A skyscraper of words—literary, journalistic, poetic, and prosaic—to celebrate and chronicle teeming Gotham.
The title alludes to Walter Benjamin, and the conceit is one to do him proud: a fat book made up of nothing but quotations in collagelike conversation with one another, all having to do with New York. Here, in conceptual artist/poet Goldsmith’s (Seven American Deaths and Disasters, 2013, etc.) arrangement, for example, are three quotations in a row: “New York is not and will not be Paris.” “Gertrude Stein: ‘Paris was where the twentieth century was.’ ” “Manhattan is a counter-Paris, an anti-London.” So is New York Paris’ semblable and frère? Is it the City of Something Else to the City of Lights? This is where a knowing commentator might do a little sorting out—but these quotations come without editorial intervention, and the conversational thread or thrust is therefore not always evident. Not that that’s always a bad thing: Goldsmith opens with evocations of New York as “dream city,” and in those dreams, food, animals, and open spaces often figure in no apparent order: “A Good Humor bar gooily obstructing Park Avenue.” “Dogs wag their tails up and down instead of sideways in the Flatiron Building.” “What is a ship, in fact, but a great skyscraper turned upon its side and set free?” Prostitution, advertising, art, music, dirt, transportation, civil unrest: all this and more figure in these overstuffed pages. For all its cleverness, a little goes a long way—and there’s way more than a little to reckon with in the 900 pages Goldsmith has assembled. There are also curious lacunae and many missing or underused voices: Kazan, Sontag, Ferlinghetti, Melville, Grogan….Still, there’s already an embarrassment of riches here, so much so that one hopes a collagist across the water is pulling together a complementary volume for Paris.
Big Apple–phile collectors will want to have this, of course, but it helps to think of it as more of an art installation than a book.