Marshall Berman, urban theorist and Marxist cultural critic, was known for his lyrical defence of modernism, his love affair with Times Square, his writing on everything from gentrification to 60s counter-culture, and his groundbreaking work on modernity, All That Is Solid Melts into Air.
Completed just before his death in 2013, Modernism in the Streets: A Life and Times in Essays, is Berman’s intellectual autobiography; including early essays on the radical ’60s, New York City, literary figures from Kafka to Pamuk, and lateR essays on rock, hip hop, and gentrification. This book, along with all our books by Marshall Berman, are 40% off until April 29.
This essay was delivered as a talk at “Modernism in the Streets: Theory, Practice, and the Marshall Berman Archives”, on March 28, at Columbia University.
I will began by talking about Marshall as a political theorist, but my real subject is how he became something else—and, I am inclined to think, something better.
This piece originally appeared in Jacobin. Modernism in the Streets and all available books by Marshall Berman are 40% off until Saturday April 29th at midnight UTC. Click here to activate your 40% discount.
In the early 1990s, when I first met Marshall Berman, he told me he was working on a book called Living for the City — “after the Stevie Wonder song.”
Who walks alone in the streets at night? The sad, the mad, the bad. The lost, the lonely. The hypomanic, the catatonic. The sleepless, the homeless. All the city's internal exiles.
“Cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night,” wrote the poet Rupert Brooke. If nightwalking is a matter of “going astray” in the streets of the metropolis after dark, then nightwalkers represent some of the most suggestive and revealing guides to the neglected and forgotten aspects of the city.
Out this month by Matthew Beaumont, Nightwalking - a nocturnal history of walking in London - shines a light on the shadowy perambulations of poets, novelists and thinkers: Chaucer and Shakespeare; William Blake, the supreme nightwalker Charles Dickens; and many more. Walking in the city is revealed as a place divided between work and pleasure, the affluent and the indigent, where the entitled and the desperate jostle in the streets.
Now out in paperback is one of our bestsellers - A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros. In this book he charts the many different ways we get from A to B — the pilgrimage, the promenade, the protest march, the nature ramble — and reveals what they say about us.
Also out in paperback this month is The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International by McKenzie Wark. “If I read a more entertaining and thought-provoking work on cultural phenomena this year, I will be, frankly, astonished” said Nick Lezard in his Guardian review of the book. We agree. Re-reading the group’s history in the light of our contemporary experience of communications, architecture, and everyday life, shaping situationist psychology among urban explorers for the eventuality of the situationist city.
Inspired by these brilliant, newly published books, we present Verso's updated guide to political walking - after all, there's no such thing as a good walk unless your nose is firmly stuck in a book.
Political theorist, professor, and Verso author Marshall Berman passed away on 11 September 2013 at the age of 72.
A life long New Yorker and analytical and humanist Marxist, Berman was heavily critical of the destructive effects of modernity on New York City's urban landscape. Yet, he remained hopeful that the conditions of modernity created possibilities for creative everyday resistance.