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Hinton, D. (2011). Agoraphobia, Infinite Space, and Epistemic Rupture: Europe at the end of the 19th Century. J. Anal. Psychol., 56(3):386-389.

(2011). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 56(3):386-389

Agoraphobia, Infinite Space, and Epistemic Rupture: Europe at the end of the 19th Century

Devon Hinton, M.D., Ph.D.

‘The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me’ Descartes (1670).

What we now call agoraphobia, a panic-like reaction to external urban spaces, became a common experience only in the last twenty years of the nineteenth century. It is a malady of modernity. This malady seemingly came into being because of three historical factors: 1) The cityscape changed into an architectonics of straight corridors and voids (Vidler 2000); 2) These corridors were traversed by accelerating pedestrian and vehicular traffic—by the ‘mobile and anonymous crowd that lies at the heart of modern sensibility’ (Nochlin 1994, p. 26); and (3) Fin de siècle fears arose about neurasthenia, sensory overload, and degeneration. Edvard Munch was one of the fin de Steele's neurasthenic panickers. Utilizing, in hyperbolic form, artistic techniques that were developed by artistic predecessors—Renaissance artists (linear perspective), the Impressionists (techniques for depicting motion), and Art Nouveau (the apotheosis of the swirl)—Munch pictorially constructed a nightmare of fear and vertigo, the modern cityscape as a draining place of chaos, anomie, and excessive hurry. In his four paintings, Despair (1892), Evening on Karl Johan Street (1892), The Scream (1893), and Anxiety (1894), Munch depicted his own agoraphobia-type panic attacks (Hinton 2000).

Shifting Attitudes to the Post-Haussmann Industrializing Cityscape

Haussmann transformed Paris from a city of winding streets lacking sidewalks, with shopping centred on arcades, to a metropolis of endless, straight streets bordered by sidewalks and rectilinear, bilaterally symmetrical buildings, bringing into existence the so-called corridor street (Giedion 1941), a perspective theatre of converging lines racing towards the vanishing point.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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