Taking a rhizomatic structure to explore how urban spaces produce ambiguity and affect, this tour offers a reading of the city that resists the tropes of linearity and ocularcentrism. Staged during the liminal time between dusk and nightfall, the tour enters the world of opacity and shadows and provokes a subjective encounter with the ‘urban uncanny’.
Urban spaces are regularly practiced according to their authorized civic teleology. Through conventionalised and constant use, these spaces become not only familiar to their residents, they generate shared meanings around the idea of a ‘living’ or ‘lived in’ city. Certain spatial clusterings (gentrified precincts or ‘quarters’, parks, historical sites, transport networks) become expressive of a city’s ‘character’, ‘uniqueness’ or ‘authenticity’ and work together to script dominant narratives of ‘place’ as known, legible and familiar. Yet these spaces can be read against the grain through an encounter with the ambiguous, disavowed or liminal urban environment.
Urban spaces have a shadow-side or counter-force which unsettles their normative spatial meaning and reveals itself through what Anthony Vidler describes as the ‘urban uncanny’. The uncanny ‘others’ the familiar through appearing as its distorted double. At once recognisable yet bizarre and unfamiliar, Derrida notes that the ‘play of the double’ in the uncanny evokes an ‘endless exchange between the fantastic and the real’ (1994, 268). In ‘misrecognising’ spaces and making them strange, the urban uncanny situates itself in the lacuna between manifest and latent spatial meanings. In this context, the urban uncanny can be described as a performative space which produces corporeal affects at the level of uncertainty, fear, anticipation and intrigue. In suggesting that normative perceptions of urban spaces are contingent upon vision and familiarity, this tour scaffolds an alternative experience of the city by exploring the ‘sensations, affects, intensities’ (Grosz 2008, 3) foregrounded when the spaces we thought we knew become strange to us, and in turn estrange us.