Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Friday, February 19, 2010

The City and the Crowds

The man of the crowd. Painting by Brian Pedley

In an article published on August 15, 2007 at  The Independent. Opinion, there is a letter titled ¨Hurrying city crowds bump into people of all colours and creeds¨, as follows:
¨Sir: Margaret Busby (Opinion ,13 August) asserts that her blackness makes her both invisible and highly visible, causing people in London to discourteously bump into her and afford her disproportionate attention or suspicion.
Might I suggest that people bump into each other every minute of the day in London because there are lots of people in London trying, in vain, to get somewhere quickly? They lead busy, stressful lives and try their best to avoid or ignore others in an attempt to mitigate the aggravation and anxiety of living in such a congested and pressured environment.
I have suffered humiliation, rejection, disappointment, suspicion, and people bumping into me but I do not have the luxury of blaming all my frustrations on my skin colour or gender. Life is trying for everyone and very few achieve their aspirations regardless of race, gender, sexuality or creed.
The next time a stranger "crashes into" you it is worth considering that the offending person is probably cursing your discourtesy in "crashing into" them.
Implicitly, I find here the anonymity  of the crowds in the city, a non guilty unity of deformed mass, that feeds into spontaneity and violence; but suddenly, somebody could be an expectant spectator, who feels like an outsider, an alien. Nevertheless, the spectator may also be entangled by the crowd again, in a never ending process, being outside, being inside, being one, but never being one in all. The idea that crowds demonstrate bizarre, almost pathological behavior was launched by the eminent French sociologist Gustave Le Bon. He discussed that a crowd was more than just the sum of its members, it was a kind of independent organism. It had an entity and a will of its own, and it often acted in ways that no one within the crowd intended. A crowd could be brave or cruel, but never smart. ( James Surowiecki, The wisdom of crowds, 2004). Benito Mussolini said "The mass, whether it be a crowd or an army, is vile"

The subject  was treated many times in literature, and I´d like to show some examples:
 Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937), the inventor of ¨cosmic horror¨, was an ardent scientific materialist that developed a psychopathic social and political and racist ideas. In his letter to Frank Belnap Long, in 1924, recounting his visit to Chinatown in New York, two years before, he describes it as a ¨nightmare of perfect infection¨ in Hitlerian words:
¨The organic things –Italo-Semitico-Mongoloid- inhabiting that awful cesspool could not by any stretch of imagination be call´d human.  They were monstrous and nebulous adumbrations of the pithecanthropoid and amoebal; vaguely moulding from some stinking viscous slime of earth corruption, and slithering and oozing in and on the filthy streets … They -or the gelatinous fermentation- of which they are composed seemed to ooze, seep and trickle thro´  the gaping cracks in the horrible houses … and I thought of ….unwhole –some bats crammed to the vomiting point with gangrenous vileness¨. (De Lévy, 28-29)

From Eliot´s ¨The Waste Land¨, I read

¨Unreal city,
Under the brown fog of winter dawn
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street….¨

It shows a lack of individual will, the flow suggests an inform organic matter, and the eyes before the feet, suggests a zombie like vacantness. (Jack Morgan)
This is Edgar Alan Poe description of the rush hour in London, in his tale ¨The Man of the Crowd¨, and the location of his  story is not casual,  by 1840, London was the largest city in the world with a population of 750,000 (data from
This latter is one of the principal thoroughfares of the city, and had been very much crowded during the whole day. But, as the darkness came on, the throng momently increased; and, by the time the lamps were well lighted, two dense and continuous tides of population were rushing past the door. At this particular period of the evening I had never before been in a similar situation, and the tumultuous sea of human heads filled me, therefore, with a delicious novelty of emotion. I gave up, at length, all care of things within the hotel, and became absorbed in contemplation of the scene without.
At first my observations took an abstract and generalizing turn. I looked at the passengers in masses, and thought of them in their aggregate relations. Soon, however, I descended to details, and regarded with minute interest the innumerable varieties of figure, dress, air, gait, visage, and expression of countenance.
One of the interpretations of this story, is that the mean old man who the narrator pursues, is the dark side of his own personality. Is this a way to lose one´s anonymity?
Safe Creative

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