Whither the City, Withered City: On Abandonment, Absence, and Sociality


  • Benjamin Linder


abandonment, COVID-19, ghost town, urban, cities, post-acopalyptic, Calvino


This essay reflects on literary geographies of absence to conceptualize the contemporary socio-spatial upheavals wrought by COVID-19. The threat of contagion has radically transformed people’s lived relationships to cities. Under diverse lockdown conditions, the teeming sociality and tactile bustle of cities promptly gave way to empty streets, deserted public squares, and shuttered commercial districts. Social life became atomized, isolated, and, at best, cyberspatial. All of this left material urban landscapes feeling eerily abandoned, haunted, uncanny. This essay explores the dramatic, if temporary, thinning of urban life under COVID-19 by considering the motif of desolate cities in literature and pop culture. Indeed, it was through such literary and cinematic renderings that we made sense of real-life journalistic images that proliferated during the pandemic.


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