The Naturalisation of the City After the End of the World

Fall of Rome

Pier Paolo Pasolini is lamenting the fall of Rome.1 Yet he is not talking about Edward Gibbon and we need fear neither Visigoths nor Vandals. Instead, the culprits are much more modest and much more modern: motor scooters and television.2 It is 1973, and after more than two decades of productivity much marked by a passion for this ancient city, Pasolini is speaking to the Roman newspaper Il Messaggero about gentrification and modernisation. It seems he has been jilted and, indeed, translator Marina Harss notes that he ‘expresses his break with Rome in terms reminiscent of the end of a love affair’ (vii–viii). He says, melodramatically, ‘Now it has changed and I don’t want to understand it any more’ (223).

So, the city as lover. The city as muse. But if we examine how Pasolini speaks of Rome, this anthropomorphism is not the only strange presence in his language. Pasolini senses the city has rejected him, and in turn rejects the city that has disappointed him by buying ‘a little place in the country’ (224) — how cliché! how bourgeois! — but elsewhere he is in fact still coming to Rome’s defence. Yes, the city ‘has changed, extremely and for the worse, [but] it is not the city’s fault’ (223). He has been jilted, he feels ‘total rejection’ (224), and yet he will not blame his erstwhile lover. Why not? What is this strange presence in Pasolini’s relationship with the city? If the city is not a fully human lover, what is it? What place does this city have in his fertile imagination?

The contention of the following pages is that the urban has become “natural”: first, that this is a symptom of the dissolution of the city in contradistinction to Nature or the world — urbi et orbi are no longer distinguishable nor can they be split into such a straightforward binary; and second, that this becoming-natural of the city is a symptom of what has been identified as the ‘End of the World’ or the ‘End of Nature’.3 Any conception of the city as “natural” is of course highly counter-intuitive, but I will argue that in the way that Pasolini speaks of Rome, and the way that cities are portrayed in the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, this conception had already started to take place, albeit unconsciously. In due course, we will be able to consider Pasolini not only as donning the mantle of the jilted lover, but above all as a strange environmental activist, railing against the spoiling of a habitat, lamenting the corruption of a natural realm, mourning the extinction of species.

The End of the World!

It is partly a trick of hyperbole on the part of theorists that we seem to be in such a dire situation. When one arrives at a chapter heading that reads ‘The End of the World’, one sits up to take notice. Surely these kindly professors from the universities of France and the United States are not here to proclaim the apocalypse? And indeed, it turns out, they are not. Nonetheless, the shift in thinking demanded by — above all — Bruno Latour, Timothy Morton, and Jane Bennett (who we shall come to much later), but also Jean-Luc Nancy, is significant enough for their rhetoric to ring true. The precise coordinates of the ends of the world prophesied or diagnosed vary, but it is striking that several thinkers have honed in on this dramatic construction to speak about our existence and they share a great deal in how they believe these endings are constituted and come about.

The worlds in question, which are ending, are not the Earth, threatened by cataclysm or meteorites, and by talking of the ‘End of Nature’, Latour does not mean to evoke the tumbling tree trunks of the Amazon, or the amputated horns of rhino, though they are implicated. Rather, what is at stake is our understanding of how worlds are constituted and how ‘we’ — humans — relate to such a thing as world, whether it even makes sense to talk of humans as a ‘we’. This is not an apocalypse but — to turn to something affective — it might be another ‘Luftbeben’ [air-quake], the term coined by Peter Sloterdijk for the moment in the First World War that airborne chemical weapons were first used, which for him marks the beginning of our modern awareness of environment.4 With the new quake that marks the ‘End of the World’, we realise that the environment, to which we have being paying so much attention, is stuck to us, in fact, we are no longer sure of where we begin and end.5 Eliot’s paradoxical duet of ‘in my beginning is my end’ and ‘in my end is my beginning’ becomes radically true, pulled from its intended temporal realm into the spatial.6 This is also what Morton describes as ‘a quake in being’.7

The Fiction of Inside–Outside

The crucial movement that brings about the end of the world concerns questions of inside and outside, interior and exterior, and the processes that produce these distinctions. We find that our conception of ‘the world’, as it has been conceived up until now, relies essentially on a process of objectification, on an ability to see the world from an external perspective, as an outsider. Jean-Luc Nancy writes:

for as long as the world was essentially in relation to some other (that is, another world or an author of the world), it could have sense. But the end of the world is that there is no longer this essential relation, and that there is no longer essentially (that is, existentially) anything but the world “itself.” Thus, the world no longer has a sense, but it is sense.8

Elsewhere, Nancy makes explicit that the ‘author’ required for the old regime’s objectification was tied to ‘the position of the creating, organizing, and addressing God’.9 In other words, as long as we maintain an idea of the world as totalised object, we always require recourse to an outside subject, a subject that will always be God, or some entity filling the monotheistic, omnipresent, omniscient God’s boots. Letting go of this paradigm, we find that instead of being able to access the sense of the world (in the world which ‘has a sense’), that access — that sense — is the world (in the world that ‘is sense’). The world is no longer a solid orb viewed from the outside, but instead a multiplicity of scurrying entities creating the world through their constant struggle (and we are just several of these scurrying entities creating our own worlds).10

Nancy elegantly provides the solution to the dangerous binary of outside and inside, the ‘obvious geometry of which blinds us a soon as we bring it into play in metaphorical domains’.11 Nancy’s exposition of the dissolution of a ‘without the world’ (and therefore also the conception of ourselves as within something) provides the cleanest and most comprehensive basis for understanding the necessity and consequences of such thinking in that it is also the most abstract. It is from Latour and Morton that we begin to understand the implications of this end of the world.

While Nancy presses home the point that we have now moved from being inside a world with an outside, to understanding that there is only the world “itself”, Latour historicises this. He points out that nature had first to be externalised, emphasising the process of externalisation as taking place at a historically defined moment: ‘external nature is not a given, but rather the result of an explicit procedure of externalization’.12 Nature had been externalised, but now as the result of a search for solutions to questions about ecology, which occupy both Latour and Morton, we need to become aware of how this externalisation has become misleading.

Latour outlines how an objectified world allowed the establishment of ‘matters of fact’ with ‘clear boundaries, a well-defined essence, well-recognized properties’ and contrasts these with ‘matters of concern’, which lack these qualities.13 For Latour, the need to recognise that the boundaries are in fact not clear and the essences indefinite has become urgent in an age when ‘the Gulf Stream can turn up missing’ and ‘a slag heap can become a biological preserve’.14 “Nature” seems to be impossible to pin down. This crisis mirrors that which Nancy uses to launch his argument in The Creation of the World, and which for our aims will prove yet more pertinent than that which has taken hold of nature (though properly said, these two crises are one and the same, merely stated with different emphasis):

The city spreads and extends all the way to the point where, while it tends to cover the entire orb of the planet, it loses its properties as a city, and, of course with them, those properties that would allow it to be distinguished from a “country.”15

Nancy notes what at first appears as a blurring of boundaries, but is in fact our realisation that the clear boundary between urbs and orbis was a fiction all along, it was simply more tenable previously. It is the loss of this certainty that also precipitates Michel de Certeau’s description of an ‘erotics of knowledge’ engendered by looking down upon the city from a great height.16 It is in the age where clear boundaries dissolve that this voyeuristic desire for totalisation emerges (it could not have been perverse in the same way prior to the end of the world). This is also the pleasure taken in flying over Rome for the protagonists in Antonioni’s L’eclisse or driving to the Janiculum and surveying the city’s sprawl.

