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Changing, Always Themselves
makes cities endure? By Robert Wojtowicz
SEDUCTION OF PLACE: The City in the Twenty-first Century
Joseph Rykwert, Emeritus Faculty.
York: Pantheon Books, 2000. 283
of this spring, the Thames South Bank is dominated by a 500-foot
Ferris wheel known as the London Eye. Visitors who withstand the long
queue can marvel at its daring engineeringcantilevered over a bend
in the river, it resembles a colossal bicycle wheel balanced on extraordinarily
thin spokeseven as they are reminded that the entire spectacle is sponsored
by British Airways. Nearby, the galleries of the Tate Modern, housed
in the soaring spaces of a converted prewar power plant, are packed
to overflowing with art lovers, shoppers, diners, and the merely curious.
The reconstructed Globe Theatre, less than 100 yards downstream and
humble by comparison, nevertheless holds its own in this rather astonishing
architectural parade that culminates in the now-closed but still audacious
Millennium Dome in Greenwich. New monuments are not confined to South
London, however. The British Museums central courtyard is now covered
by a sparkling glass skylight, a new British Library has risen in a
previously forlorn tract by Kings Cross Station, and a new museum complex
has been carved from the old Somerset House, a handsome neoclassical
complex overlooking the north bank of the Thame.
is the spiffy new London of Bridget Jones. Traffic is heavy, the Underground
unreliable, the food international, and cell phones ubiquitous. Starbucks
has joined McDonalds on virtually every street corner. The titles on
West End theatre marquees are virtually interchangeable with those of
Broadway or even Toronto. Peer into a small crooked alley, however,
and the old timeworn London of Samuel Pepys may still be seen: the whimsical
spire of a church by Christopher Wren or a half-timbered fa┴ade that
miraculously escaped the Great Fire of 1666. The sober 18th-century
townhouses of Bloomsbury today look much as they did when Virginia Woolf
resided there in the early 20th century. To paraphrase an old maxim,
one might say that the more London is globalized, the more it remains
How cities maintain their
identity in the face of breakneck change is the subject of Joseph Rykwerts
thought-provoking book, The Seduction of Place. Rykwert, the
Paul Cret Professor of Architecture Emeritus in the Graduate School
of Fine Arts, brings to his study a considerable knowledge of architectural
and urban history and direct observation of the worlds leading cities,
including London and New York, where he divides his residence, as well
as Paris, Moscow, Beijing, and Mexico City. If anything, he errs on
the side of brevity for a subject of such magnitude. The book is divided
into an introduction followed by eight pithy chapters, a generous bibliography,
and a useful index. Although this is a book intended for a general audience,
Rykwert presupposes that the reader has at least a passing acquaintance
with Robert Owen, Ebenezer Howard, and Le Corbusier, among other shapers
of the modern city. Themes are presented, juxtaposed, and revisited,
but inevitably, he poses more questions than he answers.
The term place,
Rykwert argues, is much more useful than the oft-used space.
A place has an identity and a meaning to the people who are drawn
to it. A space is empty, void of meaning, forgettable or even
interchangeable. Impalpable forces, he maintains, guide the development
of cities just as surely as the real estate market or a shift in political
leadership: [T]he city did not grow, as the economists taught, by quasi-natural
laws, but was a willed artifact, a human construct in which many conscious
and unconscious factors played their part. It appeared to have some
of the interplay of the conscious or unconscious that we find in dreams.
A witness and critic of the worst excesses of postwar modernismisolated
skyscrapers, highway interchanges, suburban sprawlRykwert is nonetheless
dissatisfied more recently by postmodernism and its purported remedies.
To him, the grafting of ornament on to an office building does not make
it an inherently better structure. For all of their stylistic charms
and higher densities, New Urbanism towns, since they are founded on
the same speculative model as ordinary residential subdivisions, are
not inherently better communities.
Rykwert first defines
the problems facing contemporary cities by exploring the historical
circumstances of their development. His analysis, although it touches
on prehistoric and ancient settlements, really begins in the modern
era, broadly defined as post-1600. He spends considerable time analyzing
the impact of agricultural reforms and the roots of the Industrial Revolution.
The history Rykwert outlines is familiar, but it is given a new twist
by such observations as that the conveyor beltand not the steam engineis
the essential device of the Industrial Revolution.
