Troglodytes of the Urban Imagination

Colonies gone native in the infrastructure, perennial fixation of the urban industrial psyche.

“The southern end of the tunnel is flooded, an invitation to a refreshing swim. For a moment it seems that others have already followed this invitation and are now splashing around a deep pit in the tunnel’s middle, their muted laughter drifting towards the southern portal. But the sound is coming from beneath the treacherous boulders and perhaps this invitation isn’t so welcoming after all.

“And after a few minutes of listening, it becomes clear that the tunnel is completely desolate. No one has been here in a very long time; what sounded like laughter is only the water falling from the ceiling, its dripping distorted into the cadences of children’s voices. Deep inside this still and desolate forest, the tunnel plays alone, alive and cackling to itself.”

Dark Passage ‘The Cackling Tunnel’

If the poor should secede?

September, 1940: The myth of the subhuman on both sides of the Channel, social hygiene anxieties and the Blitz. “The government had previously ruled out – indeed forbidden – the use of the tube. But for many it was the last place of refuge. So by simply buying a ticket and staying underground for the duration of the raid, people slowly began to occupy the underground system.”

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“The enemy had only to keep the nation’s head down long enough and often enough to convert them into a race of troglodytes and slow vital production to a standstill.”

– Sir John Wheeler-Bennett John Anderson, Viscount Waverly, 1963

“The authorities feared that the Cockneys, once admitted underground, would become a race of troglodytes, useless to the war effort, a menace to public health and a source of endless potential trouble.”

– Tom Harrison Living Through the Blitz

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“Several years ago (before I discovered the advantages of being invisible) I went through the routine process of buying service and paying their outrageous rates. But no more. I gave up all that, along with my apartment, and my old way of life: That way based upon the fallacious assumption that I, like other men, was visible. Now, aware of my invisibility, I live rent-free in a building rented strictly to whites, in a section of the basement that was shut off and forgotten during the nineteenth century…”

– Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man


“All the way down, he muses, are layers upon layers upon layers of tunnels, with no bottom.”

The man-made unknown

“More delightfully morbid accounts followed from his long career his long career in the tunnels. The large Stay Alert sign nearby took on a new significance. We wanted to keep him talking and not be sent up the stairs, though he turned down our request to take us around. He mentioned the multitude of closed-off tunnels and that they were thinking of re-opening one from Grand Central to Penn Station. He mentioned the homeless, who had mostly disappeared, and the large rats.

“And how many levels were there, we wanted to know. Two or seven?

“Fifteen, he said.

“We stood there staring at him. Fifteen levels, he said, though he wasn’t sure what was at the very bottom. No, there was no elevator, just a staircase leading all the way down. He had descended several levels where utility stations for electricity and maintenance were located. God knows what is all the way at the bottom, he muttered.”

– Letter to Infiltration zine, 2000


Terminal density

“The Mainline Terminus was the largest Franz had seen, a vast mile-long cavern tiered up through thirty levels. Hundreds of elevator shafts sank into the station and the maze of platforms, escalators, restaurants, hotels, and theatres seemed like an exaggerated replica of the City itself.

“Getting his bearings from one of the information booths Franz made his way up an escalator to Tier 15, where the Supersleepers berthed. Running the length of the station were two gigantic steel vacuum tunnels, each two hundred feet wide in diameter, supported at thirty-foot intervals by massive concrete buttresses.

“Franz walked slowly along the platform and stopped by the telescopic gangway that plunged into one of the airlocks.

“Two hundred and seventy degrees true, he thought, all the way, gazing up at the curving underbelly of the tunnel. It must come out somewhere.”

– JG Ballard, ‘The Concentration City’

After the end of the world

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Troglodyte scientists remembering the future in Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Anti-cannibal insurgent in Delicatessen.

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