In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Platz AngstDavid Trotter

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Repressed Spaces: The Poetics of Agoraphobia 
by Paul Carter.
Reaktion, 253 pp., £16.95, November 2002, 1 86189 128 8
Show More
Show More

The last three decades of the 19th century were phobia’s belle époque. During this first phase of investigation there was, it must have seemed, no species of terror, however febrile, which could not talk its way immediately into syndrome status. In 1896, Théodule Ribot spoke of psychiatry’s inundation by a ‘veritable deluge’ of complaints, ranging from the relatively commonplace and self-explanatory, such as claustrophobia, to the downright idiosyncratic, such as triskaidekaphobia, or fear of the number 13. Twenty years later, in his Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Freud was to respond with similar impatience to the list of phobias drawn up by the American psychologist Stanley Hall. Hall had managed to find 132.

In Freud’s thinking about phobia there is a consistent emphasis on the scale and density of the precautions erected against danger. Phobia’s anticathexis, he observed, takes the shape of a proliferating defensive system. In 1900, in The Interpretation of Dreams, he compared this system to a frontier fortification. In the Introductory Lectures of 1916-17, no doubt mindful of recent innovations in military science, he compared it to an entrenchment. However, elsewhere in the same lecture he spoke of the danger confronted in phobia as ‘tiny’. For Freud, phobia was both immense, in its power to engender avoidance, and utterly trivial. It was a Hindenburg Line built to repel an army of one.

Freud was by no means alone in emphasising the disproportion between stimulus and response. Most psychiatrists of the time regarded phobia as a perverse singling out, more or less at random, of an object or event to be afraid of. In the 1880s and 1890s, a favourite diversion among commentators was to make lists of celebrities unhappily transfixed in this way by the force of circumstance. Charles Féré, for example, wrote in 1892, citing B.A. Morel:

‘Who has not heard,’ says Morel, ‘of the febrile fits which were produced in the savant Erasmus at the sight of a plate of lentils? . . . King James II trembled at the sight of a naked sword: and the sight of an ass, if the chronicle of the time can be believed, sufficed to cause the Duke of Epernon to lose consciousness.’

Other stalwarts included Hobbes (fear of darkness), Pascal (fear of precipices), and Francis Bacon, who experienced syncope during eclipses of the moon. The ass and the plate of lentils are not in themselves especially illuminating with reference to the individual in question; and they remain in turn unilluminated by the intensity of morbid feeling shone at them.

According to Adam Phillips, the phobic person ‘submits to something akin to possession, to an experience without the mobility of perspectives’. It is a secular, bodily possession: ‘A phobia, like virtually nothing else, shows the capacity of the body to be gripped by occult meaning; it is like a state of somatic conviction.’ And yet a disproportion persists, a disproportion amounting to asymmetry, between the intensity of the conviction provoked and the unassumingness of the object that provokes it. Phobia, Phillips adds, is a kind of ‘unconscious estrangement technique’: ‘To be petrified by a pigeon is a way of making it new.’ But if the asymmetry between stimulus and response is stark enough, might we not say that the ‘technique’ enforcing it has become conscious? The phobic person who has, in Brechtian fashion, made a pigeon new by being afraid of it, is still aware that in the popular view pigeons remain familiar and not very frightening. Phobia’s somatic convictions are knowingly whimsical. Its asymmetry might be thought to permit a certain ‘mobility of perspectives’ after all.

In 1871, Carl Otto Westphal, a psychologist in Berlin, offered the first comprehensive account of the nature and possible causes of a disorder to which he gave the name ‘agoraphobia’ because its symptoms arose when the sufferer was about to set off across an open space or along an empty street, and were at their most intense wherever there was no immediate boundary to the visual field. Westphal’s French counterpart, Legrand du Saulle, spoke instead of a ‘peur des espaces’, which struck not only in streets and squares, but on bridges and ferries, or when looking out of an upstairs window. Legrand’s patients included a Madame B., who found that she could not cross the boulevards and squares of Paris alone, was fearful of empty restaurants, and even needed help mounting the wide staircase to her apartment. Once inside, she was unable to look out of the window. She had filled her rooms with furniture in order to take the edge off their spaciousness.

In July 1904, Olive Garnett spent ten days in Salisbury with Ford Madox Ford and his wife, Elsie, at Elsie’s request; Ford, it seemed, was suffering some kind of nervous breakdown. ‘I think I had never heard of neurasthenia,’ Garnett was to recall in a memoir based on the journal she had kept at the time,

& for a few days all went well; but it was a hot July, & on leaving Lake House . . . to walk over the Plain to Amesbury, Ford had an attack of agoraphobia, & said if I didn’t take his arm he would fall down. I held on in all the blaze for miles, it seemed to me, but the town reached, he walked off briskly to get tobacco and a shave; and when I pointed this out to Elsie she said ‘nerves’. He can’t cross wide open spaces.

