Class in cities

“Towns, cities, are turning-points, watersheds of human history.” (Braudel 1992: 479)

Oligopticon cities

Cities, those teeming masses of people and buildings, roads and things and relationships between them, are simply too big and too complex to be conceived. Bruno Latour dedicated his book, co-authored with Emilie Hermant, Paris: Invisible City to proving that that it is impossible to totalize the city. Not mentally, and not in any other way. If it is possible somewhere, then there is no central viewpoint in the city, and the model of the panopticon cannot be applied to it, “in the singular”, adds Latour: “We now know, every panopticon is an oligopticon: it sees little but what it does see it sees well.” (199) The city of which he speaks and writes, Paris, is a modern city par excellence, pierced in many places by tourist views, shot by surveillance cameras, networked with invisible systems for the supply of water, electricity and other utilities, its breadth and width surveyed using a variety of dimensions and criteria, for a variety of purposes. It is thus simultaneously a city which can never stop being totalized and surveilled, visually as well as mentally.

Latour and Hermant’s work is a photographic essay on the invisible Paris composed of all the public and private jobs, “engineers, technicians, civil servants, inhabitants and shopkeepers”, that make life in the city possible for its inhabitants. It is a reportage on the invisible structure of the city that both complements and maintains its visible and tangible part. The book contributes, for example, a report on the operation of a public agency whose officials assiduously collect daily information on the prices of fruits and vegetables in Paris markets in order to process these data at a central headquarters, calculate their average, and distribute the information at precisely noon to all those interested. And an account of the activity and organization of surveyors who measure every corner of the streets of Paris so that cartographers can prepare precise maps for all possible uses by city planners and residents. The aim of this sociological opera, as the authors call it, is “to wander through the city, in texts and images, exploring some of the reasons why it cannot be captured at a glance” (Latour 2006, 7).

If Paris: Invisible City is a sort of photographic flaneurism from the end of the twentieth century, which photographs and studies the visible as well as invisible tectonics of the city, at the other end of that century, at its beginning, stands the text by Siegfried Kracauer The Salaried Masses. In this text as well the author tackles an investigation of the unknown but omnipresent: “Hundreds of thousands of salaried employees throng the streets of Berlin daily, yet their life is more unknown than that of the primitive tribes at whose habits those same employees marvel in films.” (Kracauer 1998, 29) These two outstanding texts represent a sort of bracket and parenthesis of everything that happened over this long period concerning the city and the people in it, their customs, urban culture and class struggles for the city and in the city. In particular, Kracauer’s text The Salaried Masses, an exceptional and unusual sociological analysis, at the request of this issue’s editor was taken by the writers of the thematic set of articles as an optional point of departure for reflecting on the topic. It is difficult to disagree with Anja Naglic, translator of The Salaried Masses, who concludes that, while the Slovenian translation of Kracauer is overdue, it nonetheless could not have come at a more opportune time, in the midst of “a new global economic crisis, in the course of which we (once again) become aware of the astounding parallels between the social problems at that time and those today.” (Kracauer 2013, 7)

The themes and sub-themes that Kracauer addressed or simply pointed out in his analysis, and the film and literary involvement with the city whose contemporary he was, served as an abstract starting point for the authors contributing to this thematic collection for reflecting on the city and the classes that live within it. Thus in lieu of an introduction, what follows is simply an attempt to outline the background to The Salaried Masses, and to the cities and classes within the cities.

Capitalism in cities

The city does not permit itself to be totalized mentally or visually. Likewise, neither does capitalism. Capitalism cannot create the city as a product and it also cannot appropriate it as a product. This is too daunting a feat even for it. Capitalism can with ease build machines and the factories around them, even factory complexes and entire industrial zones and other areas, but it is doomed to fail in the construction of entire cities. Cities as entities are too complex to be encapsulated and planned with the advanced production rationality of big capital or the rationality of a socialist planned economy. The building of cities is an ongoing process. They grow in all directions, as Michael Sorkin asserts for New York, and in ways that are unpredictable. The city can never be a product; it is closer to a work of art, a work in progress, an oeuvre, as Lefebvre, the creator of the concept of “Right to the city”, and author of the 1968 book of the same name concluded.

