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.”
Marshall Berman was one of the great urbanists and Marxist cultural critics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and his ground-breaking book All That Is Solid Melts Into Air is a masterpiece of the literature on modernism.
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.
To celebrate the publication of this brilliant new book, compiled posthumously by Dissent and Nation editor David Marcus and Berman's widow, Shellie Sclan, we have 40% off all Berman's books until April 29 (midnight UTC). Click here to access the discount!
The frequency and scale of the spectacular fires that consumed much of the South Bronx and other areas of New York City throughout the 1970s can in large part be blamed on the recommendations for fire service reduction made by the New York City-RAND Institute and HUD between 1969 and 1976. In 1973, urban epidemiologists Deborah Wallace and Rodrick Wallace got access to Rand's fire service reports. Immediately recognizing the flimsy pseudoscience that undergirded their claims, they began to write and campaign against the station closures and the other policies based on Rand recommendations.
"By 1978," the Wallaces write in their introduction to A Plague on Your Houses: How New York Was Burned Down and National Public Health Crumbled (published by Verso in 1998), "we discovered that the Rand-recommended fire service cuts had triggered an epidemic of building fires and heated up a related epidemic of building abandonment. We submitted a grant proposal to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to assess public health outcomes of this massive destruction of housing in New York's poor neighborhoods. The NIH did not even review our proposal. That research plan, carried out over a period of fifteen years without federal funding, resulted in this book."
In the excerpt below, Wallace and Wallace situate the development of Rand's recommendations in the context of the deliberate de-industrialization of New York undertaken by federal and state officials.
John Fekner, Charlotte Street Stencils, South Bronx, NY 1980. via Wikimedia Commons.
Daniel P. Moynihan and Benign Neglect
Not an arsonist at first glance, Daniel Patrick Moynihan burned down poor neighborhoods in cities across the country as surely as if he had doused them in kerosene and put a match to them.