Free «Images and Representations of Paris» Essay Sample

In “Paris Dreams, Paris Memories,” Charles Rearick expressed his concerns about representations of Paris. In the book, Rearick discussed the varying views, expectations, and imaginations of Paris from different perspectives. For instance, Paris is internationally perceived as a representation of splendor and sophistication, the local Parisians, on the other hand, merely see the hustle and bustle of a busy city, while the local government that is bent on making Paris a world-class tourist destination presents the city as a cultural capital. However, Rearick (p. 4) emphasized, “The admirers and aficionados of Paris (self-styled ‘lovers of Paris’) have given us the most evocative readings of the city”. Rearick argues that Paris should not be represented singularly from one perspective alone. On the contrary, Paris should be represented based on different points of view or angles. Paris should be represented as if one would with a spectrum that radiates different colors because according to Rearick, the city’s identity is a mixture of culture, history, social views or representations, as well as events that occur in the modern world. According to Rearick (2011, p. 2), “we need to track the multiple Parises in their interplay and their relation to documented events and experience”, which would enable us to understand the different facets that make up the identity of Paris.

Rearick’s ideas about Paris are fundamentally historical. In the book, he traces the history of Paris beginning from the nineteenth century, followed by the Belle Epoque (1914-circa 1960) to Postwar Paris (1945-circa 1980), Noveau Paris, and modern day Paris. According to Rearick, the most common of representation of Paris is the idea of the city as the city of light. However, history tells us that Paris was not always the revered city that it is now. During the eighteenth century, Paris was hailed as the dirtiest city in the world, until the dawn of the nineteenth century when, under the rule of Napoleon III, the city was reconstructed and modernized in order to meet the needs and demands of the populace. During this period, public establishments were built around the city to cater to schooling, health care, and public social functions. The contrast or differences among the buildings in the city show how Paris transformed over town. The old buildings that were not reconstructed represent the old Paris while the palpably newer structures represented the new Paris. After the reconstruction, during the late nineteenth century, the transformation of the city led to its name as the city of lights. “In the second half of the nineteenth century its lighting multiplied a hundred fold – from 350 million to 75,000 million candle hours” (Rearick, 2011, p. 12).

Development continued in Paris until the Belle Epoque. During this time, constructions were held to provide for new means of transportation like railroads for trains. Moreover, pavements were reconstructed to allow smooth travel for during the Belle Epoque, using streetcars for transportation was popular. Further development established the gap between the lower classes and the upper classes. The distinction of human beings according to socio-economic class translated to not only the culture but also the image of Paris as a city. The city was divided into districts where dwellings were grouped together based on socio-economic status. For instance, the poor people live in one district while the rich live in another district. The physical and social make-up of Paris during this time reflected social divide in the city. Jerram (2011) also discussed the implications of the social class divide on the physical landscape of Paris and its image. University life in Paris during the twentieth century showed the difference between the social classes in Paris. In terms of physical landscape, colleges or universities reflected the social class of students living within their proximity. According to Jerram (2011, p. 90), “the place was characterized by relatively extreme environmental hardship by middle-class standards (hunger, mud, filth), spatial isolation, boredom, poverty (surrounding it, extreme wealth inside it)”. The conditions of students during this decade reflected populism inherent in Parisian culture. University students during this time held protests due to the impact of extreme populism and their intense involvement in uprising provided identity to the streets of Paris (Jerram, 2011).

After the Belle Epoque, steady development and prosperity in the city were interrupted because of the war. The French government, however, focused on redevelopment and rehabilitation shortly after the war ended. During these times, the government not only focused on the restoration of structures but also the cultivation of culture and society. Establishments devoted to the arts were restored or built, such as opera theatres, and the Noveau art movement caught on. Paris was said to be on the brink of modernization during this period. So it was, at the height of Parisian culture, that the city was able to make its mark not only in France but also around the world. Therefore, it is easy for individuals to identify Paris only as the modern city that is brimming with life, inspired by arts, culture, and humanities.

In the end, Rearick admitted that it is difficult to create solid groundwork from which the genuine and comprehensive representation of Paris will be based on. Since the image or representation not only of Paris but also of other places are based on various factors: history, culture, social structure, etc., it is difficult to arrive at a concrete narrative or illustration for Parisian life. Both Rearick and Jerram, however, shed light on the importance of history as a starting point in reconstructing the identity of a place. The history of Paris, for instance, highlighted the reasons or origins behind the social structure in the city (populism and the growing gap between lower- and upper-classes of society since the nineteenth century), the physical structures (where the distribution of districts or arondissements reflects the social class of individuals living in the districts), and its identity as a place (from its beginnings as the dirtiest city in the world to the city of lights) that attempts to recover and rebuild itself to embrace modernization despite setbacks in the past. 


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