3.5 City as Interpretation

“These aesthetic models transform our sense of the real, for the image of the city is an abstracted concept, an imaginary constructed form.” (Boyer 1994; p.32)

Sharpe and Wallock also examine the way the city has shifted from being a purely physical object to something more intangible where it is understood as a metaphor or symbol. The way we use language to describe a city alters the understanding of the city and what the city is so that it becomes more of an abstract notion. The city generates different interpretations, and acts as an inspiration for various artists and writers who in turn produce a certain viewpoint of that city and influence how that city is understood by others. Looking at the history of interpretation for the city they identify also a shift in the general understanding of a city based on how the condition of society is viewed.11 Sharpe and Wallock feel that there has been a gradual devaluation of the city as a concept over the past two centuries, and this is expressed primarily through our use of language whose terms appear dull, illogical, impenetrable or awkward (Sharpe and Wallock 1987; p.1-39). Considering this notion of global devaluation it is possible that this is why there has never really been a strong development of a ‘positive’ image of the city in Australia’s culture.

The symbolism of a city and how they work metaphorically is strongly influenced by language and the terms in which writers describe them. Writing and other visual artistic expressions are both capable of creating strong images of a city that impact on the way we view it. If our understanding of the city is formed through this lens of expression, then it is through this medium that we can create an image of the city that reflects what we wish to reveal about the city.

11.  During the Industrial revolution the city became a grand symbol for modernism with the skyscraper as a powerful and positive emblem of man’s power of creation. However later on, this viewpoint has shifted into a more anti-urban view where the city is seen as more problematic, with modern society reflected through the lens of the city as overwhelming, alienating and distancing. “In either case, the city as depicted often stood for the condition of the society as a whole. As such, this expression was most commonly tied to a number of ruling metaphors: as it symbolised human faith and aspirations”  Sharpe, W. and L. Wallock (1987). Visions of the Modern City - Essays in History, Art, and Literature.  p.6

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