"it proved less easy a task to banish nature, and the natural, once and for all."

p. 191


JAcob Riis

"Bandits Roost," by Jacob Riis, 1888: NYC.


Carroll Pursell's White Heat



Dirt and Disorder skeletons



Information blocks



| control | gender | public health | questions |


reuseChapter on Dirt and Disorder

51 ¶

Sewers as social progress in control & conquest of nature .


Pacey: “One reason for valuing nature may be practical.”



Paris Sewers , Les Miserables,  “engineering infrastructure”

by 1870, 348 miles of pipes and drains into the Seine River


Is it progress or regress from constructing the cloaca maxima of Rome in the first century to building sewers (égout) in the 19th Century ?

pp. 170-172.

Controlling nature through re-engineering water and drainage.

"The flow of the Chicago river was reversed."

p. 176

"The need to bring cities under control, to make them safe for the masculine pursuits of profit, politics, and power required also that male control be exerted 'down there', in the deep recesses of the sewers where corruption and infection were rampant and all that was unlawful held sway."

"The great engineering feats of sewer construction became reassurances of that control...."


London sewers built as an embankment parallel to the Thames River         

required 4 lift stations to pump water 14 to 41 feet (employed steam engines to pump the effluent).

      remained in service from 1865-1952.

Water demand in Cleveland rose from 8 to 55 gallons/ day 1857-1872.        

hygiene: bathing (physicians suggested), WC, laundry

"Inventions in the way of sanitary appliances." (180)

"Showers were the earliest popular form of bathing apparatus in Britain."

1830s initial Victorian period. page 183.

Social housekeeping and the public health movement


Alfred Steiglitz, Terminus, a paragon of the movement to portray photographs as art, now documents the bygone era.

Note the street sweeper's broom on the right in the near-background of the above photograph. The broom and bin were used for removal of horse manure from the city streets.

Edwin Chadwick, British sanitarian advocated the mass elimination of human waste via sewers to improve public health --



From personal fastidiousness to ridding ourselves of unwanted debris -- we became "toss-aways"

showers (1798),

warm baths 19th century. 

sink disposals - "for home kitchen use" 1935 by General Electric      


"American obsession with bodily cleanliness was already evident."




Death rates remained high until the late-middle of the nineteenth century.

Thus social housekeeping was evidence of personal Victorian morality extended to rational engineering infrastructure  in the movement for Sanitary reform  based on a fear of contagion.   

Death sits awaiting its prey.  


  "pollution beliefs protect the most vulnerable domains, where ambiguity would most weaken the fragile structure." 

“dirt ‘is a kind of compendium category for all events which blur, smudge, contradict, or otherwise confuse accepted classifications’.”        

ensuing cultural ambiguity is avoided


Gender Women

masculine control – "rationalized and masculinized sewers" -- note the Fruedian "pipes" -- even fitted "pipes into receiving pipes" overtones and figurative symbology.

"…so sewers needed to be brought under control, to be well regulated, . . ."

"As Donald Reid suggests, the sewers of Victorian cities were contested terrain, to be reclaimed from nature and rought under male domination."


For the Victorians excretion became a metaphor and a symbol for moral filth, even for the working class itself.” cleansed of poverty


Masculine assertion of control over feminine (uncontrolled) nature is a theme Pursell demonstrates as a resistant cultural pattern of behavior and conjoined beliefs that reinforce stereotypes and place tools in service of such residual counter-influences to the otherwise progressive metaphors associated with technological change and modification of tools by engineering and architecture.

(186-87, 191)                 

The Machine Stops, short story (1909) by  E. M. Forster

Is a brief narrative that was his anti-utopian response to H. G. Wells utopian novels about science and technology as saviors of humanity.      

"the room is completely sealed off from 'nature,' but its occupant is supplied with everything needed...(by way of electrical communication)."        


This chapter concludes:

    "All over the world nature was conquered and disciplined, and even the cities, which at frst glance appeared to be the very epitome of the artificial and constructed, were perceived to be feminine organisms: wastelands in some accounts, wilderness in others, and jungles in others."

other Pursell, chapters


wires "This 'Information Age' is said to have begun in the 1950s when IBM first sold mainframe computers to business corporations."


"I'm tired of the war. . . . Let's see a different story."

A Montreal Videoway™ user. [more]

p. 194

"The glorious possibilities" of the age of computer digitized and mediated information "stem more from opportunism than they do from pressing human needs."

p. 201


"There are already popular games that involve tracking down, or raping women for example. Or one can rescue a woman threatened by rape. The promise of virtual reality is that one can actually take part in the activities, not just help control them."

Edward Hopper, Chop Suey, 1929. Oil on Canvas, National Gallery of Art.

Sex as apex or accessory?

"That cybersex might encourage antisocial habits, or lead to a new degree of solitary satisfaction, is denied by the editor of Future Sex.

"The sparkling 'wizardry of electronics', she has asserted, 'will quickly seem as ho-hum as boiling water in the microwave if it's seen as the apex, rather than the accessory'."

p. 209

viewer? "…fully integrated with their machines."

"all medium with no particular messages of its own."

p. 215.

Jean Baudrillard "in the future, power will belong to those peoples with no origins and no authenticity" -- post-modern virtual lives sustained by gigabytes of information.