Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

The City & The City & The College

with 2 comments

Lee Skallerup Bessette talks The City & the City at College Ready Writing. I’ve mentioned before on Twitter how much I like teaching this book in my science fiction courses (as I’ll be doing this semester in just a week or so). I find that students key into the central seeing/unseeing trope immediately, especially in materially and psychically divided cities like Durham (where I used to teach) or Milwaukee (where I teach now). Students here know they live in an enclave; they know there’s a second city all around them that they aren’t a part of and that isn’t a part of them, with very clear territories and boundaries and no-man’s-lands that are an implicit part of their instruction from freshman orientation on. They recognize immediately that they’ve been taught and are being taught to unsee that other city’s life.

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  1. Since you’ve taught The City & The City, maybe you can weigh in on a question I have about it. When I first began reading it, I was using, as Delany would have it, the reading protocols of fantasy—and thus just assumed that the two cities were, in some fantastic sense, separated, with particular crossover points. But by the end I was wondering if that was an interpretive trap deliberately laid by Miéville, and if the book could be equally well read (or even insists definitively on being read?) as a straight mainstream story depicting a very strange city with unusually forthright customs about not seeing. I wasn’t sure, however, and I would need to reread the book to figure it out (or have a shot at doing so), and I haven’t found time yet. But perhaps you have thoughts?

    Stephen Frug

    September 19, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    • No, what you say here is right — at some point near the end of the book one realizes that while there are multiple interpretations available not a single fantastic event has been definitively described. It’s possible there’s nothing science fictional about the book at all….

      gerrycanavan

      September 19, 2013 at 7:08 pm


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