It is worth noting that a realisation of this dissolution of boundaries did not begin yesterday. Two decades earlier, Henri Lefebvre had observed ‘that the old “town-country” distinction is in the process of disappearing’,17 and, a century earlier still, Heinrich Heine evoked this telescoping of space:

Even the elementary concepts of time and space have begun to vacillate. Space is abolished by the railway, and we are now left only with time. […] It seems to me as if the mountains and forests of every country were advancing on Paris. I can already smell the perfume of German lime trees; the North Sea breaks against my door.18

Wherever we look, we find that boundaries, which culture and language had assumed were fairly sturdy, are fictions: city melts into country, the “human” turns up in “nature”.

One of the results of our awareness of something called the ‘End of the World’ is that we find its traces everywhere, and it turns out not to be a particularly new phenomenon — no matter how trendy or cutting-edge its theorists might at first glance appear. Without going into Timothy Morton’s concept of the ‘hyperobject’ in any detail, this affect is precisely why his hyperobjects are such powerful conceptual tools: they allow us to theorise entities whose weird higher-dimensional quality means they show up in all kinds of places and times one doesn’t expect and indeed one perhaps didn’t quite notice first time around.19 It is only when the presence of a hyperobject has become more pronounced (though it can never step entirely out of the shadows), that we can start to trace its apparitions retrospectively.

The reason the metaphor of the ‘quake’ is so important here, is that we almost always require some kind of shock (shake) or crisis to notice this change. We have absorbed the ideology of nature vs. culture to such an extent that it is not easy to kill it off. Nancy is able to argue his point elegantly and abstractly, but even he requires the launch pad of the melting city. Far more violent shocks are key to the rhetoric of other thinkers. Sloterdijk evokes the deadly hissing of poison gas canisters over Ypres as engendering a modern awareness of environment.20 Not to be outdone, Morton describes how the detonation of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki deposited a layer of radioactive material around the Earth, demonstrating just how much the supposedly natural Earth is inextricable from the human.21 Just as with the phrase ‘The End of the World’ itself, this is colourful language to draw our attention to the dramatic shift in perspective afoot, but the really crucial reason why we are realising this end of the world now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, is more subtle.

For both Morton and Latour, the end of the world is tied heavily to a crisis of climate, to climate change, to the fact that we are now living in the ‘Anthropocene’.22 This quake’s impact is now so strong, it has finally revealed the fiction of an inside-outside distinction that creates the world. But this has been going on for a long time. It is not the momentary violence of an atom bomb, but rather the geological destruction of the glacier that tears up the rocky flesh of a mountain before evaporating in a mist of gradual global warming. The term Anthropocene is proposed as the successor to the Holocene, denoting ‘the present, in many ways human-dominated, geological epoch’ and is identified by geologists as having begun in the late eighteenth century, though it is yet to be officially adopted.23 In other words, the Anthropocene is the epoch in which humans weigh upon the Earth to such an extent that even conservative, methodical geologists begin to doubt the simple separation between human and natural, and prepare themselves to announce a new epoch. The naysayer who would yet believe humans to be actors upon a stable natural stage will be disappointed to realise that even the most apparently static and obdurate rocks are inextricably entwined with human action, indeed that they are not just entwined but that they are a unified collective, effectively inseparable.

As we have seen, a number of factors conspire to bring about the end of the world. Importantly, this process has being going on for longer than we imagine, which will allow us to discuss art as symptomatic of the ending of the world and of the ‘becoming-natural’ that this produces of the city, even though that art was not yet conceived as taking place after the end of the world. The fact that ‘there is not even nothing’ beyond the spurious inside–outside distinction is counter-intuitive but vital to remember as we think of how this becoming-natural of the city mirrors the becoming-human of nature.24 The dissolution of the inside–outside distinction forces us to re-evaluate aesthetics of outside, of Nature, of environment, and it is this re-evaluation that will allow us to talk about the city as natural.

Ambient Poetics

In Ecology without Nature, Timothy Morton draws on his understandings of Romanticism as a philosophical and literary phenomenon to propose a form of literary criticism that might be appropriate to the ecological crisis that we face. In doing so, he constructs an aesthetic theory of the environmental: a theory that attempts to address the ways in which writing and other art forms can be aesthetically environmental. That is to say, not simply that which contains material belonging to some agreed conception of nature (a poem that surveys the savannah, a painting of a mountain, a documentary about insects, etc.) but also an encoding of the environmental within a work’s form.25 He sketches a concept of ‘ecomimesis’ and from this a broader theory, which he calls an ‘ambient poetics’.26

Ecomimesis refers to a use of content that specifically evokes a space, an environment, a setting, around the writer and/or reader. ‘Ecomimesis is a specific rhetoric that generates a fantasy of nature as a surrounding atmosphere, palpable but shapeless’.27 In its strongest form, this is the mode of writing that tells you where the writer is — Morton repeatedly quotes authors who tell you, ‘As I am writing this…’, placing themselves in a material context that tells the reader where they are, in what environment.28 This can also happen when an author addresses their reader in the second person (as, for example, in Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveller): the ‘“you” becomes a niche in the text, specifically designed for the actual reader’.29 In its weaker more general form, ecomimesis is simply the evocation of environment, a situating of action within a place.30 Of course, this ‘situatedness’ seems hard to avoid — a literature without setting is conceivable if uncommon, but to speculate as to film without a setting in which to propagate is more difficult — but ecomimesis is more specifically the evocation of place as situation, not just every possible presence of place in any context whatsoever. Its environmental characteristic lies in its being thought as a surrounding entity, this is why it is mimesis of the oikos, serving an ecological function, generating an ambience around something.

Here we begin to arrive at Morton’s idea of an ‘ambient poetics’, which implements a broader understanding of how the environmental can be present in art, and how this is effectively a metastasis of our thinking of nature. ‘The rhetoric of nature depends on something I define as an ambient poetics, a way of conjuring up a sense of a surrounding atmosphere or world.’31 For Morton, this ambient poetics is defined by a number of characteristics that describe the relationship between the mimesis of environment, the actual environment within which the work is situated, and the perceiver of the work. For the purposes of our later analyses, we can restrict ourselves to two salient points: first, that the way we think nature with ambient poetics emphasises the Romantic desire for intense, direct contact with the world (with Nature) through aesthetic experience; and second, that silences, gaps, ‘suspension’, whitespace, and other emptinesses, can play a vital role in establishing an ambient poetics, and that this is also one of the reasons that this mode can result in a production of the uncanny.32

Morton argues,

Nature is like that other Romantic-period invention, the aesthetic. The damage done [by modern society], goes the argument, has sundered subjects from objects, so that human beings are forlornly alienated from their world. Contact with nature, and with the aesthetic, will mend the bridge between subject and object.33