Garnett’s arm was not the only support Ford had needed. He got himself across Salisbury Plain by surviving from bench to bench; at each one, restored for the time being to a physical limit, an enclave, he would sit down and rest. All the while he chewed lozenges as a prophylactic against the wide open spaces. When he got back to London at the end of the month, a specialist recommended rest and travel, and he left for Germany, to spend some time with his Hüffer relatives and to undertake further consultations. ‘There’s such a lot of breakdown in the land,’ Ford was able to report contentedly. ‘They’ve a regular name for lack of walking power here: Platz Angst.’

There would seem to be as much disproportion in an inability to cross Salisbury Plain unaided, or to climb the stairs to one’s own apartment, as there is in an aversion to lentils. But is there? Agoraphobia has been said to constitute the most disabling of all phobias. Once we acknowledge that the spaces which bring it on are not just topographically open but public, a social as well as a physical expanse, we may begin to think that there is a great deal in them to disable. From the outset, agoraphobia has been regarded by some commentators as an entirely proportionate response to the escalating dangers of modern life. In 1889, in an angry critique of modern urban planning, the Viennese architect Camillo Sitte put the outbreak of an epidemic of agoraphobia down to the emptiness and vast extent of the spaces carved out by ‘modern thoroughfares’ such as the Ringstrasse. Sitte lamented the decay or destruction of ancient town centres which held panic at bay by means of irregularity, curvature and the balance of masses. More recently, a connection has been made between Westphal’s account of agoraphobia and the analyses of modern alienation undertaken by Georg Simmel, Siegfried Kracauer and Walter Benjamin. These analyses restore a certain proportion between stimulus and response. In them, agoraphobia disappears as a category. It is the environment that must be held responsible for causing panic, not individual perversity. The wonder now is not that some of us sometimes can’t step out through the front door, but that any of us ever do.

It is worth noting, however, that 19th-century psychiatry found in agoraphobia exactly the same disproportion between stimulus and response as it found in the other, apparently more frivolous phobias. Knowing that the open public space holds no terrors for other people, the agoraphobic person makes their untroubled progress across it into an enclave. He or she moves out into the void behind a vehicle, or in the centre of a group. Agoraphobes behave like small children, Freud complained: all we have to do to relieve them of their anxiety is to accompany them across the square. But one might also want to say, from a different perspective, that agoraphobes know how to put their disproportionate feelings of panic to good use. One of Westphal’s patients, a priest, experienced an overwhelming anxiety whenever he had to leave the protection of the vaulted roof of his church, but was able to walk in the open beneath an umbrella. A more interesting case, widely circulated in the literature, concerns a cavalry officer who was unable to cross open spaces when dressed as a civilian, but did so with ease when in uniform or on horseback. Here, it is not companionship but performance that saves the agoraphobe from his anxiety. Putting on a show, one accompanies oneself across the open space. The phobic person has learned that incapacity is not the same thing as non-existence, although it often feels like it.

Paul Carter would probably count himself among those who consider agoraphobia a proportionate response to the escalating dangers of modern life. In his view, the anxiety it articulates is collective and realistic. But he insists that any attempt to grasp its cultural significance must start from the fact that it is primarily, as the psychiatric literature amply demonstrates, a movement inhibition. Agoraphobes find themselves unable to enter, or comfortably traverse, a terrain apprehended as an abyss. For them, ‘seeing is no longer connected to moving.’ Carter gives short shrift to the Freudian view that agoraphobia is a fear not so much of the street as of the opportunities for seduction that the street offers; and to the sociological argument that its root cause is the deplorable state of urban design and regulation. We miss the point, he says, if we regard the disorder as ‘a symptom of something else’.

Reproving though he is of ‘soul doctors’ and city doctors alike, Carter nonetheless incorporates their respective methodologies into his own. There is repression in agoraphobia, he claims, but the feelings repressed are the product of an environmental unconscious: an ‘other “other” scene’, at once collective and historical, beyond what has customarily been the subject of psychoanalytic enquiry. This other ‘other’ scene is the agora as it once was in history and myth, and as it might yet become: a place of assembly, encounter and utterance; a place where people are driven together, and apart; and also a time, a (to be) remembered convergence of ‘ideal paths’. The Fall came in Paris in the 1860s, when Baron Haussmann drove his boulevards through this convergence. Since then, across the world, modernity has imposed its abstraction on the other other scene: its orbital roads, its monuments and vistas, its computerised flow of vehicles (traffic signals are said to date from 1905).

