Urban House Numbers

“Street addressing is one of the most basic strategies employed by governmental authorities to tax, police, manage, and monitor the spatial whereabouts of individuals within a population.  Despite the central importance of the street address as a political technology that sometimes met with resistance, few scholars have examined the historical practice of street addressing with respect to its broader social and political implications…  We are particularly interested in showcasing recent work that links the history of urban house numbering to broader debates concerning the interrelations of space, knowledge, and power that have animated contemporary discussions in the social sciences and humanities.”

Call for papers for a special section in the journal Urban History on the history of urban house numbering, cited in Pseuds’ Corner, Private Eye, No. 1269, 20 August – 2 September 2010.

In his days as an armchair revolutionary, Blodgett became peculiarly exercised about urban house numbering. He lived at the time at 6 Rolf Harris Mew. Most Mews are plural, but this one wasn’t. There were nine bijou little dwellings in the Mew, and with what Blodgett identified as a typically hegemonic capitalist patriarchal linear system of oppression they were numbered, consecutively, from one to nine.

Blodgett had to subject this system to a rigorous poststructuralist interrogation before he was in a position to subvert it, and this he did, strolling up and down the Mew making notes, accompanied by impossibly complicated diagrams, in his jotting pad. Across the way, crippled mendicants, brought to such a state of destitution that they were lower even than the lowest of the lumpenproletariat, wallowed in their own filth and wailed for crumbs. Blodgett occasionally went over to consult with these wretches, garnering their views on his important research.

His first step in defiance of an unconscionable tyranny was to upend his door number so that it looked like a 9 rather than a 6. For this blow against the system he was shouted at by the postie and beaten insensible with a club by the occupant of number 9. Blodgett had, of course, expected violence as the response to his supremely transgressive act. But, he asked himself as he lay bandaged in a clinic, was it transgressive enough?

When he was well enough to return home, he stole out one night and, using a screwdriver, removed the door number from each house in the Mew. He made a pyre of them and set them ablaze, using an oil-soaked rag liberated from one of the mendicants. By the light of the fire, he took a paint pot and daubed upon each door a slogan of resistance. For this, he was again shouted at by the postie, and again beaten insensible by the occupant of number 9, a person labouring under false consciousness who was joined, on this occasion, by three or four of the neighbours.

This time, upon his discharge from the clinic, Blodgett discovered that all trace of his daubings had been erased, and brand new metal numbers affixed to the doors, except his own, which now had nailed to it, in a clear plastic bag as protection from the incessant rainfall, a notice from the civic authorities. Blodgett sat on the stoep to read it. In essence, it told him that he was a fathead and an idiot.

Poor Blodgett! For a while it looked as if he might be homeless, and have to join the wretched untermenschen across the way. But then he had one of his magnificent Blodgettian brainwaves. He scampered off to the civic authorities’ oppressive brutalist headquarters and explained to an official that he was an artist. This declaration did the trick. He was welcomed back to Rolf Harris Mew as a returning prodigal, even by the bourgeois scum at number 9, and resumed his activities, talking Twaddle to Power.

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