Of course cities existed prior to capitalism and industrialization, important cities: oriental cities, Greek slave-owning poleis, ancient imperial Rome, medieval cities, and so on. This assertion may seem somewhat trivial, but Lefebvre still brings it to the fore at the beginning of his writings on cities, emphasizing that its implications have not yet been exhaustively investigated. Lefebvre’s work has two implications. First, that the link between the city and capitalism is in fact deeper than the link of any other social arrangement and its corresponding historical cities. And second, that this link is highly problematic.

Cities in which the capitalist mode of production has been established tended to be essentially non-capitalist cities and as Lefebvre has emphasized, were “influential entities” (Lefebvre 2000, 67), ruled by the bourgeoisie, even before industrialization. But the expression bourgeoisie due to its connection with the city holds an ambiguous status: it denotes the bourgeois class vis-à-vis the proletariat, while at the same time it is a general name for a type of residence in cities. Cities are the fortress of the bourgeoisie and at times the involuntary target of the proletariat, which due to its numbers can easily gain unimaginable power over the city, At the same time they are the birthplace of the middle class and as such they undermine the fundamental historical postulate of the Communist Manifesto, according to which “society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other – bourgeoisie and proletariat” (Marx 1848).

Regardless of who dominates in cities, the bourgeoisie, the proletariat or the middle class, cities are a pawn in the class struggle, whether in the context of the theory of class struggle or in the field of urban planning. Lefebvre’s thesis from the end of the 1960s, for example, is that a truly democratic and proletarian urban planning has yet to emerge. His project from that aspect could be defined as an attempt to articulate an idea, a theory of the city, which cannot be instrumentalized for the purpose of expanding the hegemony of the exchange value in the ways parks, streets, neighbourhoods and housing are used. To protect that idea from the abuse of urban planners who serve surplus value.

The bourgeoisie

The bourgeoisie carries with it a historical significance connected to a built city, a meaning that is already contained in the explanation provided in the Manifesto: “From the serfs of the Middle Ages sprang the chartered burghers [people who lived outside the city walls but enjoyed access rights to the city] of the earliest towns. From these burgesses the first elements of the bourgeoisie were developed.” The same text further clarifies the concept of the bourgeoisie: “By bourgeoisie is meant the class of modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labour.” In the Manifesto, which is, however, only the early formulation by Marx and Engels of the problem of capitalist society, the city and the bourgeoisie as the ruling class coincide. Bourgeois domination is the domination of the city over the country: “The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilized ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West” (Marx 1848).

In this respect the city is unquestionably an advanced, progressive entity. And if the bourgeoisie is identified with the city, it is by the same token identical to capital. There is an equivalency between capital and the bourgeoisie: “In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed.” (Marx 1848) However, this identity is not quite so firm. There appear cracks, divergences, small discrepancies and disagreements. Bourgeoisization has played its historical role unwittingly, by accident: “The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie” (Marx 1848). The bourgeoisie is merely in the service of industrial capital. Paradoxically the same also holds for capitalists. After Marx’s introduction of the concept of capacity for labour and later on the concept of the labour force, the question arises anew. Are capital and the bourgeoisie identical, are the capitalist and the bourgeois one and the same person, just two aspects of the same historical figure? These questions are posed again and again.

In his outstanding introduction to his book The Bourgeois, an introduction that only someone who deals primarily with literature could write, Franco Moretti points out that for many theorists, among them Weber, Sombart, and Schumpeter, capitalism as an economic concept and the bourgeois as an anthropological concept were regarded as “two sides of the same coin” (Moretti 2013, 1). The capitalist and the bourgeois are just two names for the same historical figure, just as the morning star and the evening star are two names for the same celestial body (Venus), illuminated from two different aspects. But immediately afterwards, he cites Ellen Meiksins Wood and others, including once again Weber, who stressed the differences between them over their identity. Wood places the dividing line in the old distinction between the revolutionary political project of the bourgeoisie as a middle class in France and during the Industrial Revolution in England, something already explicitly noted by Marx in Engels: “Generally speaking, for the economical development of the bourgeoisie, England is here taken as the typical country, for its political development, France.” (Marx 2009, 97) Wood adds that the political revolution in France did not have a lot to do with capitalism, while in England capitalism was not called to life by the bourgeoisie. She concludes that “there is no necessary identification of bourgeois […] with capitalist” (Moretti 2013, 3). A similar but much less sharp distinction was drawn by Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: “the Western bourgeois class and its particularities are closely connected with that of the origin of the capitalistic organization of labour, though not quite the same thing” (1950: 23).

