This phrase from Shelley's Adonais is a route into the concept of Rome as a palimpsest, more evocative in its four overlapping terms than Freud's famous image which compares the city to the human mind 'an entity, that is to say, in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the latest one.' Shelley's words suggest the different ways , surely many more than merely four, in which the physical fabric of the city might be read, above all the city which remains a fundamental locus of European culture.
The pattern which can be read in its monuments, as forensic clues in some vast site of investigation, tie events across time to provide the matrix through which urban representation occurs. My paper will explore the city through the narratives which have animated its spaces in fact and fiction, or in the grey zone which includes both those realities. Rome as image of the city is as pervasive as the image of Rome, and therefore the readings of Rome stand proxy for many of the manifestations of the contemporary urban condition.
The above text is the abstract of my keynote paper at the forthcoming University of Warwick conference THE POSTMODERN PALIMPSEST: NARRATING CONTEMPORARY ROME