Instructors’ Teaching Experience

When I taught this book, it didn’t go as well as I had hoped it would. My students got really tripped up by the two intertwined cities, and we had to revisit and reexplain that issue just about every day. They also almost all complained that because Miéville often omits conversation “tags,” they couldn’t follow the dialogue. I don’t think I’d teach this book again in a gen. ed. class, but I would in a gen. ed. elective. Still, here are some thoughts and ideas (see below). [Liz Lundberg]

Classroom Strategies

The citizens of the two cities know which people and buildings to unsee based on constant semiotic readings of clothing, architecture, body language, sounds, colors, and smells. There are several ways to take this aspect of the book with students: ask them to draw maps of their hometowns or of the college campus and see what areas they forget or leave out, and then investigate why. Ask them to read the clothing and body language of other students and professors, and the semiotics of buildings and classrooms. Ask them who they “unsee” on a daily basis, how, why, and how they feel about that unseeing.

When I taught this novel I showed clips from The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon and ran down some of the characteristics of detective fiction, crime fiction, film noir, etc. I think this genre work mainly enhanced our discussions of character, but also some plot elements and tone.

The City & the City engages questions of embodiment, identity, mobility, and belonging. Like detectives in other crime novels, Borlú is granted privileges of mobility that most characters do not have, but in this case not only can he investigate across various social strata, he can also take on different national and cultural identities by changing his clothing, name, language, and movement, and even by shifting his gaze. When he first learns to walk through both cities simultaneously as an agent of Breach, Borlú narrates, “My sight seemed to untether with a lurching Hitchcock shot, some trickery of dolly and depth of field, so the street lengthened and its focus changed. Everything I had been unseeing now jostled into sudden close-up” (254). Borlú’s vertigo is caused not only by suddenly learning to resee or reread all the physical markers around him but also by feeling his own body belonging to its surroundings in a new way, occupying two spaces or states simultaneously, like “Schrödinger’s pedestrian” (295). [Liz Lundberg]

Discussion Questions

  • In what ways is Borlú a hard-boiled detective?
  • Are any of the women femme fatales?
  • Is Orciny a MacGuffin?
  • What are the connections in The City & the City between embodiment and perception, between the mind and the world? [Questions submitted by Liz Lundberg]

Additional Resources

An Interview with Mieville about The City and the City

The Wikipedia entry for The City and the City