The expression bourgeois appeared early on, continues Moretti. In the eleventh century it was used to refer to residents of medieval towns who enjoyed town rights, i.e. were not subjected to feudal jurisdiction. This is the source of the distinctive importance of “freedom from” for bourgeois history. Moretti enumerates many definitions of bourgeois from various theoretical backgrounds; common to all of them is a negative definition. The bourgeoisie is neither aristocracy nor clergy, it does not make its living from manual labour and it is financially independent. It is not a member of the peasantry or the nobility. From perhaps the nicest definition of bourgeois, citing Groethuysen, we can highlight the truly distinctive feature of the bourgeoisie in contrast to other historical classes: “kings have been called kings, priests priests, and knights knights; but the bourgeois likes to keep his incognito” (Moretti 2013, 6-7). It is as though each class (or estate) in relation to the bourgeoisie is identical with itself, while the bourgeoisie as a ruling class is historically unique in that it is decentred, not identical to itself, that it wishes to preserve its incognito (perhaps its incognito is just a mark of the impersonal and indifferent capital it serves).

Class struggle for the city and its attire

A negative definition of the bourgeoisie, a definition “in contrast to” has always made the bourgeoisie sensitive towards boundaries and edges; the boundaries of its class and the edges of its town. At first these boundaries and distinctions were made with respect to the former ruling class, the nobility and aristocracy, and the boundary of the town with the countryside, which was crucial for establishing the identity of the town. For this reason the town has also been primarily defined since the very outset by means of its most obvious contradiction, the countryside. “All towns necessarily speak the same basic language: common to them all are the continuous dialogue with their rural surroundings” (Braudel 1988, 281). Each town in this or some other way is an entity torn from the countryside. Towns have their squares and markets – shrines of exchange and exchange value. And of course they also have their merchants and bankers. Thus the difference in the value remains in the towns. It accumulates there like a treasure, in the form of money as well as an abundance of things, but no less so in the form of skills, knowledge, works of art, as Braudel adds to the list, and – let us not forget – a concentration of people, the surplus rural population. Towns have always been the home of a reserve army of labour, as Marx referred to this phenomenon from the beginning of industrialization that has accompanied capitalism ever since.

Class hegemony and even the hegemony of the town over rural areas can be found in surprising detail. John Berger noted one of the smallest but perhaps most beautiful visual details, “the most visual that there is”, in his brief analysis of photographs by August Sander entitled The Suit and the Photograph. Sander’s photograph of three young men on their way into town for a dance found itself before Berger’s analytical view. All three are wearing suits. “The date is 1914. The three young men belong, at the very most, to the second generation who ever wore such suits in the European countryside. Twenty or 30 years earlier, such clothes did not exist at a price which peasants could afford” (Berger 1980, 30). What is surprising in this photograph, says Berger, is that the suits did not disguise but rather “underlined and emphasized the social class of those who wore them” (1980, 30-31). If we cover the faces of the men photographed then there is no doubt that the bodies do not “belong to the middle or ruling class. They might belong to workers rather than peasants.” (Berger 1980, 30) It is surprising how the suits disfigure the bodies they clothe. Since they were not tailored for peasant figures, they deform them. The posture of peasant bodies is forced into these suits, and they look awkward and clumsy, unnatural. The suits “undermine the physical dignity” of the farmers. (Berger 1980, 31) For this very reason, Berger argues, it is a good example of what “Gramsci called class hegemony.”

“The suit, as we know it today, developed in Europe as a professional ruling-class costume in the last third of the nineteenth century. Almost anonymous as a uniform, it was the first ruling-class costume to idealize purely sedentary power. The power of the administrator and conference table. Essentially the suit was made for the gestures of talking and calculating abstractly.” (Berger 1980, 34) In this respect, then, bourgeois clothing, town clothing, which could almost be called a uniform for bureaucrats and officials, differs significantly from the attire of the former ruling class, which was made for other types of movement and gestures. It was tailored “for riding, hunting, dancing, duelling.” Bourgeois attire, in contrast, was created to hamper the movements and gestures, or Gestus, as Brecht would say, of the industrial worker and the farmer.