We are back to the fiction of inside–outside. Having decided that there is an outside, namely nature, Romanticism sends out forlorn but impassioned attempts to access the inaccessible through the aesthetic, like some strange spaceship sent out in a futile attempt to access that which lies beyond the particle horizon.34 Nature is understood as fundamentally beyond us, but that makes it all the more alluring and we attempt to locate it so as to be able to commune with it, to attempt to immerse ourselves in its holy waters, to imbibe its immaterial elixirs. This is what Kant demands of us in a hunt for the sublime:

we must be able to view the ocean as poets do, merely in terms of what manifests itself to the eye — e.g., if we observe it while it is calm, as a clear mirror of water bounded only by the sky; or, if it is turbulent, as being like an abyss threatening to engulf everything — and yet find it sublime.35

This is why ‘ambient poetics has a mournful quality even when its explicit topic is not mourning’.36 Even when a work of ambient poetics does not explicitly seek to lament its lack of access to, or the degradation or evaporation of the outside or ambient, that lamenting is implicit in the poetic attempt to evoke the outside despite its inaccessibility. It is difficult to let go of this beguiling promise of Nature. We love it too dearly and have lived with it for too long. Instead, we live in a strange state of denial and nostalgia and every time we evoke it, we sound like the Contezza in Da Ponte’s libretto for Le nozze di Figaro, asking,

Dove sono i bei momenti
Di dolcezza e di piacer?
Dove andaro i giuramenti
Di quel labbro menzogner?37

[Where are the beautiful moments / of sweetness and pleasure? / Where have the promises gone / that came from those lying lips?]

No matter how well we recognise that the lips lied, that the promises were empty, we hold on to them, unwilling to let go of the wonderful possibilities that they promised.

Again, ambient poetics is not simply the inclusion of some naturally connotated material. It is an expressive mode in which a relationship to a surrounding environment is evoked. This environment is the enveloping fog on which we hope to find the sublime projected. It is this that gives us the possibility for discovering that what we consider as unnatural or artificial is in fact being treated as nature, as an outside or away-from-us, as a fantasy aesthetic screen for the sublime.

The second aspect of Morton’s ambient poetics that will prove useful is his contention that gaps and spaces between things, as well as their temporal counterparts (delays and echoes), create ambience. He analyses Wordsworth’s ‘There was a Boy’, in which a boy calls to the owls across the hills and they respond in turn, sounding out the landscape — but this depiction of a “natural” landscape is not what brings ambient poetics into play. Instead, it is when the owls fail to respond and he hangs on the silence, listening for their answer, that he realises with a shock that he is in an environment.38 He hears the distant voice of a mountain torrent or for the first time sees the rocks and woods around him. This kind of gap — in the poem, the moment of waiting for response — starts to show up everywhere. Morton also sees it as present in the use of whitespace on the printed page, the frame of a painting or the space of an art gallery, the ambience opened up by the gap between a listener and the bells ringing from across the fields.39 He also reads it into a basic property of the aesthetic: the fact that ‘the moment of contact is always in the past’.40 Phenomena are always perceived a little after the fact, in some sense they always possess a quality of the echo. This gap again emphasises the distance from us at which we established Nature. In evoking this gap, a work of art deploys an aesthetics of ambience and in doing so presents its content ‘as natural’ — regardless of whether that is the hills of the Lake District in the north of England or an electrical substation.

By tackling the ambient poetics that we find in representations of the city, we will be able to help emphasise the fact that the nature it claims to represent is inconsistent, and also to undermine its claims of natural authenticity. The fact that the city can be naturalised through the use of ambient poetics demonstrates the rhetorical quality of ecomimesis. Nature writing is not natural in the sense that it addresses trees, rather it deploys an ideological rhetoric of ambience.

Marcovaldo’s Simple Nature

Before we dive whole-heartedly into foraging for Morton’s ambient poetics everywhere we look, let us first turn to a work that exemplifies what it looks like to still have clear boundaries between humanity and nature, for nature to still be thought of as truly ‘over yonder’.41 It should come as no surprise that Italo Calvino — poet of the crystalline, bard of the intricate, navigator of structures — should provide us with clean cuts and neat contrasts to analyse. Calvino is at root a structuralist, something that becomes particularly obvious in a later work such as Mr. Palomar.42 Palomar gazes from his window and sees things signifying and signified, is tangled in ego and anxiety, and decides that ‘a thing is happy to be looked at by other things only when it is convinced that it signifies itself and nothing else’.43 One must also only give the most superficial attention to The Castle of Crossed Destinies, Invisible Cities, or If on a winter’s night a traveller, to recognise his preoccupation with rigorously controlled structures that bind a work together. The same is true to a certain extent in the earlier collection of short tales, Marcovaldo, which follows its hapless protagonist (compared by Constance Markey to Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen) through five cycles of the four seasons, but for our investigation’s purposes, Marcovaldo is useful not only for being contemporaneous with Antonioni’s trilogy that we will come to later, but also because it provides us some exemplary instances of an orthodox collision of city and country (otherwise known as ‘nature’).44

Marcovaldo’s original subtitle, ‘The Seasons in the City’, elegantly summarises the co-existence of the two clearly bounded entities of nature and city. On the one hand there is the city, on the other the seasons — a natural flux that takes place around the city. The book describes the seasons in the city, but the implication is that this is a slice of season, the season itself is an ecological entity that exists at a distance from humanity and its city. Marcovaldo himself — unskilled labourer in the warehouse of Sbav and Co., father of six, long-suffering husband to Domitilla — is the crossroads of the city and nature. He is a modern city dweller, a post-war industrial worker, but also — one assumes — a relatively recent arrival in the city, an economic migrant, perhaps as a young man or perhaps he arrived with his family from the country as a teenager. Either way, Calvino draws him as straddling the otherwise clear distinction between city and nature. Marcovaldo is, it seems, slightly out of step with the city, his eyes are dysfunctional, falling not upon the ‘billboards, traffic lights, shop windows, neon signs, posters […] carefully devised to catch the attention’ but on leaves, feathers, horseflies, worm-eaten planks and fig-peel.45

The maladjusted Marcovaldo is the perfect guide in our hunt for classical intersections of city and nature. He is like some strange scientific instrument calibrated to find “Nature” in the cracks of the greyest concrete pavement — not infrequently driven by hunger and an empty wallet (note the association of nature with food, nature as resource). It is here that he finds the ‘subterranean bodies’ of mushrooms (poisonous it transpires, but not before Marcovaldo has ingested a plateful) peeking up in some otherwise lifeless scrap of earth.46 It is Marcovaldo alone who spots ‘a flight of autumn woodcock […] in a street’s slice of sky’ — the buildings provide the frame, but above his head Marcovaldo can see the natural world full of riches — and pictures himself as a hunter, calmly following their flight with the sight of his rifle (13). Marcovaldo spots a chance for the most sumptuous dinner of the year in a white rabbit held at the hospital for medical research (51–59). It too turns out to be poisonous, of course. Wherever he looks, Marcovaldo sees the possibility for something supposedly natural to improve his and his family’s miserable lot — a night in the open air to escape his cramped lodgings (5–12); a wasp sting to cure rheumatism (21–25); the fresh air of the hills beyond the city (‘It doesn’t have any taste at all!’) (40–44) — but almost always, he is thwarted. Instead of woodcock, they eat stringy pigeon; his night in the park is sleepless; and their cure for rheumatism ends in an attack by a whole swarm of wasps. The intersection of nature and city is complicated. The bucolic aspirations of our hero are always trumped by the city’s transfigurations of nature. The “natural” interlopers promise much but they have been compromised by the city.

