With David Simon, we did, in France, everything backwards: the success of the series The Wire brought to The Corner and the latter led to the discovery of his bookish work (1). Entitled Baltimore, the French translation ofHomicide, A Year on the Killing Streets, initially released in 1991, closes the loop, or more exactly opens it. So let’s assume the archaeological reading of a work already bearing the trademark of the former journalist of the Baltimore Sun : the authentic.
From a sordid street corner, scene of yet another homicide, the author wonders: “If a drug dealer hits the streets of Baltimore and no one is around to hear him, does he make a sound?” A question among many others but which gives a posteriori a key to reading a work busy telling from the street, making audible the muffled noises of urban margins and thus repoliticizing a public space in decline.
Baltimore, a real documentary base of The Wire, is the result of a one-year field investigation, immersed in the city’s criminal brigade. This gives an account, like a logbook, of the accumulation of bodies in a city facing deindustrialisation. David Simon deciphers an infernal archipelago, revealing a geographical logic elevated to the rank of quasi-law: in abandoned wastelands, abandoned pavilions or deserted parking lots, crime seems to systematically fill the voids of the city. “Shrinking” (2) and, above all, the ghettos walled up in the trade and consumption of crack and heroin. Simon surveys a city that geographer David Harvey considers a particularly relevant laboratory for thinking about the misdeeds of neoliberalism: “A mess, not the enchanting mess that makes cities so interesting to explore, but a horrible mess” (3).
The author’s point of view is antispectacular: clinical when he describes damaged bodies, minimalist when he evokes landscapes of brick or formstones, less occupied in any case to make an inventory of fixtures than to account for mediums announcing in it the visual regime of close-ups of The Wire and Treme. Asphalt doesn’t lie; the writing has already integrated the criticism of television series coming out of the heavy artillery and wants to be an alternative to imaginaries relating to the “syndrome” the experts and more generally media discourse.
Baltimore, as The Wire, is a story that goes beyond the pathological vision of landscapes. From the corpses, the existence of those who fall and that of the cops who observe them once fallen, but also indirectly the history of the city and the unpaid debts of segregation are told.
Even more, the book reveals the vertical mechanisms of power and justice, of under-education which results in the reproduction of violence and marginality. Far from any idealization, the figures of the inspectors, “Illegals in their own city”, thus occupy a gray zone between the interplay of forces of the center and the periphery, but they remain the link of a puzzle agglomeration that Simon continues, despite everything, to think of as a unit united to the common destiny.
(1) Master class by David Simon, October 15, at the Forum des images in Paris, visible on www.forumdesimages.fr (2) “Shrinking cities” refer to agglomerations such as Detroit, Cleveland or Baltimore, where deindustrialisation is reflected by a loss of population and occasionally by the hollowing out of certain portions of neighborhoods. (3) David Harvey, in “Spaces of Capital”, Edinburgh University Press, 2000, (BP translation).
Bertrand Pleven Geographer, Geography-Cities research team
Baltimore of David Simon Translated from English (United States) by Héloise Esquié, Sonatine Editions, 937 pp, 23 €.