Clothing of course did not prevent workers from taking over towns and trying to make them their own, first as peasants, as an agrarian proletariat, and later on as expropriated persons living in the poor conditions of working class neighbourhoods. Perhaps the most famous episode of the class struggle in history that took place in a city that at the same time was its main design was the Paris Commune. Engels was the first to point out that the prior history of the Paris Commune should be called by the name of Haussmann (Engels 1977, 418). The famous Bonapartist architect and town planner, who beginning in 1853 with the construction of wide, flat, and long avenues was “making breaches in the working class quarters” (Engels 1977, 418), lively albeit somewhat careless, among other things in order to hinder the barricade struggle and make it possible for artillery to more easily and more quickly reach the focal point of the resistance (fear of the 1848 uprisings was still fresh in the memory of the bourgeoisie, “when workers jeopardized the newly constructed regime of the parvenus”, as Lefebvre explains). Engels’s analytical brilliance lies primarily in his diagnosing the sisyphism of this process, which does temporarily cause that “the scandalous alleys and lanes disappear to the accompaniment of lavish self-praise from the bourgeoisie on account of this tremendous success, but they appear again immediately somewhere else and often in the immediate neighbourhood.” (Engels 1977, 419)

It took Lefebvre to come to the conclusion that Haussmann’s method was not successful even in the longer term, and that this very failure participated in the most famous uprising of the city: “One strong aspect of the Paris Commune (1871) is the strength of the return towards the urban centre of workers pushed out towards the outskirts and peripheries, their re-conquest of the city […] this oeuvre which had been torn from them.” (Lefebvre 2000, 76)

Class strategies and the edge of the city

The nineteenth century in general and the Paris Commune in particular mark the period of the ill-fated encounter of the town and the countryside, a period when “a democracy of peasant origins which drove the revolutionaries could have transformed itself into an urban democracy” (Lefebvre 2000, 75) The accelerated urbanization that followed, characteristic of the threshold between the nineteenth and the twentieth century, like every urbanization was very strongly “a class phenomenon.” (Harvey 2008: 24) This means that its course is determined and directed by more or less obvious class strategies and tactics. “A typical class strategy”, says Lefebvre, does not mean that it was “a series of concerted actions, planned with a single aim. […] Class character seems that much deeper” (Lefebvre 2000, 76) than that; it is determined by a complex set of factors, many of which are difficult or impossible to control. Strategies, although they do not consciously follow the desired class aim, can still lead to it. Such a strategy according to Lefebvre, is for example the strategy used by important people in the second half of the 19tth century, influential townspeople, “rich or powerful, or both, sometimes ideologues […] with ideas strongly marked by religions (Catholic and Protestant)” (Lefebvre 2000, 76), who want to address the plight of the worker’s life. “Some of them, men of good will, philanthropists, humanists” and “They were not proposing to demoralize the working classes, but on the contrary, to moralize it.” They wanted to give workers and their families “a better everyday life than that of work” (Lefebvre 2000, 77), and so they offered them their own housing. In so doing they of course made use of their own wealth in buying and reselling real estate in the city and its environs. But crucially, they tried to place workers into “a hierarchy clearly distinct from that which rules in the firm”, in the workplace at the factory or the office, into a hierarchy of “property and landlords, houses and neighbourhoods.” They offered them “another function, another status, other roles than those attached to the condition of salaried producers. […] In this way they conceived the role of owner-occupied housing” (Lefebvre 2000, 77).

The city of salaried masses portrayed by Kracauer could only arise in the ashes of the old class struggles of the nineteenth century and with the more or less successful realization of the class strategies of the ruling class. Undoubtedly already true in Kracauer’s time is what David Harvey concludes for his time, i.e. that “earlier distinctions that made sense – between the urban and the rural, the city and the country – have in recent times also become moot. The chain of supply both into and out of the cities entails a continuous movement, and does not entail a break” (Harvey 2012, 139).

