Superpositions: A Typology of Spatiotemporal Layerings in Buried Cities

Lena Mattheis, Jens Martin Gurr

Abstract


The essay sketches a typology of layered representations of urban history based on the question of how texts activate different strata beneath the cityscape. In describing these layers, we are guided by Walter Benjamin’s concept of superposition or ‘Überdeckungstransparenz’ (as formulated in the Arcades Project), a specific mode of perception which allows for the simultaneous awareness of different temporal layers. What is central to our endeavour is the structural analogy of ‘city’ and ‘text’ – both in the sense of reading ‘the urban landscape as a form analogous to that of a literary composition’ (Sharpe and Wallock 1987: 11) and, conversely, of studying ‘how a text can function like the city in its layering of meanings’ (Gurr 2015: 24). We further take our cue from Martindale’s distinction between ‘diachronic and historical’ approaches, allowing for a clear distinction between ‘past’ and ‘present’ on the one hand, and ‘archaeological and synchronic’ approaches layering different periods of time so as to suggest a timeless, simultaneous ‘presence of the past’ (sensu Eliot) on the other hand (Martindale 1996). We propose a matrix, as it were, of temporal and spatial ‘directions’ of layering, distinguishing between retrospective, simultaneous and prospective temporal superpositions and ‘co-spatial’ (layerings of different temporal strata of the same city) as opposed to translocal (overlay of different cities and spaces) spatial superpositions of different cities. We thus seek to provide a more nuanced outline of the textual strategies used to access, make visible (or at times construct) buried layers of spatialised, palimpsestuous urban memory.


Keywords


typology; historical layers; superposition; city; urban; palimpsest

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References


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