Making Manhattan
Urban hieroglyphics, patternings and tattoos in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The tell-tale heart’ and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; Or, the whale
in Tattoos in crime and detective narratives
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This chapter uses Henri Lefebvre’s concepts of ‘spatial code’ and ‘representational space’ to explore the transgressive relationship between body and city. In detective fiction, the city has often been represented as an arena of signs and secrets, what Laura Marcus has called ‘urban hieroglyphics’. The chapter considers both the physical movement or ‘patterning’ of bodies through the city and the tattoo as examples of spatial codes. It takes as its frame of reference the city of New York in the mid nineteenth century, a period that witnessed unprecedented expansion based on the gridiron symmetry of the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811. The chapter discusses how two literary works can be understood as responses to this unique urban phenomenon. Reading Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ (1843) and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851) as examples of detective fiction, the essay analyses how Lefebvre’s concept of ‘representational space’ offers a means of conceptualising the symbolic use of the tattoo within the genre.

Editors: Kate Watson and Katharine Cox

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