The boundary of the modern metropolis since the beginning of the twentieth century is thus no longer first of all the country, as still held true in sociology from the end of the nineteenth century, but rather the bourgeois interior, as crime novelists were already well aware.1 The boundary of the town carefully protected the privacy of bourgeois homes, but also the privacy of the office and the factory. It is interior to the city itself. Here is where the town stops and the world of bourgeois privacy begins, of dirty family (Freud) and production (Marx) secrets. The city in its true sense begins only on the far side of the walls of homes, offices and factories. Marx, for instance, very clearly described this boundary between the public and noisy city and the privacy of the production plant: “Accompanied by Mr. Moneybags and by the possessor of labour-power, we therefore take leave for a time of this noisy sphere, where everything takes place on the surface and in view of all men, and follow them both into the hidden abode of production, on whose threshold there stares us in the face ‘No admittance except on business.'” (Marx 2012, 134)

While privacy is not a specifically western invention, in the West it can be fairly precisely dated. Thus Braudel writes “And seventeenth-century luxury was not aware. […] Neither did it recognize privacy. When Louis XIV himself, in his palace at Versailles, wanted to visit Madame de Montespan, he had to go through the bedroom of Mademoiselle de la Valliere, the previous royal favourite” (Braudel 1988, 60-61). But it is not just the arrangement of the royal chambers and rooms, which always differed from the ordinary, bourgeois arrangement of residents. “Similarly, in a Parisian town house of the seventeenth century, on the first floor, which was the noble storey, reserved for the owners of the house, all the rooms – antechambers, salons, galleries and bedrooms – opened off each other and were sometimes hard to tell apart. Everyone, including servants on domestic errands, had to go through them to reach the stairs.” (1988, 62) In this way, notes Braudel, bourgeois interiors, as shown in Flemish paintings, combined social and private spaces. Thus in large rooms designed for social gatherings, with a dining table and for example a harpsichord, it was also usually possible to find a canopy bed. “Privacy was an eighteenth-century innovation” (Braudel 1988, 62), it invented spaces of “family confidentiality”, intimacy, and discovered sexuality anew, but also the self and self-awareness, the watchwords of philosophy in the 18th and nineteenth centuries.2

There is of a course a paradox in that the privacy of homes and the privacy of factories are shared by both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the former in large and the latter in small homes, and not only in ones that they own but also in rented accommodation. With the large-scale urbanization of western societies in the early twentieth century (in the USA as well as in Europe) class positions towards the city as an entity fundamentally changed. David Harvey thus believes that “the concept of […] class has to be fundamentally reformulated.” (2012, 139) Setting the edge of the city in its interior, reaching to the doorstep of factories and private housing, required new thinking about the city. Benjamin and Kracauer were two great theorists of this discovery and each in his own way investigated the effects of this relocation, which are relevant even today. In the privacy of the factory and in the privacy of an apartment the city folds into itself; Freud’s theory of sexuality (or the interpretation of dreams) is also social theory and Marx’s theory of capitalist exploitation of labour behind the closed doors of factories and offices is a theory of the otherwise everyday life and the individual’s intimacy. Both Kracauer and Benjamin made attempts to show that the place where these two driving forces of modern society connect, intertwine, and engage in a dialectic is called the city and that the urban environment is the true setting for the dynamics and dialectics of Marxist as well as Freudian exploration.

Drawing on the field of urban planning, they attempted to analyze in what way and by what means these two spheres of privacy, the family and the factory (office), are connected socially. In The Arcades Project Benjamin writes: “For the private individual, places of dwelling are for the first time opposed to places of work. The former come to constitute the interior. Its complement is the office. The private individual, who in the office has to deal with realities, needs the domestic interior to sustain him in his illusions. This necessity is all the more pressing since he has no intention of grafting onto his business interests a clear perception of his social function. In the arrangement of his private surroundings, he suppresses both of these concerns” (Benjamin 1991, 52).

Benjamin presents a series of oppositions here in three compact sentences. He first emphasizes that the place of dwelling is separate and placed in opposition to the place of work. This is a historical moment: prior to this, owners and workers (for example, apprentices and their master) lived under the same roof, i.e. they lived and worked in the same house. Still within this relationship he places in opposition the office and the interior (presumably) of the dwelling, in which the first, the place of work, is governed by the reality principle, and the second, the place of dwelling, by the pleasure principle, to use Freud’s terminology. The interior design of bourgeois dwellings serves to satisfy the owners’ fantasies (Benjamin writes similarly of the interior in other places). The next opposition is created by business thinking on one side and social on the other. Benjamin then formulates this oppositional, dual relationship as having three parts: the interior of the dwelling is established as the third moment of the last opposition, in which both of its poles are suppressed, business thinking as well as social. At the same time the interior preserves the function of embodying the bourgeois phantasm (in which Benjamin analyses in particular the exotic furniture, tapestries, small and large items, the decorative boxes that envelop and hide these items, etc.).
Typical of Benjamin’s analysis of the urban are repression and the unconscious. Just as he explored the optical unconscious in film (his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” was devoted to this discovery), he attempted to explore the urban unconscious in city architecture, which eludes capitalist rationality (The Arcades Project is devoted to this exploration).

