives  of  the  people  whose  working  lives   involve  the  movement  of  the  city’s  shit  even  less  visible  and  even  more   marginal  than  they  would  otherwise  
  17. 17. Ver.cal  Cosmography     and  Human  Exploita.on   “From  the  head   came  the  Brahmins,   a  priestly  class,  who   are  the  most  pure.   From  the  arms  came   the  Kshatriyas,  the   warriors  and  rulers.   From  the  lower   limbs  were  born  the   Vaishyas,  the   traders.  And  from   the  feet  the  Sudras,   the  lowest  caste,   des,ned  to  serve   the  other  three”   Mari  Marcel   Thekaekara  
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  19. 19. The  ‘tunnelisa.on’  of  migra.on   “Just  as  every  wall  casts   a  shadow,’  architect   Bryan  Finoki  writes,  “so   too  does  each  inspire  its   own  mechanism  of   subversion  [].  The  wall  is   an  object  that   inadvertently  designs  its   own  nega.on”,  in  the   form  of  prolifera.ng   tunnel  systems.  
  20. 20. 3.    Sanctuary   Subterranean  burrowing  would  progress  “to  such  an  extent   that  burial  would  be  accomplished  defini.vely,  and  the   earth  [becoming]  nothing  more  than  an  immense  glacis   exposed  to  nuclear  fire”  Virilio  1975  
  21. 21. Donald  Heilig,  a  theorist  with  the  U.S.  Air   Force,  “our  [sic.]  enemies  will  be  forced   deeper  and  deeper  into  the  earth,   possibly  presen.ng  overwhelming   challenges  to  U.S.  Air  Force  strategists.“   Ver.cal  hegemony,   subterranean  burrowing    
  22. 22. “It  is  .me  to  harness  these   technologies  for  military  purposes  and  use  them  to  find  and  map  the  caves   and  tunnels  used  by  our  adversaries”,  Greg  Duckworth  of  the  Special  Projects   Office  of  the  Pentagon’s  high-­‐tech  research  agency,  DARPA  
  23. 23. Troglody.c  plutocrats     “Wander  the  streets  of  central   London  and  it  can  seem  that   everyone  aspires  to  live  like   hobbits”  Charlie  Ellingworth     Will  HuAon  rages  “at  the   phenomenon  of  young  people,   unable  to  afford  sky-­‐high   London  rents,  cramped  into   one  shared  room,  while  the   super-­‐rich  dig  down  under   their  homes  or  buy  the  house   next  door  to  expand  their   living  space.”  
  24. 24. Urban  Underworlds,  Urban  Crises  
  25. 25. “Living  [homeless]  on  the  street  is  very  physical,”   Marc  Singer,  one  New  York  tunnel  dweller,  said  in   2014.  “If  it  rains,  you  get  wet,  and  you  only  have  as   much  as  you  can  carry.  But  in  the  tunnels,  you  can  build   yourself  a  house.”  Cited  in  Sukhdev  Sandhu,  2014  
  26. 26. Mixing  concern  and  voyeurism,  fascina.ng   with  horror,  mythology  with  social  reportage,   the  animalis.c  metaphors  central  of  Toth’s   book  have  been  widely  cri.cized  for   depoli.cising  the  subterranean  fate  of  the   vulnerable  and  poor  in  contemporary   America,  as  they  literally  sediment  down  into   the  ar.ficial  ground  and  tunnel  spaces  of  the   underground  city,  away  from  what  she  calls   the  ‘top  side  world’.   Seville  Williams,  a  recovering  drug  addict  inhabi.ng  self-­‐built   houses  in  the  tunnels  under  track  100,  fully  100  meters  below   the  bustling  hub  of  Grand  Central  Sta.on  in  Mid-­‐Town   ManhaAan.  “It’s  the  decade  of  crack  and  homelessness…  It’s   the  decade  of  the  tunnels,”  Seville  lamented.  “People’ve  been   down  and  out  since  the  beginning  of  .me,  but  we’s  the  first  to   actually  live  in  tunnels.  There’s  been  nowhere  else  to  go.”  
