Title

THE ABJECT UNDERGROUND: PARISIAN SEWERS AND THE URBAN BODY, 1853-1877

Presenter Information

Lindsay Dick

Presentation Type

Presentation

Abstract

Georges-Eugene Haussmann’s infrastructural reformation of Paris beginning in 1853 was not only pragmatic innovation, but also ideological evolution. Contemporary understanding of disease drew in large part on existing miasmic theory, despite advances in medicine and Louis Pasteur’s germ theory. Public hygienists of the time called for management of the urban infrastructure to protect the integrity of the city corpus and the physical and moral health of the individual citizen. In a capitalist superstructure, the protection of the worker’s health is a material investment in the perpetuation of economic progress. The metaphor of Paris as body reflects the vision of capitalist bio-economics and a fear of uncontrolled waste. On the same token, the metaphor implicates the abject as a repulsive border between the symbolic surface and the repressed reality underground. Managing and repressing Paris’ “bodily functions” had psychological and social consequences that were reflected in contemporary literature, as exemplified in naturalist author and social commentator Emile Zola’s L’Assommoir (1877). Hausmann’s own writings and those of contemporary French writer Emile Zola support this dual use of metaphor, as demonstrated by parallel dissection of their texts. This research is significant for its inscription of the corporal metaphor upon the modernizing city, and demonstrates that metaphor remains useful for informing our own present urban and corporal realities.

Category

Social Sciences

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Apr 15th, 2:40 PM Apr 15th, 3:00 PM

THE ABJECT UNDERGROUND: PARISIAN SEWERS AND THE URBAN BODY, 1853-1877

UC 332

Georges-Eugene Haussmann’s infrastructural reformation of Paris beginning in 1853 was not only pragmatic innovation, but also ideological evolution. Contemporary understanding of disease drew in large part on existing miasmic theory, despite advances in medicine and Louis Pasteur’s germ theory. Public hygienists of the time called for management of the urban infrastructure to protect the integrity of the city corpus and the physical and moral health of the individual citizen. In a capitalist superstructure, the protection of the worker’s health is a material investment in the perpetuation of economic progress. The metaphor of Paris as body reflects the vision of capitalist bio-economics and a fear of uncontrolled waste. On the same token, the metaphor implicates the abject as a repulsive border between the symbolic surface and the repressed reality underground. Managing and repressing Paris’ “bodily functions” had psychological and social consequences that were reflected in contemporary literature, as exemplified in naturalist author and social commentator Emile Zola’s L’Assommoir (1877). Hausmann’s own writings and those of contemporary French writer Emile Zola support this dual use of metaphor, as demonstrated by parallel dissection of their texts. This research is significant for its inscription of the corporal metaphor upon the modernizing city, and demonstrates that metaphor remains useful for informing our own present urban and corporal realities.