Kracauer’s description of the relation between the dwelling and the workplace was significantly cruder but no less dialectical. At the same time it is shocking in its directness, most likely because it is taken from a propaganda brochure of a department store and ranks among classical ready-made ideological approaches: “One further influence is worthy of mention, which derives from the layout and furnishing of the store. Many of the employees are from quite modest backgrounds. Perhaps their homes consist of cramped, poorly lit rooms […] In the store, however, the employees for the most part spend their time in cheerful rooms flooded with light.” (Kracauer 2013, 99) This was intended to culturally and morally uplift staff, doubtless to the proximity of higher classes, to whom they do not belong but whom they serve. Kracauer adds “The beneficent influence exercised by the flood of light […] upon the staff, might at most consist in the staff being sufficiently duped to put up with their mean, poorly lit homes.” (2013, 100) Brecht drew completely opposite conclusions from the narrowness of workers’ housing: “Workers are not narrow and they do not like narrowness. Their dwellings are narrow” (Brecht 1980, 84).

At the same time we can find in Kracauer’s sociological bravuras descriptions entirely in passing of transitions from one pole to the other, the tansfer of music, for example, from the bourgeois interior of the middle class to the typing school for future generations of clerks: “When the middle classes were still in a state of prosperity, many girls who now punch cards used to stumble through etudes at home on the pianoforte” (2013, 36), continuing “Music at least has not entirely vanished from a process […] The wily teacher winds up a gramophone and the pupils have to type in time with its tunes. […] The rotation speed of the record is gradually increased, and without the girls really noticing it they tap faster and faster. In their training years they turn into speed typists – music has wrought the cheaply purchased miracle.” (2013, 37) Music, removed from the bourgeois sitting room to the classroom, where its aesthetic side has been reduced to a rhythm that is demoted to the function of facilitating speed typing. Music, which used to be an aesthetic pleasure, here serves merely as a technical aid for speeding the movement of fingers. This cheap trick, in which music is sacrificed to progress in mechanizing the work of staff, is not innocent in the “de-spiritualization” and numbness of “The Salaried Masses” (2013: 50). They therefore flock to entertainment like the girl whose friends call her “Cricket, who works in the filing room of a factory” and for whom it is typical that “in a dancehall or suburban cafe, she cannot hear a piece of music without at once chirruping the appropriate popular hit. But it is not she who knows every hit, rather the hits know her, steal up behind her and gently lay her low” (2013, 74).3

Urban masses

Kracauer, Benjamin, Brecht and many others of their generation would say that in the cities live the masses. In the masses they again discovered that incognito bourgeoisie, and entirely anew connected it with the logistics of the city and the logic of capital. Paradoxically its new image was best formulated by Simmel in a 1905 analysis of the “psychological detachment of the bourgeoisie of large cities”. He observed that people in large cities, despite their close proximity, treated one another with extreme indifference. Despite the close physical proximity they did not talk to one another or see one another. They look at one another without actually seeing one another. The bourgeoisie once again asserted its incognito in the masses. People behaved towards one another similarly to how they behaved towards in suspense of use value, towards a good whose utility value is on display but its realization is postponed to a time when its price will be settled.

The masses were only created by cities, cities and mass consumption,4 the faithful predecessors of mass culture in cinemas, jazz concerts and boxing matches. The masses and mass art are two major themes for Kracauer and Benjamin: “The greatly increased mass of participants has produced a change in the mode of participation.” The distracted mass is the original urban mass, argues Benjamin, that “absorbs the work of art. This is most obvious with regard to buildings. Architecture has always represented the prototype of a work of art the reception of which is consummated by a collectivity in a state of distraction” (Benjamin 1968, 239). This distracted attention according to Benjamin can emancipate the masses. In it he sees the possibility for the emancipatory development of mass culture.

