QuoteFilter: Help me find this quote about life in cities
March 30, 2009 9:07 PM   Subscribe

Awhile back I remember hearing that a famous writer once said something like, "if anyone could go around a city and look through the walls of the houses and offices to see everything that went on in one day--and it wouldn't have to be a big city--it would make that person go completely crazy."

For some reason I thought it was William James who said this, but I've looked through most of his major works and have yet to find it. Does it sound familiar to anyone?
posted by mjklin to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No, but it doesn't give me that William James feeling.
posted by Beardman at 9:37 PM on March 30, 2009

It sounds familiar to me, but for some reason I feel like I read it in a comic book. I know that doesn't help much.....
posted by Roach at 10:23 PM on March 30, 2009

Quote-wise, it doesn't ring a bell, but it reminds me a lot of Georges Perec's Life, A User's Manual (Google book search).
posted by Mael Oui at 11:07 PM on March 30, 2009

It rings a bell for me. If so, it's ~1999 or earlier. I think there might have even been a previous question on this, but I couldn't turn it up. I have this memory of a discussion with a friend who had recently read some book with that idea in it, and telling him about these Lucinda Williams lyrics with a similar image of seeing inside people's houses:
I just stood and looked out at the open space and a farmhouse out a ways
And I wondered about the people who lived in it
And I wondered if they were happy and content

posted by salvia at 12:25 AM on March 31, 2009

"Life, A User's Manual" was definitely written using the premise of a house where you could open up to see inside each apartment (Perec imagined a Parisian apartment building in such a way that each apartment, basement, attic, etc fell on an 8 by 8 grid - he then put the book together by moving the narrative for each consecutive chapter in the manner of a knight on a chess board).

I don't think this book is the origin of the quotation you are looking for - but it is worth seeking out if you are interested in the idea.
posted by rongorongo at 2:28 AM on March 31, 2009

this sounds very familiar to me, but i can't place it.
i just googled for a few minutes but nothing came up.

posted by gursky at 6:46 AM on March 31, 2009

Well, Lovecraft wrote:

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."

Sort of similar, but more centered on the bleak unknowable horrors of the indifferent universe than on one's neighbors.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:31 PM on March 31, 2009

"Tell me, why do we require a trip to Mount Everest in order to be able to perceive one moment of reality? I mean... I mean, is Mount Everest more "real" than New York? I mean, isn't New York "real"? I mean, you see, I think if you could become fully aware of what existed in the cigar store next door to this restaurant, I think it would just blow your brains out! I mean... I mean, isn't there just as much "reality" to be perceived in the cigar store as there is on Mount Everest?"

From My Dinner With Andre. Probably not the quote you're looking for so much as loosely inspired by the quote you're looking for.
posted by Simon! at 11:07 PM on March 31, 2009

Thanks to all for the replies. I guess this one will remain in the "Anonymous" column for now.
posted by mjklin at 12:32 PM on April 11, 2009

I know this is late and it probably isn't the right quote either. I'm reading "The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher" and it quotes a detective McLevy in "The Casebook of a Victorian Detective", 1861 as saying "If every room of a house were seen into by a secret watcher, it would be a show-box even more wonderful than a travelling exhibition."

It reminded me of your question.
posted by interplanetjanet at 8:43 AM on June 14, 2009

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