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Upright: Verticality, Language and the Politics of Bodies and Cities

An analysis oh how vertical metaphors in language intersect with the politics of upright human bodies and rapidly verticalising cities.

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Upright: Verticality, Language and the Politics of Bodies and Cities

  1. 1. Upright: Verticality, Language and the Politics of Bodies and Cities Stephen Graham
  2. 2. Question: Where does the term ‘top notch’ come from?
  3. 3. 1. Introduction: Horizontal research, vertical language… Paul Carter: imagining world as “a continuous planar surface on which, at intervals, objects . . . were located”
  4. 4. ‘Flat earth’ urbanism and urban studies in a world of ‘stacked societies’ Barrie Shelton and colleagues call these perspectives “’flat earth’ viewpoints of urbanism” Geography – often defined as the study of the earth’s surface -- especially, has long been too flat! Time geography can’t even conceptualise vertical movement!
  5. 5. Stacked societies and vertical geographies: “What would happen if you took geographic thinking and instead of putting it on a horizontal axis, you added a vertical axis?” Trevor Paglen
  6. 6. Upright stance of humans “earliest distinctively human feature to have evolved in hominids” Nina Jablonski and George Chaplin (1992) “Upright posture is the ‘Leitmotiv’ in the formation of the human organism. Upright we are, and we experience ourselves in this specific relation to the world. Upright posture pre- establishes a definite attitude toward the world; it is a specific mode of being-in-the-world. ” Erwin Strauss, 1952. “Standing, for members of the species Homo sapiens sapiens,” wrote medical philosopher Stuart Spicker in 1976, “ is always an achievement, constantly renewed.” 2. Standing struggles: Applies especially to neglected intersections of bodies, language and urbanism
  7. 7. Vertical Language and vertical bodies “Whatever is superior or excellent is elevated, associated with a sense of physical height. Indeed ‘superior’ is derived from a Latin word meaning ‘higher.’ ‘Excel’ (celsus) is another Latin word for ‘high.’ The Sanskrit brahman is derived from a term meaning ‘height.’.. Social status is designated "high" or "low" rather than "great" or "small." God dwells in heaven.” Yi-Fu Tuan, 1979. “Low suggests immorality, vulgarity, poverty, and deceit. High is the direction of growth and hope, the source of light, the heavenly above of angels and gods” Stephen Kern
  8. 8. ‘Dead’ vertical metaphors George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (2008)
  9. 9. 3. Upright: Vertically Moralised Bodies “The scheme of elevation, the upward movement, everything that is marked by the prefix super (or in German, ‘über’) is here as decisive as the schema of purification, of the turning away from impurity, from the zones of the body that are malodorous and must not be touched. The turning away is an upward movement. The high (and therefore the great) and the pure, are what repression produces as origin of morality, they are what is better absolutely, they are the origin of value and of the judgment of value.” Jacques Derrida (1991)
  10. 10. “The vertical axis of the bourgeois body is primarily emphasized in the education of the child: as s/he grows up/is cleaned up, the lower stratum is regulated or denied as far as possible, by the correct posture (‘stand up straight’, ‘don’t squat’, ‘don’t kneel on all fours’ – postures of servants and savages), and by the censoring of ‘lower bodily’ references along with bodily wastes” Peter Stallybrass and Allon White (1997)
  11. 11. Vertical bodies, dirt and the demonised body-politic of the city’s ‘low’ Social and psychological denial of the ‘lower’ body “reach[ed] its limits in the repression of the common abject – excrement, putrefaction, dirt, semen, menses, and so on” Nadir Lahiji and Daniel Friedman Connected with the imagined vertical cartography of the body- politic and the wider city. In this way the ‘lower’ organs of the body, and their functions, thus became likened to: “the city’s ‘low’ – the slum, the rag-picker, the prostitute, 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 forgotten, the city’s low becomes a state of obsessive preoccupation, a preoccupation which is itself intimately conceptualized in terms of discourses of the body” Peter Stallybrass and Allon White
  12. 12. Fascist demonization…Lower ‘races’, lower bodies and the masculinized fetish for tallness “Perfect posture is the antithesis of illness and moral decay” American eugenicist B. G. Jeffries “Some primitive races who have the squatting habit […] keep the knees and back bent and have a carriage and gait not much better than that of the higher apes. As a general rule, the more highly civilised the people the better is the carriage” The Lancet, 1922. Both cited by Tom Jesson
  13. 13. 4. ‘I Stand Therefore I Am’: Male-Scale and Disabling Cities High Modernism – labelled, itself, with a vertical moniker and oriented around the saint-like figure of Le Corbusier -- was based absolutely on the fetish that “the vertical is the ethical condition of man.” Indeed, the obsession of modernist architecture with vertical lines and right angles – their view that the 90 degree angle is the “only poetic angle” – extends inevitably to the stance of human bodies. “No statement... better expresses Le Corbusier’s cogito than this one, “I stand therefore I am.” Nadir Lahiji and D.S. Friedman (1997)
  14. 14. Corbusier’s Modulor: : “progenitor of an entire universe built to male-scale”. Barbara Hooper Derived from Le Corbusier’s fantasy that “all men [sic] have the same organism, the same functions... the same needs”. Initially, the figure was going to be the average height of a French male – 1.75 meters. Increased the height to 1.83 meters in 1946 because "in English detective novels, the good-looking men, such as policemen, are always six feet tall!” “imposes senseless geometrical norms on a supposedly universal body in order to create what [Le Corbusier] call[ed] ‘constructed beings, cemented biologies.’” Like all fascists, then Le Corbusier “apprehend the body as a block of muscles, a viriloid form, a sporting armour ready for engagement in violent social relations.” Mark Perelman
  15. 15. “A virile force, an entire male. It stands in physical fact, a monument to trade, to the organized commercial spirit, to the power and progress of the age, to the strength and resource of individuality and force of character. Therefore I have called it, in a world of barren pettiness, a male, for it sings the song of procreant power, as others have squealed of miscegenation” Louis Sullivan: ‘Father’ of the Skyscraper The Gendered Politics of the Skyscraper ‘Race’
  16. 16. "The summit of the world should be associated with a great name”: Al Maktoum on the opening of the new tower.
  17. 17. I am the power that lifts the world’s head proudly skywards, surpassing limits and expectations. Rising gracefully from the desert and honouring the city with a new glow, I am an extraordinary union of engineering and art, with every detail carefully considered and beautifully crafted. I am the life force of collective aspirations and the aesthetic union of many cultures. I stimulate dreams, stir emotions and awaken creativity. I am the magnet that attracts the wide-eyed tourist, eagerly catching their postcard moment, the centre for the world’s finest shopping, dining and entertainment and home for the world’s elite. I am the heart of the city and its people; the marker that defines [developer] Emaar’s ambition and Dubai’s shining dream. More than just a moment in time, I define moments for future generations. I am Burj Khalifa. “They were the words of a God... The tallest God in the world” Brazilian Pastor René Breuel
  18. 18. “From the 90th floor, you feel as connected to the sky as to the ground... The city is laid out like a map, and the enormous windows are less like frames for the view than wide-open portals to it. And inside, the high ceilings and large rooms make the place feel even less like a conventional apartment. The layout leaves an open vista through the apartment, so you can see north to the Tappan Zee Bridge and south to the new 1 World Trade Center tower” Paul Golberger 5. Seductions of luxified skies
  19. 19. Photo by Andrew Harris
  20. 20. Redrow penthouse apartment ad: “To stand with the world at my feet!”
  21. 21. Thank you!