Just how classical Calvino’s conception of nature is in Marcovaldo can be seen in ‘The city lost in the snow’.47 For once, with the city under a thick blanket of snow, Marcovaldo can forget about the city and his difficult life:

He felt free as he had never felt before. In the city all differences between sidewalk and street had vanished; […] Marcovaldo […] had become master, free to walk in the middle of the street, to trample on flowerbeds, to cross outside the prescribed lines, to proceed in a zig-zag. (16)

This is the most radical representation of the power of Nature. The urban denotes straight lines and rigidity. Construction betokens constriction. The winter blizzard in all its sublime force subverts the city and liberates the city dweller. By arriving from outside the city, the snow returns Marcovaldo’s environment to some kind of natural state and restores his virile agency as a natural being. Shovelling snow, Marcovaldo imagines that ‘if he went on making little walls like that, he could build some streets for himself alone […] He could remake the city’ (18). Nature appears to have a sublime power: the power to restore agency to the disenfranchised. Of course, as with each of Marcovaldo’s dreams, this empowerment is only temporary — in this sense there is a definite irony to the way in which Calvino presents such an orthodox divide between nature and city — and once the snow melts, ‘the walls, the boxes […] the things of every day, sharp and hostile’ reappear (20). The city re-stamps its ordering grid on Marcovaldo’s life. This also emphasises a structuralist conception of the city with a plane of pure freedom and potentiality belonging to nature. Structures are built in opposition to this nature and are always limiting figures compared with their natural ground: ‘a structure can act only negatively, as a constraint on human agency, or passively, as an enabling background or context for it’.48

On the surface, one would not think to class Calvino’s Marcovaldo with nostalgic eulogies of nature, but as Morton explained, ‘nature becomes, in the Romantic period and afterward, a way of healing what modern society has damaged’.49 This is of course precisely what nature in Marcovaldo does. It is the fantasy cure for modern ills and while it is served up with no little irony and humour, it remains a collection of ‘bittersweet reflections on the loss of community and the isolation of the individual’.50 It is difficult letting go of nature. Our conception of it as some realm that is away from us and undisturbed is too comforting for us to eject it piecemeal with ease. Besides, ‘you cannot even conceive the horrible inside-outside that is real space’.51

Here, Calvino is a placeholder for a structuralist perpetuation of the fiction of a nature–human divide that we can find with ease in discourse about architecture and nature. For example, the idea that an architectural project might be able to generate a ‘return to nature’ or even act ‘on behalf of nature’ relies entirely on this distinction and especially on the possibility for clear boundaries between the two even at close proximity — as if, just as in Marcovaldo, these entities are so clearly bounded that they might almost be able to glance off one another’s shiny skin with no effect other than some vague aesthetic product.52 Much more helpful are analyses that recognise the strange and complex relationships present in the suburbs: termites and carpenter ants gnaw away at the architectural fabric of Las Vegas, while ticks are host to an amorphous cloud of Lyme disease, puncturing human skin and establishing an asymmetric mutual blood-brotherhood, in which the human is mortally threatened.53 Neither tick nor termite can be placed under the sign of poetic Nature, nor easily rendered as environmental. They are simply too close to us. Reality is not at a distance from us, but closer even than we would prefer to think.

The Search for the Sublime in Trastevere

In discussing Calvino, we have been sure to be slightly unfair, sticking religiously to a very specific interpretation. Of course, reality is somewhat more complex, but here we are searching for exempla illustrative of our goal, and so we must be a little selective in our presentation of materials. (Otherwise, one might have, for example, reached for the story ‘The wrong stop’, in which Marcovaldo steps off the tram into a dark fog of dislocation, as evidence of an environing, “natural” city quite different from the neat nature–city dichotomy discussed above.)54 We will continue along this path, as our intention is not to suggest some holistic theory for the work of one author or another, but rather to sketch the infiltration and metastasis of a naturalisation of the city in various places. Because this naturalisation is symptomatic of the end of the world, we cannot expect its presence in art to be consistent. Our entitlement to be selective is fortunate as it permits us to make unorthodox readings that reveal local instances of the naturalisation of the city regardless of an existing conception of an author’s body of work as representative of one aesthetic or another.

In opening this essay, we encountered Pasolini’s 1970s disillusion with Rome and suggested, a little provocatively, that we might read him as some kind of strange environmental activist. The arguments to support this that follow necessarily diverge from a reading of his poetry and fiction as critiques of the living conditions of the Roman working class, as Marxist solidarity with the poor and the ‘lower’ worker (a Marxism through Gramsci) belonging properly to a confrontation with a dialectical history.55 (This might seem as strange as ignoring the representation of both Christ and John the Baptist as revolutionary political activists in a reading of Il Vangelo secondo Matteo, but we will attempt it nevertheless.)56

In the early story ‘Trastevere Boy’, we find a young chestnut seller reduced to ‘an abstract hand, a mechanism for accepting payment and delivering merchandise in a rigidly calculated and predetermined exchange’.57 It would be foolish to try to deny the aesthetics at work here — market economics have transformed the innocent boy into nothing more than a cog in the capitalist city’s machine — but let us focus instead on another detail. The boy who is the subject of the narrator’s attention is described not only in terms of his capitalist function, but also aesthetically as ‘brown as a statue pulled from the mud of the Tiber’ and ‘silent as the tomb’.58 This image crops up in another story, also written in 1950, ‘Roman Nights’ — we again find ourselves ‘in a Trasteverine Rome with boys as brown as statues stuck in mud’.59 The boys are becoming part of the city’s fabric, architectural embellishments, aesthetic but also primordial in their muddiness and their origin in the river. As if to emphasise the unity between these muddy boys and their environment, the later poem ‘Serata Romana’ has Trastevere itself ‘motionless and disordered, / as if dug from the mud of other eras’.60 These two versions of the boy are strange bedfellows. On the one hand, we have the clear critique of the instrumentalisation of the boy’s humanity by the oppressive forces of capitalism, but on the other, the aestheticisation and implicated dehumanisation of the boy by the narrator is not presented with the same critical perspective. It is the aestheticisation of the city — which is a naturalisation of the city, for as in Romanticism the aesthetic is aligned with the natural — that enables Pasolini to speak with such passion for Trastevere as a natural landscape and transform its inhabitants into flora and fauna.

In ‘Il pianto della scavatrice’, first published in the 1957 collection Le ceneri di Gramsci, we find a poet extolling something that seems very close to the Kantian conception of the sublime.

Stupenda e misera
città che mi hai fatto fare

esperienza di quella vita
ignota: fino a farmi scoprire
ciò che, in ognuno, era il mondo.61

[Stupendous and miserable city, / which made me experience that unknown life // until I discovered what / in each of us / was the world.]

