Geoscience Reference
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control of nature within the city. Wild nature might just reassert itself and disturb
the urban order. In a reflection on early human efforts to gain security through the
medium of architecture, Le Corbusier (1927:71) suggested that
in order to construct well and distribute his [sic] efforts to gain advantage, to
obtain solidity and utility in the work, [the builder] has taken measures, he
has adopted a unit of measurement, he has regulated his work, he has brought
in order. For, all around him, the forest is in disorder with its creepers, its
briars and the tree-trunks which impede him and paralyse his efforts.
The desire to eliminate nature, nature as abject and inimical to domesticity, is still
there in the (post)modern city. At the same time, though, wild nature is desired. Its
absence in the city figures as a loss, and there is a need to reconnect, if only
vicariously or in the imagination. Just as nomads transgress and disturb the urban
order but, at the same time, represent a romanticised freedom, so uncontrolled
nature is a source of both anxiety and desire. Thus, people 'need' to imagine
marginal places, both as abject spaces to which feral cats, Gypsies and other
elements of 'the wild' can be consigned and as spaces of desire where wildness can
be recovered.
The politics of modernity, however, have been concerned with the elimination of
both the nomadic (an almost taken-for-granted violation of human rights) and
unregulated nature, or their containment and transformation through the
imposition of order (zoos, English and Welsh Gypsy sites, nature reserves). But the
elimination of the abject, as Kristeva reminds us, is impossible. These removals and
purifications can never be more than temporary or partial, and hence the recurrent
tension between transgressive nature, resisted and desired, and the ordered city. The
presence of wild nature in the city signals a loss of control, just as nomads cross lines
which mark secure, predictable and commodified categories of urban space. The
realisation of an ordered city, like removing bodily odour or staying young, is an
impossible project.
We would like to thank the Hull Cat Protection League, officers in the Environmental
Health Department of Hull City Council, and Diane Green. We are also very
grateful for the help of allotment owners and other cat supporters in the city.
Erik Swyngedouw helpfully suggested 'unsettling' as a translation of unheimlich, in
preference to 'uncanny'.
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