(The myth of) the science of social space

I’ve just published a review of Jeanne Haffner’s lucid and interesting The View from Above: The Science of Social Space (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2013). It’s in the current issue of French Studies, accessible here.

An excerpt:

The myth of social space was invoked in France by Marxists as well as by conservatives, city commissioners, and professors. Utopian in the equilibrium it implied, ‘social space’ referred to ‘space abstracted beyond the chaos of the ground but not divorced from it; not solely geographical or social, it was […] a spatialization of complex social and economic relationships within a particular urban environment’ (p. 82).

The View From Above establishes extremely valuable connections between the high modernist use of aerial photography detailed in the research of scholars such as Paula Amad, and the late modernist disillusionment with aerial photography exemplified by Guy Debord’s texts and films during and after his participation in the Situationist International. It represents a continued invitation to contemplate our view of the city and our right to it.

Paris belongs to us

A tantalizing little sequence of above-it-all from René Clair’s Paris qui dort / The Crazy Ray (1923). Entire film here. Lucky enough to have escaped the “crazy ray” of a conniving scientist who has frozen le tout Paris, the caretaker of the Eiffel Tower, four fashionable airplane passengers and their pilot cavort happily in the Trocadéro fountain and light each other’s cigarettes whilst hanging from the tower’s iron lattice. What power and liberty in the view from above, which endlessly fixes, distances and aestheticizes.