Week 5 - Min Suh Son - Muyasong, The Nightless City

Week 5 - Min Suh Son - Muyasong, The Nightless City - C...

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131 C HAPTER THREE Muyas ǒ ng , “The Nightless City” “Seeing streetcars running, the progress of our country can be compared to their movement. As important as the driver is to the streetcars, great is the responsibility of the driver of the country.” Hwangs ŏ ng sinmun , November 15, 1899. After the opening of Korea’s ports to Japan, Europe and America, increasing commercialization of the economy necessitated better communication and transportation connecting the ports to Seoul, the capital city. New roads were built, iron rails laid, electric poles installed and wired, in the course of which the ancient walls that had stood encircling the city for 500 years came tumbling down. The dismantling of the premodern walled city system was thus prompted by the immediate and practical need to allow streetcars to transport passengers and goods to and from the Inch’ ŏ n port into the city at night. This chapter will examine the layout and construction of Seoul in premodern times, as well as the spatial practices that went along with it, to demonstrate exactly what dynastic spatial codes existed before the nineteenth century and how these changed. This will help to better understand the significance of the spatial rupture caused by the streetcars and how its construction was one form of “monumentality” that transferred old signs and symbols of state power into new vessels befitting the modernizing trends
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132 taking place worldwide. In this regard it may be seen in part as a semiotic shift in the type of language used to express state power. At the same time, the spread of electrical light, the use of streetcars in daily life by common people, the now defunct role of the gates and walls, and the construction of parks propelled changes in Seoul that altered the visual landscape of the city, opened new spatial boundaries, made nighttime accessible to the people, and helped develop leisure and entertainment venues. The respatialization of Seoul allows a reading of the landscape as a text where the physical form expressed the naturalization of new political and social ideologies. 1 This approach is modeled after Henri Lefebvre’s work on the production of space in exploring the connection between the physical appearance of cities and the societies that built them. It is largely from his work that we have come to accept the idea that “(social) space is a (social) product” where physical space is shaped by ideological, political and social values that might conform to, circumvent or contradict a landscape as planned by its architects. The story of social space is none other than a story of power relations and the negotiations over use, control or domination by both the state and the people but Lefebvre takes this one step further by envisioning social space as not only embodying power relations, but viewing space itself as a tool through which power is acquired or lost.
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