Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization

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W. W. Norton & Company, Mar 17, 1996 - History - 431 pages
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Flesh and Stone is a new history of the city in Western civilization, one that tells the story of urban life through bodily experience. It is a story of the deepest parts of life - how women and men moved in public and private spaces, what they saw and heard, the smells that assailed their noses, where they are, how they dressed, the mores of bathing and of making love - all in the spaces of the city from ancient Athens to modern New York. Early in Flesh and Stone Richard Sennett probes the ways in which the ancient Athenians experienced nakedness, and the relation of nakedness to the shape of the ancient city, its troubled politics, and the inequalities between men and women. The story then moves to Rome in the time of the Emperor Hadrian, exploring the Roman beliefs in the geometrical perfection of the body. This mechanical view of the flesh was expressed in the strict geometry of urban design and in the hard lines of Rome's imperial power. It also provided Christianity with a monolith to confront, setting up a great struggle in history - the things of Caesar versus the things of God. The second part of the book examines how Christian beliefs about the body related to the Christian city. Christ's physical suffering on the Cross offered medieval Parisians a way to think about places of charity and sanctuary in the city; these spaces nestled uneasily among streets given over to the release of physical aggression in a new market economy. By the Renaissance, Christian ideals of community were challenged as non-Christians and non-Europeans were drawn into the European orbit; these threatening differences were brutally articulated in the creation of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice and the fear of touching that the Ghetto exemplified. The final part of Flesh and Stone deals with what happened to urban space as modern scientific understanding of the body cut free from ancient pagan and Christian beliefs. Harvey's science, revealing the body as a circulating system, paralleled eighteenth-century attempts to circulate bodies freely in the city. In revolutionary Paris, the demand for freedom of individual movement came into conflict with the need for communal space. Since that time, the freely moving individual body has come to be sharply at odds with the physical awareness - frequently unwanted - of other human beings, a friction evident in edgy, modern London and New York.

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FLESH AND STONE: The Body and the City in Western Civilization

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An expansive history of Western civilization's evolving conception of the human body and that concept's influence on the erection of cities. Sennett (Sociology/New York Univ.; The Conscience of the ... Read full review

Flesh and stone: the body and the city in Western civilization

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Sennett (sociology, NYU) has constructed a truly unique study of the human history of cities. He tackles the history of the development of the city in terms of the human body's function and perception ... Read full review

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About the author (1996)

Richard Sennett’s books include The Corrosion of Character, Flesh and Stone, and Respect. He was the founding director of the New York Institute for the Humanities and now teaches sociology at New York University and at the London School of Economics.

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