Introduction

THIS IS not a book about cities. This book deals with writing about cities. I am concerned with how individuals in fact portray the city and how they make use of the social and literary traditions they find pertinent. In other words, I want to discuss how writers domesticate the "otherness" of the metropolis and why they are impelled to do so. Specifically, I focus on Jacob A. Riis, Lewis Mumford, James T. Farrell, and Paul Goodman, four American thinkers whose works are almost wholly given over to discussion about the desirable city and its community. Reading their meditations, one is invariably struck by what urban historians neglect. Re-presenting the city in terms of their own personal and intellectual loyalties, these four writers remind us that writing mediates the urban environment, that rhetoric interprets the metropolis and comes to stand for it, if not in its place.

Riis, Mumford, Farrell, and Goodman are bound together in a number of ways. Bracketing the development of the twentieth-century American metropolis, they pose similar questions, share a common method of writing, and affirm the value of the authentic city for national life. They contend that the city transcends its material character; for them the city is, in part, the humanizing imagination it transmits. Modern America has produced few other writers who were as intent upon depicting the significance of the city in these ways.1


II

Riis, Mumford, Farrell, and Goodman span the history of modern urban development and its struggle for an adequate descriptive language, from the 1890s (the beginning of the epoch in which the city became an indisputable challenge for American life and letters) to the 1970s (a time in which the city was accepted as a commanding, if not the dominating aspect of American civilization). The writings of these men sweep across these decades, presenting a city and a literature unlike those composed by and

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Makers of the City
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter 1- Jacob A. Riis: The City As Christian Fraternity 10
  • Chapter 2- Lewis Mumford: The City as Man 64
  • Chapter 3- James T. Farrell: The City As Society 119
  • Chapter 4- Paul Goodman: The City as Self 159
  • Epilogue 207
  • Notes 211
  • Bibliographical Notes 231
  • Index 237
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