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The Missing Text

Part 1 Dissertation 2002
Dave Knight
University of East London London | UK
The intention of this piece of writing is to uncover the complex layering of stories and history in a slice of London: a north-to-south walk from Fitzroy Square to Old Compton Street.

I present these stories as fragments.

Fragments are the hooks on which famous things might have been hung.

When a place no longer exists, it actually still does in a fragmentary sense: fragments of re-used stone, traces on the ground, fragments of decoration or foundation, of text, image, memory, reminisce, storytelling and imagination. The entirety is no longer here. But fragments of it often remain, left by chance in the present.

And by limiting a study of a place to fragments, our minds fill in the rest. Storytelling and imagination are given priority.

My work takes the form of a catalogue of individual fragments and the stories they trigger. These stories, and my story, form connections, relationships, and a more-complex, non-chronological reading of the history of these streets.

Dave Knight

When Iain Sinclair sees a weaver's bobbin hanging from the old synagogue on Princelet Street he imagines that it once held a roll of script, and calls the bobbin a 'memento for a missing text'. Hidden in a cavity in the pages of an old book, we find Dave Knight's 'missing text', a jewel-like piece of writing, polished, almost perfect, that writes the stories of the past inhabitants of Fitzrovia and Soho through the material traces they have left behind.

Dave constructs his text through a series of photographs of architectural 'fragments' that act for him as mementoes of past events; the two hooks between the signs 'London' and 'Foot' on the London Foot Hospital that may have held the Omega Workshop's sign (and the patch of render that suggests a repair after a removal) or the freshly painted railings where Nina Hamnett once plunged to her death. Each fragment, each sign of change, triggers an imaginary scene amongst the artists, writers, and Bohemians who have made this part of London their own during the last century. But Dave also reveals that this 'missing text' is itself only a brilliantly edited, partial fragment of his own extensive research, to which we are referred back; sketches, flyers, book jackets, other texts, a beer-stained page all layered into the leaves of the book. The process of reading Dave's text mirrors his reading of the city, as we peel back layers, cross reference, find our own connections. The writing is witty and sometimes intensely moving, and we never read it the same way twice.

Much has been said about alternative ways of writing the city through its inhabitation and multiple histories (and this was the subject of the seminars that supported this piece of work). But with an architect's eye for detail, and a writer's skill with words, Dave demonstrates his command of these issues, and accomplishes what is often theorised but rarely so beautifully carried out.

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