  27. 27. Urban  catophilia:.   ‘Authen.c’  and  endlessly   accumula.ng  historical  material   culture:  ‘Hidden  art  gallery  of   Paris’:  80,000  Parisian  ‘catophiles’   per  year    Caroline  Archer  and   Alexandre  Parré  
  28. 28.  Doubly  Unknowable:     Subterranean  Securi.sa.on   “The  shadow  of  the  terror  aAacks   on  9/11,  spread  into  all  manner   of  subterranean  spaces”.  “the   crea.ve  anarchy  of  earlier  .mes..   largely  dissipated  as  security  has   .ghtened.  The  aAacks  have  had  a   profound  effect  on  New  York’s   underworld,  an  area  that  now   seems  rife  with  threats.  Here  in        an  uninhabited  realm,  dark  and   unfamiliar  to  most  New  Yorkers,   the  city  appears  par.cularly   vulnerable.”  Julia  Solis   “There  are  maps  of  gas  facili.es,  of   telecommunica.ons,  of  cables  and  of   sewers,”  writer  Peter  Ackroyd  notes  about   London.  “But  they  are  not  available  for   public  perusal.  The  dangers  of  sabotage  are   considered  to  be  too  great.  So  the   underworld  is  doubly  unknowable.  It  is  a   sequestered  and  forbidden  zone.”  
  29. 29. “It  was  quite  surreal.  Amtrak   [the  train  company]  had   hollowed  out  the  space.  There   used  to  be  actual  pain.ngs  and   amazing  art  theatre,  but  they’d   painted  it  grey.  There  was  no   graffi.,  no  rats,  no  semblance   that  anyone  had  ever  lived   there.  It  was  quite  sani.sed  and   heavily  patrolled”      Marc  Singer  (2011),  maker  of   the  celebrated  Year  2000   documentary  Dark  Days   ‘Splintering’  subterranean?  ‘Hollowing  out’  for  premium,   securi.sed,  global  city  infrastructure  
  30. 30. (4)  Explora.on     and  Appropria.on   “One  of  the  things  that’s  really   interes.ng  about  that  idea  of  exploring  I   think  is  opening  up  the  ver.cal   dimension  of  the  city”  Bradley  GarreA   Urban  explorers  direct  most  of  their   efforts  at  transgressing  the  liminal   boundaries  of  ‘normal’  life  that  tend  to   confine  urbanites  to  the  surface-­‐city   (with  limited,  shepherded  movements,   of  course,  down  into  subway  trains,   along  subterranean  highways,  or  up  into   tourist  viewing  plaxorms).   With  the  planet  mapped  by  globe-­‐ straddling  satellites,  and  every  square   cen.meter  of  its  surface  territory   imageable  from  the  ver.cal  gaze  of  a   Google  Earth,  perhaps,  the  movement   suggests,  the  real  domains  for   explora.on  now  lie  just  above  and  just   below  the  extending  landscapes  of  the   world’s  ci.es?  
  31. 31. 5.  “Moss-­‐grown  memory”:  Bunker  Tourism   Increasing  tendency  to   “travel  somewhere  not  for   museums  and  sunsets  but   for  ruins,  bombed-­‐out   terrain,  for  the  moss-­‐ grown  memory  of  torture   and  war”  Don  DeLillo,   Underworld.     Exploring  “ruins  of  the   twen.eth  century,  of   ideologies,  conflicts,  and   dreams  of  mastery   through  reinforced   concrete”  John  Beck  
  32. 32. “You'll  want  to  browse   the  Museum  Store!”   Here  can  be  purchased   “Titan  II,  Civil  Defense   and  other  memorabilia”   including  “pocket   dosimeters  used  to   detect  radia.on,  rebar   salvaged  from  Titan  II   missile  sites,  and  replicas   of  an  actual  Titan  II   launch  key.”  
  33. 33. Such  tensions  hint  at  the  wider  risk  that  the  rapid  growth  of  bunker  tourism   denies  their  origins  in  periods  of  deep  ideological  violence,  ruina.on  and   trauma.  The  dangers  here  are  that  their  presenta.on  as  tourist  aArac.ons  fails   to  communicate  what  1960s  avante  gardists  Situa.onist  Interna.onal  called   the  “urbanism  of  despair”  that  sustained  their  construc.on  in  the  first  place   However,  danger  of  aesthe.cising     and  depoli.cising  the  “urbanism  of   despair”  as  ‘visitor  experience’?  
  34. 34. Thank  you!   Steve.graham@ncl.ac.uk  

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