Whereas Kracauer at the threshold of the global economic crisis was significantly more careful and sceptical, in the modern-era distraction and entertainment of the masses (for instance in dance halls) he diagnoses the dissolution of the intellectual and political integrity of workers: “At the same moment at which firms are rationalized, these establishments rationalize the pleasures of the salary-earning armies. My question as to why they treat the masses as a mere mass is met by one salaried employee with the bitter reply: ‘Because people’s lives are bled far too dry for them to have the least idea what to do with themselves'” (2013, 102).

In lieu of a conclusion and an introduction

The city itself, as a real existing entity, is always only a specific place. Benjamin’s Paris, Kracauer’s Berlin, Maribor and Ljubljana in the 1920s, Slovenian cities during the most recent parliamentary elections. The city as a historical phenomenon is in reality just a reconstruction co-shaped by ideological, theoretical, literary, film, statistical, anthropological, urban planning and other appropriations. This thematic issue attempts to show how various artistic genres have appropriated the city, how theorists, architects, and urban planners thought about it, and how on the other hand social classes also appropriated it, how they transformed and ordered it, and how they do so even today.

The articles thus deal with how the literary intelligentsia, who were simultaneously flâneurs, urban strollers, wrote about it; how filmmakers filmed it, inventing their own unique genre, the city symphony, as their cameras and montage encountered the city; how it was depicted and drawn over the long twentieth century by comics; how theorists such as Kracauer and Benjamin attempted to formulate the problem of the city, and how architects and urban planners charged with finding solutions to the housing crisis in big cities, in which the demand far outstripped the supply, dealt with it; how suburbs and the urban culture of the proletariat developed; which self-delusions today’s middle class labours under; and finally, how the geography of present-day Slovenia is viewed by the creative class, which appears to be an entirely appropriate contemporary replacement for Kracauer’s salaried masses.


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Seeslen, Georg: “Konstante detektivske literature”, v Memento umori. Ljubljana: Drzavna zalozba Slovenije, 1982.
Weber, Max: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons, George Allen and Unwin, 1950.

The interiors of bourgeois residences have a special place in crime and mystery novels. Ever since Walter Benjamin drew attention to them in one of his short notes, literary theory cannot get rid of this link. It is most apparent in Georg Seesslen, who finds that "the crime novel especially likes to lay the corpse in the living room in villas of those urban districts referred to from the economic aspect by Eric Hobsbawm as 'the green belt of stockbrokers'" (1982: 103). Seesslen rigorously and relentlessly deciphers the class elements in the constants of crime literature, in which the boundary between the street and the bourgeois home serves him as the main operative dividing line. The hero of the crime novel is given the function of re-establishing the democratic order, such that he is allowed to rummage through homes that are otherwise off limits, going through drawers and closets, peeking under the bed and in secret safes: "The detective conducting a search of the bourgeois sitting room somehow once again restores the collapsed democratic order by enabling control over objects." (1982, 105) The detective's investigation always establishes anew, in some way, the demarcation line between legal exploitation of an entire class and the common theft of an individual member of the ruling class. The urban middle class by means of the detective's clues can again go back to the banality of their everyday life. Even a very trivial thing can be a clue, says Seesslen. By focusing on the detective's clues the bourgeoisie is compensated for their suffering in everyday white-collar routines: "The crime novel irrespective of clothing is a considerably less intellectual pleasure than it is a pleasure for intellectuals, in other words, a pleasure for the bourgeois who work in a third-rate field and perform small political, economic, and cultural tasks in the system of bourgeois domination but who nevertheless never really belong to society. This literary genre is simultaneously the revenge of the petty bourgeoisie and its affirmation." (1982, 107) The crime literature of the twentieth century is, so to speak, an introduction to the new urban middle class. It is therefore not surprising that Poe, who judging by Benjamin was the first to write seriously about the modern urban masses, was also the inventor of the crime novel genre.

Ultimately self-awareness, like the women of Virginia Woolf, requires its own room, its own spaces of privacy, in order to be expressed.

"This is a play on words with the expressions Schlager ('hit song') and erschlagen ('kill', 'slay')", according to the translator's note. (Kracauer 2013, 74)

This of course does not exist without mass production.

Published 14 January 2015
Original in Slovenian
Translated by Jean McCollister
First published by Dialogi 9/2014

Contributed by Dialogi © Ciril Oberstar / Dialogi / Eurozine


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