In Carter’s view, as in Camillo Sitte’s, agoraphobia is an anxiety associated with the ‘new species of non-place’: ‘Where the sensation of movement is negated by such spatial qualities as immensity, symmetry and lack of orientation, panic attends the act of putting one foot in front of another.’ The agoraphobe, unable altogether to repress a memory of the trajectories ruled out by the new species of non-place, sees in it only their terrifying absence, only the void, and cannot move. ‘The focus of her anxiety,’ Carter adds, in an attempt to distance himself from Sitte’s antiquarianism, ‘is not a lost topography as such, but the assumption of tracklessness.’

I can’t be altogether sure that I’ve done justice to Carter’s main hypothesis. His book is as mazy as the ‘environmental unconscious’ it seeks to excavate and restore. It circles back on itself repeatedly, advancing in a single direction at each turn, but always by means of new and often far-flung lines of enquiry, and fresh evidence drawn from European cultural production in the period from 1870 to 1939. Sitte and Freud are the theorists whose work is most consistently at issue, the latter hailed, on the basis of a report by Theodor Reik, as a closet agoraphobe. But Freud and Sitte are in good and plentiful company here, and it would be easier to list the Modernist sages left out (Ford, for one) than it would those included. The breadth of reference (‘Yet here I am reminded of . . .’) is admirable, the commentary a little hit-and-miss. There are, for example, some brilliant pages on the colonial survey as a form of Haussmannisation – Carter has written extensively about the Australian literature of discovery, exploration and settlement – while Rilke, Le Corbusier and Giacometti are among several thought-provoking additions to the panic encyclopedia. By contrast, the discussion of German ‘street films’ of the 1920s and 1930s is narrow and derivative.

More insidious, perhaps, is the pressure exerted on Carter’s method of enquiry by his determination to produce a ‘poetics’ of agoraphobia. This manifests itself in his characterisation of the disorder not only as a realistic anxiety, but as in some measure ‘critical’, and even redemptive. The agoraphobe stands ‘at a dissident angle to the orthodoxy which identifies stability (mental, political and architectural) with stasis’. He or she is ‘the one who bears witness to the invisible topography of relations, lost or bypassed or still potential’. The poetics of such dissidence should define and encourage a ‘practice of place-making’ that will put people ‘back in touch’ with the ‘environmental unconscious’.

At this point, the book ceases to be a cultural history of agoraphobia understood as ‘place-making anxiety’, and becomes instead a cultural history (and an example) of the post-Romantic aspiration to renew acquaintance with the world by diagnostic-redemptive wanderings in mind and body. As such, it seems fairly predictable. Among those asked to bear witness to a lost topography are the figure of the agoraios (or ‘hanger-out in marketplaces’), a sufferer from manie des voyages, Rilke’s Malte Laurids Brigge, Walter Benjamin in search of prostitutes, and the storytellers at a roadside assembly in West Virginia. These have their interest. But it is only with great difficulty that some of them can be recruited to the cause of the environmental unconscious (Benjamin, for example, by a highly selective reading of a passage from ‘A Berlin Chronicle’).

What of identifiably agoraphobic Ford Madox Ford? It’s safe to say that he didn’t propose to put people back in touch with the environmental unconscious. But he did make productive use, in his work if not in his life, of agoraphobia’s specificity: the disproportion within it between stimulus and response. In Some Do Not . . ., the first volume of Parade’s End, phobia is one of the various ways in which the two main characters think about and move edgily towards each other. Christopher Tietjens goes for a walk in the country with Valentine Wannop, the young woman for whom, at some point between volumes three and four, he will eventually leave his wife. The path down which they have wandered ends at a stile, with a road beyond. Tietjens, a man of encyclopedic knowledge and almost sublime disinterestedness, falls into a panic. Empty roads terrify him: when told that the next stile lies fifty yards away, he loses his nerve, and breaks into a run, pursued indulgently by Valentine. As they scuttle down the road, they are overtaken by a horse and cart containing Mrs Wannop and an aged retainer. Tietjens’s panic subsides in a display of practical knowledge concerning horses and carts so profound that the aged retainer immediately acknowledges him as ‘quality’.

Valentine knows him, then, or begins to fall in love with him, through the medium of his panic (‘That’s a phobia, like any woman’s’), and of the compensatory assertiveness it generates (‘The feudal system all complete . . .’). Like the cavalry officer who could cross open spaces only when in uniform or on horseback, Tietjens has found a performance that will enable him to outmanoeuvre his anxiety.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.