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Socially empty space and dystopian utopianism in the late Nineteenth Century

Beaumont, M; (2011) Socially empty space and dystopian utopianism in the late Nineteenth Century. In: Gregory, R and Kohlmann, B, (eds.) Utopian Spaces of Modernism: British Literature and Culture, 1885-1945. (pp. 19-34). Palgrave Macmillan: London, UK. Green open access

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Abstract

In ‘The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire’, Walter Benjamin refers at one point to ‘socially empty space’, an idea that he claims to have found in Marx. I have been unable to locate this concept in Marx’s writings, but this might not matter, for the formulation in any case seems more Benjaminian than Marxian. Benjamin himself, however, uses it rather enigmatically. He invokes it in relation to some lines from Baudelaire about an old woman who, because she is excluded from ‘the large, closed parks’ of Paris, sits alone and pensive on a bench in a public garden, ‘at that hour when the setting sun / Bloodies the sky with bright red wounds’ (pp. 101–2). Even in this context, where it appears to refer to those zones of the metropolis that are deliberately designed to exclude the people that inhabit it, the idea of ‘socially empty space’ remains abstract and undeveloped. So in this chapter I want to exploit precisely the emptiness of the phrase, its elusive suggestiveness, in order to think about the utopian and dystopian aspects of depopulated space for capitalist modernity; that is, for a society archetypally defined by the sheer populousness of its metropolitan cities, which Raymond Williams once characterized in terms of ‘an unprecedented — crowding and rushing — human and social organization’ (p. 29).1 Socially empty space is a species of space in which, because one expects it to be filled, densely populated, like the emblematic spaces of metropolitan modernity, the absence of people is perceived almost as a presence.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Socially empty space and dystopian utopianism in the late Nineteenth Century
ISBN-13: 9780230303720
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1057/9780230358300
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230358300_2
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Empty Space, Late Nineteenth Century, Urban Space, Mental Space, Capitalist Modernity
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of English Lang and Literature
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1538542
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