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City of God.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2005
JournalCity
Journal number3
Volume9
Number of pages14
Pages307-320
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Well over a millennium and a half ago, Augustine distinguished between two cities: the Heavenly City and the Earthly City. While one was the site of all that was holy and spiritual, the place of faith, the other was foul and wicked, the realm of the flesh. Such dichotomies, expanded into a full‐fledged binary logic, persist in the way that we think about cities today. But as Bülent Diken shows in these reflections on João Fernando Meirelles' film—entitled, appropriately enough—City of God, cities today are bound up with the very things they try to exclude: ghettos, slums, and shanty‐towns. Binary urban logics in fact produce more grey than they do black and white. The notorious favela outside of Rio that is the subject of Meirelles' film is simultaneously included and excluded from all that Rio represents. It is at once a dumping ground for the city's byproducts—the (human) waste generated by its own development—and its products. It is a zone beyond the civilized city, which, as the city's inverted, carnivalesque, image, makes the very idea of civilization possible. It is, in other words, the lawless state of exception that proves the law. In this careful and original analysis of Meirelles' stunning film, Diken employs the work of Žižek and Agamben, among others, to illustrate the ways in which the favela—the state of urban exception, the space supposedly outside the law and outside civilization, where life is reduced to mere existence—is not outside the city, but within its very center. ‘All contemporary urban space,’ Diken explains, ‘is organized according to the logic of the favela’.