It seems that the city itself has given the poet access to ‘entire experiences unknown to me’ in the same way that intense contact with the ambient creates an opening to the sublime.62 This desire for intensity, for complete immersion-in and total contact-with is the reason why he tells us that ‘it is only loving, only knowing that matters’ (‘Solo l’amare, solo il conoscere / conta’).63 ‘Il pianto della scavatrice’ is an exhortation to live passionately and sensually and this exhortation is not made in the abstract. Just as Kant paints the water, calm or raging, as a foil to his request that we ‘view the ocean as poets do’, Pasolini places this attempt at contact in context.64 He employs ambient poetics as he draws his journey home ‘through dark market places, / sad streets by river docks, / among shacks and warehouses mixed / with the last fields’.65 It is by immersing himself in this urban landscape that he hopes to access the sublime. In ‘the most beautiful summer night’ in Trastevere, Pasolini observes those returning home from a late night ‘with that light step / which struck my soul / when I really loved, / when I really longed to understand’ (‘con quel passo blando / da cui più l’anima era invasa / quando veramente amavo, quando / veramente volevo capire’).66 By placing himself in his environment, by drawing himself as a figure in a landscape, Pasolini employs the rhetoric of nature. His attraction to the working class neighbourhoods appears to be as much aesthetic as political — he wants to look up from what he is doing, like the protagonist in Wordsworth’s ‘There was a Boy’, and find himself embedded in a surrounding nature that can strike his soul and unify it with the world.

When Pasolini later speaks out against the gentrification of Rome, he sounds like an environmental activist. Why? Is he not simply the counterpart of De Vita, the Communist Party member of Naples city council in Francesco Rosi’s Le mani sulla città, fighting for the rights of the disenfranchised, for better living conditions, against corruption, and against capitalist exploitation and greed?67 Or, for that matter, in good company, agreeing with Leonardo Benevolo’s evaluation of the growth of Italian suburbia during this period as ‘the malformed results of speculation’?68 Those concerns are undoubtedly also in the room, but they are not particularly present in the way that Pasolini speaks. Remember, he says the city has changed, but ‘it is not the city’s fault’.69 At first, this seems unsurprising — how could one blame the city? If the city is a human construct(ion), any change requires human agency. The change must surely be the fault of developers, politicians, architects… But the paradigm in which the only possible actor is a human, is one in which nature has been bifurcated. Somewhat surprisingly given Pasolini’s politics, here the city has become natural and is only changed by exactly the type of corruption and sullying posited by ecological narratives. An idea of the eternal quality of nature is also present in this rhetoric: Naples is the only city that he can praise for being ‘still the same as it has always been’ (226). The most important remark of all though, is his contention that ‘the model of the Roman populace is no longer born of itself, out of its own culture’ (226). The idea of authenticity, the idea of coming out of itself, the idea that this self is separated from — outside — something else is fundamentally a conception of the city and its inhabitants as natural. This is only confirmed by Pasolini’s denial of Catholicism’s influence on Rome’s culture.70 He wishes to think of the proletariat as possessing a natural culture, and so the inhabitants of Trastevere take no interest in the Basilica of Santa Maria and its spectacular mosaic.71

Pasolini has an aspect of the environmental activist: he evokes Rome as a natural space that is being corrupted and penetrated by foreign bodies. Before the end of the world, it would not have made sense — would not even have entered our thoughts — to imagine the city in this way. We believed nature to be so clearly bounded, at such a fundamental distance from us, that it could never have been confused with the city, whose cosmopolitanism and human dynamism was imagined so distinct from nature’s stability. Pasolini does not know it, but he is speaking after the end of the world, and it is this fact, working away at his unconscious, that enables him to imagine the city as a habitat, an ecosystem, under threat from humanity.

Antonioni’s Uncanny Landscapes

Just as understanding his descriptions of the urban as natural would not necessarily be the first interpretation of Pasolini to spring to mind, so we may not perhaps consider Michelangelo Antonioni as principally a filmmaker concerned with composing landscapes, certainly not landscapes that might be equated with those of English Romantic poets.72 Instead we might consider his ‘existential discourse’ and the alienation of his characters.73 The trilogy of the early 1960s, which comprises L’avventura, La notte and L’eclisse, is populated by characters that drift in a state of modern dysphoria, lost in attempts at erotic connection, strangely disconnected from the normative morality of their society, deeply absorbed in some dark alienating chasm that is lurking inside them, infected by what Antonioni himself described as a ‘malaise of Eros’.74 Nevertheless, there is a consistency of spatial language in these three films that may allow us to speak of them as representative of ambient poetics.

Still of a distant figure on the island’s horizon from Antonioni’s L’avventura Still of a rocky landscape with people scattered across it from Antonioni’s L’avventura
Fig. 1

William Arrowsmith reads the search for the missing Anna in L’avventura as happening against a backdrop of ‘informing immensity’, as a ‘vision of a limitless, and limitlessly violent, natural world’, which sunders the group, isolating the individuals and spreading them out against the island’s harsh terrain.75 The setting here is connotatedly natural — this is why these bourgeois day-trippers are here, to be in nature, floating in the far away idyll of non-humanity — so it is easy for us to see landscapes. The craggy surface of the island, the looming presence of the volcano in the mists across the sea, the stirring threat of a storm, all of these are what we know as landscapes. However, we must remember from Morton’s definition of ambient poetics that it is not “natural” content that is relevant but rather certain aesthetic uses of material — that may or may not be connotated as natural — that create an ambient relationship. An ambient poetics places its subject in a landscape and posits that it is ‘embedded’ in nature.76 This is precisely how Antonioni shoots the protagonists now scattered across the island (Fig.1). We are shown long shots of the wide-open landscape in which the human forms appear surrounded.

Still from Antonioni’s La notte in which Lidia appears very small in the bottom-left of the frame, dwarfed by a concrete facade.
Fig. 2

It is through this mechanism that the city in La notte and L’eclisse is naturalised. Consider the shot from La notte shown in figure 2. It is a completely unorthodox framing of the scene. In the bottom-left corner, Lidia appears as she roams the streets of Milan following Giovanni’s book launch. But the shot does not ask us to concentrate on the individual whose story we are supposedly following. Indeed, one might easily miss Lidia entirely, and she is shot at such a distance that one is not sure at first if it is her, or just another anonymous city dweller. What dominates the frame is the fabric of the city: an enormous expanse of concrete façade. This is ecomimesis. By placing the parts of his composition in such a relationship to one another, Antonioni tells us that this is an environment, an ambience that surrounds, a strange form of naturalised city, an ‘informing immensity’ just like the island in L’avventura.

Still from Antonioni’s La notte showing Lidia inside a car on a rainy night.
Fig. 3

We might also consider the marvellously symbolic scene in which Lidia is enclosed in the triple bubble of car, rain, and night, having escaped her husband with another guest at the party they are attending, thinking perhaps to seek revenge for Giovanni’s serial infidelity, though she ultimately cannot go through with this (Fig. 3). She is shown as sealed within several outsides: first, the body of the car; second, the glutinous skin of rain that wraps itself around the car; and third, the darkness of the night that dissolves around that. Her embeddedness here is absolute and deeply protective. From our position outside we cannot hear what is being said, and our vision of the inside is distorted. In the silence, our attention is drawn firmly towards the environment and we are forced to contemplate it as the rain bubbles and stretches the surface of the image.

