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Is There Such Thing As An 'Outsider' In London?

Kyra Hanson
By Kyra Hanson Last edited 9 months ago

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Is There Such Thing As An 'Outsider' In London?
London: a city of outsiders
Photo: James Beard (2015) From the Londonist Flickr Pool

In cities like Paris, Berlin and Mexico City the nature of 'belonging' is well defined. In London you have the whole world crammed into a city. This is the view of writer SJ Fowler, who suggests that in London there are few outsiders, purely because everyone is an outsider.

Despite growing up in Devon and curating over 150 events in 18 countries Fowler feels most at home in London. His latest event Global Cities, created for the London Literature Festival, suggests that London is a city shaped by those who venture here.

"Ian Sinclair, the absolute archetype of a Londoner is actually Welsh," says Fowler, "yet he's more rooted in defining contemporary, artistic and literary ideas about London than nearly anyone else."  

In Fowler's experience, the only way you can become an outsider is to make yourself one. "That feeling," he says, "can only relate to how that person defines the insider, so it's always about perception."

But what of the crucial aspect of language? What if English is only your second, or third, or fourth language? Doesn't that make you an outsider in London? "It's a paradoxical advantage if you come to London and you speak English," says Fowler, "you're not really speaking 'Englishness', you're speaking the world language.

"You're learning the way to speak to someone from Serbia, Japan, China."

Personally, Fowler can't resist the allure of Polish shops and likens walking down a London street to travelling. "Growing up in Devon might be the reason why when I'm walking down a street and see a Polish shop I go in and talk to the person."

"It's like being surrounded by growth, different cultures, different backgrounds, different childhoods, different languages, different approaches to thinking."

On 9 October Steven J Fowler comperes a discussion with writers Iain Sinclair, Jana Putrle Srdic, Livia Franchini and Karlis Verdins about London from from an outsiders/insiders perspective. Global City London Inside Out is part of London Literature Festival at The Southbank Centre.


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Last Updated 01 July 2016

James Guppy

"the only way you can become an outsider is to make yourself one"
The only way? I sniff a rather glib generalisation...