Man in the Image(s) of the City

The classes discussion of Masereel, Frans The City (Die Stadt) was as diverse as could be expected from such a textless work. The distinct lack of explanation lead the reader to  form their own, which many of us did, with either a few images in a row or by cherry picking a few that were spread out to forum a narrative that suited their particular tastes.


However one thing that many people noticed and that Professor Whalen took care to point out was that almost every image, even most of the interior shots have some small opening back to “The City”.  I think the idea that once we have entered into a city we are then trapped by it, or at the very least influenced by it is something that Masereel wanted to communicate. Hence the humans are the diversion, the humans are the “act” and “The City” is the reality to which the reader always returns.  I seem to recall someone mentioning the idea that the “story” was simply about The City itself and that The City was the main character. If you will permit me a quick diversion here, I think this is a modern reactionary thought at the idea of “a City” being a backdrop or stage where people act, an idea that has be popularised by cinema.


Rather I would posit that the definitive lack of a complete (human) narrative is itself a kind of city narrative. Or to put it bluntly Masereel, Frans The City (Die Stadt) is literally 100 pages of “The City” not caring about what the humans inside of it are doing.

The City exists.


That may seems like an oddly obvious thing to say but  The City as it’s own entity is the essence of The City (Die Stadt). (Obvious puns aside.) The people that populate it, and the actions they are depicted doing are “The City’s” costume, it’s clothing.  The idea of an impartial and non-involved entity that large numbers of humans exist within is rather frightening in a a lot of ways. But that is what I think Masereel was looking to communicate.



By strange happenstance I was in the Simpson Library and I came across what i thought was the weirdest, and also the coolest book.  Arcology The City in the Image of Man by Paolo Soleri.

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Paolo Soleri was an architect and the idea of Arcology is his lifelong dream. It is in essence a Megacity that seeks to minimise mankind’s impact on the environment around the city.  But even more than that Arcology seeks to enable humans to live in harmony with the city itself. Paolo feels that to be constantly surrounded by gigantic skyscrapers and constantly dwarfed by the environment of the city has a negative impact on the human psyche. The sense of it is he seeks to fix to what Masereel seems to be expressing as the negative aspects of the city by making the differences between humans and the cities they inhabit smaller.


Although it is not a “graphic novel” It feels like one to me. But I can’t describe exactly why. Maybe it’s because the book itself is HUGE, it must be about 4 feet long when opened up. It may be because of the weirdly extensional reasoning Paolo uses to argue that this is the best forum of human habitation. It may be because of the pages that were copied out of his sketch books gives it a more comic book like artistic flare.


In any case it is well worth looking at, if nothing else than to get another idea of what constitutes a city. It is on the second floor of the Library in the back left corner when the exit the stairwell.

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