Still from the opening credits of Antonioni’s La notte featuring the reflective facade of the Pirelli Building.
Fig. 4

Ambient poetics can also be evoked by the use of ‘suspension’ — the gaps between things that reveal their environmental situatedness.77 It is through these gaps that Antonioni most often draws our attention to the city as environment. As the title sequence of La notte unfolds, we slide down the façade of the Pirelli Building in Milan, catching in its mirrored windows the city spread out below (Fig. 4).78 The suspension is subtle but present. The mirror opens up the environment of the city and we see the city-for the Pirelli building. The space between them is inscribed in the mirroring. The effect is similar to Olafur Eliasson’s 2010 work of video art, Innen Stadt Außen (a play on words in which we can understand either ‘inside instead of outside’ or ‘inner city outside’).79 The video consists of footage of a white van driving around Berlin with a large mirror attached to its side. The disorienting effect of seeing surfaces that at first appear real slide away and prove to be mirrored, and the bewilderment of hybrid images where the mirrored and the real are indistinguishable, produces an uncanny sensation of environment. We are forced to pay attention to the environment because the distance between us and the ambient is so great that we realise we cannot determine what it is. We are in a Romantic universe, desperately seeking contact with the reassuring waters of Nature.

Four stills from Antonioni’s L’eclisse demonstrating temps mort.
Fig. 5

What is commonly referred to as temps mort — a celebrated feature of Antonioni’s filmmaking — is a technical mechanism for the generation of ambient poetics through suspension par excellence. Figure 5 shows two examples from L’eclisse of shots where Monica Vitti’s Vittoria either arrives or departs from the frame but the environment remains static around her. (‘Thinking things as Nature is thinking them as a more or less static, or metastable’.)80 When the frame is ‘empty’ we become aware of the environment. Even though in the first we are looking at an architectural space — a window cutting a square of illumination into the night; our gaze resting on the open window; the empty frames of the window and the film strip mirroring one another — the space is made environmental. We are told that this landscape of light and shadow is the outside, it is that within which Vittoria is embedded. These lingering moments happen again and again, especially in La notte and L’eclisse, and it is in the latter that they achieve their apotheosis.

The final sequence of L’eclisse is deeply unsettling. Vittoria steps out of Piero’s house, into the street, and vanishes. We are left with the landscape of the city: strange geometries, trickling water, scaffolding, concrete, shadows, streetlights. In theory, Vittoria’s absence ought to be much less worrying than that of Anna in L’avventura, whose unsolved disappearance on the isolated island cannot help but point towards suicide (especially given the spectre of suicide that carries over from Antonioni’s early short Tentato suicidio or Fellini’s La dolce vita). However, the situation seems far more uncanny. It was not strange for us to see the threatening rock of L’avventura as a placeholder for Nature’s fickle and dangerous ways, but in Antonioni’s presentation of the city as some weird nature, we become aware of a deep-seated discomfort. We are losing our footing. Kevin Moore has attempted to argue this eclipse positively as ‘our conceptual guarantee that they [Vittoria and Piero] no longer stand apart from the world but have merged with it’, but this argument seems ultimately unconvincing.81 The concentration on the landscape of the city in this closing sequence does not dissolve its separation from Vittoria and Piero. Instead, it emphasises it. By focusing in this way on the environment, Antonioni stresses its distance from us, its role as the ambient. The greater the absence grows, the more uncannily natural the city becomes. Morton argues that ‘ambient poetics […] is imbued with the uncanny’.82 It creates a space that while promising to heal the divide between us and the world (as Moore suggests happens for Vittoria and Piero), in fact places the world at an insurmountable distance. After the end of the world, the city becomes uninhabitable, uncanny. Just as the geological landscape is thought of as having an impact on the protagonists in L’avventura, or on Katherine and Alexander Joyce in Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia, the city in L’eclisse alienates its inhabitants through its naturalisation.83

The Wit of Vibrant Matter

How do we escape the spell of Nature? The end of the world leaves us in a situation in which our affective relationship to the natural has become untenable — dangerous even to our mental wellbeing. We need to find a new way of relating to the world that might free us from being stuck in our fiction of inside–outside. We need to develop an aesthetics that is faithful to the realisation that we are stuck to nature, that we are indistinguishable from it.

In Vibrant Matter: a Political Ecology of Things, Jane Bennett argues for a vital materialism as a ‘counter to human exceptionalism’.84 She attempts to imagine some kind of material substance that has agency, vitality, vibrancy, as a way of establishing this counter, going as far as to take up Spinoza’s idea that things we normally consider inanimate have some kind of desire (conatus).85 This attempt mirrors to some extent the dissolutions that have occupied us in the previous pages (and also relies on their implications). We have seen a dissolution of inside–outside, the fact that a clear distinction between city and country, nature and human, is implausible. Bennett’s theories posit that some similar distinctions require re-evaluation. The fact that ‘as noun or adjective material denotes some stable or rock-bottom reality, something adamantine’, gives us the tendency to think of material (which runs very close to ideas of ‘nature’) as inanimate, formable only by us, or by other sentient or form-giving life, to think of material as lifeless, and as natural resource.86 This conception of material opens the door to exploitation: we imagine the oil deposits beneath the Earth’s crust as some dormant resource, unchanging up until our intervention, their temporality frozen until injected with human vitality — a conception any primary school geologist could refute in fact, but this affect is so strongly encoded in our way of thinking things that it leaks into our behaviour. In Calvino’s Marcovaldo we saw clearly the effect this has: the natural is a fruitful substance that exists beyond Marcovaldo, to be used by him, and has no narrative of its own. Indeed, the city itself is a shaping of nature (as shown in ‘The city lost in the snow’), a human assemblage of resources.87 Bennett challenges us to dissolve the distinction between life/sentience and materials (the most significant divide for our imaginations is that between human vitality and a non-human inanimacy), and instead to consider ‘non-human materialities as bona fide participants rather than as recalcitrant objects, social constructs, or instrumentalities’.88

This challenge to our way of thinking is hard to accept — it jars so abruptly with our experience — but, despite the veneer of philosophical inquiry that has coloured this discussion, we are not here to establish hard facts about the universe. Instead, vibrant matter might help us create an affective language that frees us from the metastasis of the natural. We would no longer always be restricted to talking about an I — an eye — as subject. Instead, we could create the poetry of interactions between things. Instead of having the human-emptied city of L’eclisse produce an uncanny affect, filled with threat and discomforting absence, the things that make up the city would become a network of agentive, desirous collaborators, a vision that — as long as one does not fear the end of our false belief in exceptional human power, and one should not — is much more friendly than the distant and sublime walls of Antonioni’s Rome. (Bruno Latour sketches just such a potentially friendly world of agentive actors in his analysis of a proposed intelligent transport system beneath Paris.)89 Art that can evoke the affect of vibrant matter in such a way might be crucial, because if our current imaginative potentials, shaped by an idea of inanimate natural resources, impact directly on our predilection for exploitation of material qua resource, a recalibration of these potentials is urgently necessary.

