Sun-Young Park, Ideals of the Body: Architecture, Urbanism, and Hygiene in Postrevolutionary Paris – University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018
Modern hygienic urbanism originated in the airy boulevards, public parks, and sewer system that transformed the Parisian cityscape in the mid-nineteenth century. Yet these well-known developments in public health built on a previous moment of anxiety about the hygiene of modern city dwellers. Amid fears of national decline that accompanied the collapse of the Napoleonic Empire, efforts to modernize Paris between 1800 and 1850 focused not on grand and comprehensive structural reforms, but rather on improving the bodily and mental fitness of the individual citizen. These forgotten efforts to renew and reform the physical and moral health of the urban subject found expression in the built environment of the city—in the gymnasiums, swimming pools, and green spaces of private and public institutions, from the pedagogical to the recreational. Sun-Young Park reveals how these anxieties about health and social order, which manifested in emerging ideals of the body, created a uniquely spatial and urban experience of modernity in the postrevolutionary capital, one profoundly impacted by hygiene, mobility, productivity, leisure, spectacle, and technology.
We know quite a bit about the physical signatures of urban “modernity” foisted upon Paris by Baron Haussmann in the late nineteenth century — the broad boulevards, networked infrastructures, connected apartment houses, and assorted monuments — but little scholarship has seized on its precursors in the half-century prior. In Ideals of the Body: Architecture, Urbanism, and Hygiene in Postrevolutionary Paris(University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), Sun-Young Park turns to another modernity, recovering a daunting array of Romantic and especially post-Napoleonic interventions — less spectacular but arguably more complex — on mobile Parisian bodies and the everyday spaces that host them. Park considers military gymnasia, schools, barracks, leisure gardens, and other spaces purpose-built to inculcate vigor in both individuated physical bodies and, their proponents hoped amid specters of national decline, in the French body politic. Each of these spaces, Park shows, a “threshold” between fully private and fully public realms, helped install — albeit imperfectly — its own “ideal” of the sanitized and gendered human subject. Ideals of the Body is a detailed, visually rich, theoretically motivated study in urban and architectural history, one that just might realign how we periodize and make sense of urban modernity writ large.