What might that look like? Let us end with some brief speculation. In Jacques Tati’s Playtime, objects seem to have come alive to a strange degree.90 A door handle expresses its desire to be part of a door long after its plate glass surroundings have been shattered, and the doorman obliges its desire. In the airport lounge, a luggage label pirouettes energetically, carefree as it trails behind its owner. Objects of all shapes and sizes leap out to obstruct Tati’s Monsieur Hulot, and he obligingly collides with them, but they are never threatening — there is always a deference on both sides. And in perhaps the most spectacular scene of all, cars, buses, and a car mechanic’s workshop all collaborate to turn a roundabout into a joyous merry-go-round. Perhaps this is the affective possibility of what Bennett terms ‘thing-power’.91 However, it is important to note that the way that we paint these agentive things is crucial to any potential recalibration of ideology.

Given our current ways of thinking, it not hard to imagine the terror we might feel when faced with the idea of this sudden proliferation of tiny agents, worming their way through our bodies, deciding whether or not to infiltrate our porous skins. If we imagine the half-gram of sugar in a raisin not as some raw, inanimate resource but as a series of quasi-agentive potentialities distributed across crystals desirous to join our bodies, to transform and collaborate with equally agentive enzymes, we may be too scared to ever eat again — every mouthful an invasion.92 And then: every lungful an invasion. Indeed, there are plenty of things that are ‘out to get us’, not least poisoned atmospheres of our own generation, but if we want to use vibrant matter to recalibrate our way of thinking and have us act — like M. Hulot — more deferentially when faced with our state of coexistence, we need to find means to spin this coexistence in a fashion that avoids antagonism. At least in the opening phase of this process, it seems as if comedy might play a crucial role — an odd conclusion perhaps given the serious matter at hand.

Tati’s Playtime is intended as a critique of modernism and cookie-cutter, steel and glass cities full of supposedly vital innovation that in fact complicates the lives of inhabitants such as M. Hulot (whose quasi-Luddite or naïve clumsiness is not unrelated to that of Marcovaldo). However, a by-product of this focus on the architecture and materiality of the modern city is that we are scrutinising objects, non-human things, and discover that they are full of life. The opening sequence presents the lounge of an airport as lifeless, anonymous and sterile, and it mirrors a hospital waiting room — a wife fusses over her husband, cleaning ladies pass by dressed almost as nuns or nurses, the linoleum flooring is kept immaculately polished — but in the void purportedly created by modernism’s sterility all kinds of strange small presences leap out. Our attention is drawn to the squeak and tap of shoes as they criss-cross the floor. This clip-clopping becomes yet further exacerbated when a man enters wearing flip-flops. We distinctly hear the elasticity of the flip-flops as they spring up to the wearer’s feet and then slap back to the ground. All the while, human dialogue is given no more weight than this shoe–floor conversation. This layer of the soundscape is limited to a murmured, effectively incomprehensible cloud of human vocal chords — we recognise a wife’s concern for her husband’s warmth as he waits for his flight, but can hardly catch a word. A traditional reading might say that the sound of the shoe–floor world has been exaggerated, but in truth it has been restored to its rightful place. Rather than privileging the human world of verbal discourse, we gain an insight into a broad exchange of vibrations that we are just one part of. The focus on feet continues when an elderly dignitary arrives at the airport in a crowd of journalists. One particularly balletic photographer cannot take a snap without balancing himself precariously, hanging by his shoe-tip from some booth or desk. His connectedness with the architecture is faintly ridiculous but not objectionable. We see quite clearly the way in which he relies on collaboration with his material counterparts, including his shoe as a willing mediator of forces. The comedic aspects of all of these elements helps enormously in mediating the potential shock we might feel at the discovery that things previously considered inanimate are full of life. In another context, this discovery could quickly seem threatening, but comedy permits us the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with ‘thing-power’, and treat this emergence of a multitude of previously invisible actants with a lightness of touch that softens the blow of our fall from the throne of human exceptionalism.

As ontology, Bennett’s vibrant matter remains a little unconvincing. However as ideology, a tool for aesthetics and poetics, it proposes itself as immensely constructive. We need to move away from inside–outside distinctions. We need to forget about nature, but we also need to pay attention to global warming. To achieve this, perhaps we need to stop worrying and learn to love vibrant matter.

Bibliography

  • Andermatt Conley, Verena. ‘Urban Ecological Practices: Félix Guattari’s Three Ecologies.’ In Ecological Urbanism, ed. Mostafavi and Doherty, 138–39.
  • Antonioni, Michelangelo. The Architecture of Vision: Writings and Interviews on Cinema. Edited by Marga Cottino-Jones, Carlo Di Carlo, and Giorgio Tinazzi. New York: Marsilio Publishers, 1996.
  • Arrowsmith, William. Antonioni: The Poet of Images. Edited by Ted Perry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Translated by Maria Jolas. Boston: Beacon Press, 1994.
  • Benevolo, Leonardo. The European City. Translated by Carl Ipsen. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993.
  • Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.
  • Bruno, Giuliana. Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film. New York: Verso, 2007.
  • Calvino, Italo. Marcovaldo. Translated by William Weaver. Toronto: L&OD, 2007.
  • Calvino, Italo. Mr. Palomar. Translated by William Weaver. 1st American. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985.
  • Crutzen, Paul J. ‘Geology of Mankind.’ Nature 415, no. 6867 (January 3, 2002): 23. doi:10.1038/415023a.
  • Eliasson, Olafur. Innen Stadt Außen. Video, 10 minutes. Berlin: Martin-Gropius-Bau, 2010. http://www.olafureliasson.net/works/Innen_Stadt_Aussen.html
  • Eliot, Thomas Stearns. Four Quartets. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971.
  • Harrison, Stephan, Steve Pile, and Nigel Thrift, eds. Patterned Ground: Entanglements of Nature and Culture. London: Reaktion, 2004.
  • Heine, Heinrich. Lutezia. Berichte über Politik, Kunst und Volksleben. Zweiter Theil. Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1854.
  • Hilal, Sandi, Alessandro Petti, and Eyal Weizman. ‘Return to Nature.’ In Ecological Urbanism, ed. Mostafavi and Doherty, 230–35.
  • Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgment. Translated by Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1987.
  • Latour, Bruno. Aramis, or The Love of Technology. Translated by Catherine Porter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.
  • Latour, Bruno. Facing Gaia: Six lectures on the political theology of nature. 2013. [Forthcoming, a provisional PDF of the lectures can be found here: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/node/486]
  • Latour, Bruno. Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy. Translated by Catherine Porter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.
  • Lefebvre, Henri. The Urban Revolution. Translated by Robert Bononno. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
  • Markey, Constance. Italo Calvino: A Journey toward Postmodernism. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1999.
  • Michaux, Henri. Nouvelles de l’étranger. Paris: Mercure de France, 1952.
  • Modena, Letizia. Italo Calvino’s Architecture of Lightness: The Utopian Imagination in an Age of Urban Crisis. New York: Routledge, 2011.
  • Moore, Kevin Z. ‘Eclipsing the Commonplace: The Logic of Alienation in Antonioni’s Cinema.’ Film Quarterly 48, no. 4 (July, 1995): 22–34. doi:10.2307/1213577.
  • Morton, Timothy. Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.
  • Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
  • Mostafavi, Mohsen, and Gareth Gerard Doherty, eds. Ecological Urbanism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 2010.
  • Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Creation of the World, Or, Globalization. Translated by François Raffoul and David Pettigrew. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2007.
  • Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Sense of the World. Translated by Jeffrey S. Librett. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
  • Pasolini, Pier Paolo. Roman Nights and Other Stories. Translated by John Shepley. Marlboro, VT: Marlboro Press, 1986.
  • Pasolini, Pier Paolo. Roman Poems. Translated by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Francesca Valente. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1986.
  • Pasolini, Pier Paolo. Stories from the City of God: Sketches and Chronicles of Rome, 1950-1966. Translated by Marina Harss, edited by Walter Siti. New York: Handsel Books, 2003.
  • Sillanpoa, Wallace P. ‘Pasolini’s Gramsci.’ MLN 96, no. 1 (January, 1981): 120–137. doi:10.2307/2906432.
  • Sloterdijk, Peter. Terror from the Air. Translated by Amy Patton and Steve Corcoran. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 26. 2013. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2446?qlookup=09298
  • Viano, Maurizio. ‘The Left according to the Ashes of Gramsci.’ Social Text no. 18 (December, 1987): 51–60. doi:10.2307/488690.
  • Warner, Marina. Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary. London: Vintage, 2000.

Filmography (Chronological)

  • 1953Tentato suicidio. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Part of L’amore in città, which also features episodes directed by Fellini, Lattuada, Lizzani, Maselli, and Zavattini.
  • 1954Viaggio in Italia. Directed by Roberto Rosselini.
  • 1960L’avventura. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni.
  • 1960La dolce vita. Directed by Federico Fellini.
  • 1961La notte. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni.
  • 1962L’eclisse. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni.
  • 1963Le mani sulla città. Directed by Francesco Rosi.
  • 1964Il vangelo secondo Matteo. Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
  • 1967Playtime. Directed by Jacques Tati.
  1. Pasolini, Stories from the City of God, 221–32.

  2. Pasolini, Stories from the City of God, 226.

  3. Nancy, The Creation of the World, 33–34; Nancy, The Sense of the World, 4–9; Morton, Hyperobjects, 99–133; and Latour, Politics of Nature, 25–32.

  4. Sloterdijk, Terror from the Air, 2 & 18.

  5. Morton, Hyperobjects, 27–37. Morton’s idea of ‘viscosity’ is relevant here.

  6. Eliot, ‘East Coker’, Four Quartets, 23 & 32.

  7. Morton, Hyperobjects, 1.

  8. Nancy, The Sense of the World, 8.

  9. Nancy, The Creation of the World, 40; and Nancy, The Sense of the World, 55.

  10. Nancy, The Creation of the World, 54.

  11. Bachelard, Poetics of Space, 211.

  12. Latour, Politics of Nature, 242.

  13. Latour, Politics of Nature, 22–24.

  14. Latour, Politics of Nature, 25.

  15. Nancy, The Creation of the World, 33.

  16. Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 92.

  17. Andermatt Conley, ‘Urban Ecological Practices’, 138; and Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, 79.

  18. Heine, Lutezia, lvii, 111. This quotation seems to have been popularised through its use in Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 37. It is used as an epigraph in Morton’s Ecology without Nature with no source provided (79).

  19. Morton, Hyperobjects, 70.

  20. Sloterdijk, Terror from the Air, 10.

  21. Morton, Hyperobjects, 4.

  22. Morton, Hyperobjects, 4; and Latour, Facing Gaia, 8.

  23. Crutzen, ‘Geology of Mankind’, 23; and Latour, Facing Gaia, 75.

  24. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 78.

  25. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 3.

  26. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 31–35.

  27. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 77.

  28. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 32–33.

  29. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 30.

  30. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 33.

  31. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 22.

  32. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 22–23 & 72–75.

  33. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 22.

  34. In cosmology, the particle horizon is the boundary between the theoretically observable and unobservable regions of the universe determined by the facts of the universe’s expansion and the finite speed of light.

  35. Kant, Critique of Judgment, 130.

  36. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 75.

  37. Mozart, Le nozze di Figaro, Act III, Scene 8.

  38. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 73–74.

  39. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 31 & 39.

  40. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 76.

  41. Morton, Hyperobjects, 72.

  42. Modena, Italo Calvino’s Architecture of Lightness, 34.

  43. Calvino, Mr. Palomar, 115.

  44. Calvino, Marcovaldo; Markey, Italo Calvino, 52 & 133.

  45. Calvino, Marcovaldo, 1.

  46. Calvino, Marcovaldo, 1–2.

  47. Calvino, Marcovaldo, 16–20.

  48. Bennett, Vibrant Matter, 29.

  49. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 22.

  50. Markey, Italo Calvino, 51.

  51. Michaux, Nouvelles de l’étranger, 91.

  52. Hilal, Petti and Weizman, ‘Return to Nature’, 235.

  53. Harrison, Pile and Thrift, Patterned Ground, 200–201.

  54. Calvino, Marcovaldo, 62.

  55. Sillanpoa, ‘Pasolini’s Gramsci’, 121; and Viano, ‘The Left according to the Ashes of Gramsci’, 54.

  56. Pasolini, Il Vangelo secondo Matteo.

  57. Pasolini, Stories from the City of God, 3.

  58. Pasolini, Stories from the City of God, 6.

  59. Pasolini, Roman Nights, 6.

  60. Pasolini, Roman Poems, 36–37.

  61. Pasolini, Roman Poems, 18–19.

  62. Pasolini, Roman Poems, 19.

  63. Pasolini, Roman Poems, 14–15.

  64. Kant, Critique of Judgment, 130.

  65. Pasolini, Roman Poems, 15.

  66. Pasolini, Roman Poems, 21.

  67. Rosi, Le mani sulla città. The film follows a confrontation between De Vita and a corrupt right wing of the city council that helps council member and real estate speculator Edoardo Nottola to receive planning permission. The planned construction is unsafe, resulting in a structural collapse and the death of a child.

  68. Benevolo, The European City, 210.

  69. Pasolini, Stories from the City of God, 223.

  70. Pasolini, Stories from the City of God, 225.

  71. Pasolini, Stories from the City of God, 6; and Warner, Alone of All Her Sex, 113.

  72. Bruno, Atlas of Emotion, 95.

  73. Antonioni, Architecture of Vision, 276; and Moore, ‘Eclipsing the Commonplace’, 22.

  74. Arrowsmith, Antonioni, 31.

  75. Arrowsmith, Antonioni, 35 & 39.

  76. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 4.

  77. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 74.

  78. Bruno, Atlas of Emotion, 98.

  79. Eliasson, Innen Stadt Außen.

  80. Morton, Hyperobjects, 72.

  81. Moore, ‘Eclipsing the Commonplace’, 31.

  82. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 68.

  83. Arrowsmith, Antonioni, 39; and Bruno, Atlas of Emotion, 397.

  84. Bennett, Vibrant Matter, 34.

  85. Bennett, Vibrant Matter, 2.

  86. Bennett, Vibrant Matter, 58.

  87. Calvino, Marcovaldo, 16–20.

  88. Bennett, Vibrant Matter, 62.

  89. Latour, Aramis, or the Love of Technology.

  90. Tati, Playtime.

  91. Bennett, Vibrant Matter, xvii.

  92. U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.