A chapter, wryly titled
First Aid, surveys the wide range of ideal settlements, ranging from
actual colonial outposts like William Penns Philadelphia to imaginary
building complexes like Charles Fouriers phalansteries, which in turn
became the basis for many later community-planning initiatives. Another
chapter on the ever-shifting meanings of style in 19th- and 20th-century
architecture captures both the early intensity of the professional debate
and its rapid devolution as functional concerns become paramount for
such unprecedented building types as skyscrapers. In other sections,
Rykwert analyzes government buildings, world capitals, theme parks,
and even virtual reality.
The books penultimate
chapter presents New York as the de facto capital of the world, when
in fact it has no political claim on that title other than as the headquarters
of the United Nations. Yet, despite his rich historical and architectural
analysis of this particular place, Rykwert never quite explains how
or why New York has managed to seduce him so completely.
of the new millennium? Rykwert sees great promise in the activities
of non-government organizations (NGOs), such as the international agency
to ban land mines, so long as they are able to make the effective transition
from protest to project. And, despite his disdain for New Urbanism,
Rykwert finds great merit in the charette processwhereby community
input is sought at the beginning design stagespromoted by many of its
practitioners. Architects, too, must regain some control over the design
what of the London Eye? Rykwert deems it an intrusion, but like other
temporary landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, it will undoubtedly remain
for some time, casting its gaze over a city whose seductive elements,
both old and new, can never be exactly replicated.
architects primary duty, his true art, is to give form to
the way in which the building works. To make it work is, often, not
all that difficult; but to make legible form out of the working, that
is the secret of his craft and skill. That and his ability to manipulate
and govern the metaphoric intensity of those forms so that some of
the charge that the artist or architect puts into it, the spectator
may take out.
Wojtowicz C83 G83 Gr90 is associate professor of art history and
chair of the art department at Old Dominion University.
Stories, Emblematic Lives
poets spareand unsparingaccount of family life. By Beth Kephart
My Mother, My Father, Myself
By C.K. Williams C59.
York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2001. 176
pp., $12.00 (paperback).
her classic memoir, An American Childhood, Annie Dillard
recounts the life she lived with an astonishing accretionary style.
About her 10th year, it seems, she remembers everythingthe books she
read to delirium and her youthful assessments (Native Son
was good, Walden was pretty good, The Interpretation of Dreams
was okay, and The Education of Henry Adams was awful.); the
rocks she collected and the lines they drew (yellow pyrite drew a black
streak, black limonite drew a yellow streak); even the faces of perfect
strangers seen but fleetingly, seen once (A linen-suited woman in her
fifties did meet my exultant eye.) Even as a child, Dillard felt the
need to trap and rememberto record her life so that it wouldnt elude
her, so that what she had lived would be eternally webbed to whom she
There are many ways to draw
a life, many galleries of meaning, and if Dillards memoir celebrates
the patiently accumulated detail, C.K. Williams autobiographical meditation
Misgivings: My Mother, My Father, Myself offers the exquisite
antipode: an exploration of the spaces between the many unnamed things
that happen. There are no dates, no proper nouns, no specific locales
divulged in Misgivings. There are no exhaustive reading lists,
no revivals of perfect strangers, no cataloguing of seasons or events,
no maps drawn out of childhood homes, no allegiance to chronology. There
isnt, even, a narrative arc.
The dynamic here is that
of memory and forgiveness, the way each acts upon the other to both
restore and shatter. The plot is that of a man coming to terms with
the parents that he hadthe ways he loved them, the ways he did not,
the ways he was shaped by who they were. Misgivings is construed
out of essences and fragments, out of slips of remembered dialogue.
My father dead, I come into the room where he lies and I say aloud,
immediately concerned that he might still be able to hear me, What
a war we had! the book begins. To my fathers body I say it, still
propped up on its pillows, before the men from the funeral home arrive
to put him into their horrid zippered green bag to take him away, before
his night table is cleared of the empty bottles of pills he wolfed down
when hed finally been allowed to end the indignity of his suffering,
and had found the means to do it. Before my mother comes in to lie down
When my mother dies, Ill
say to her, as unexpectedly, knowing as little that Im going to, I
What do those first utterances
of grief convey? What part of whose history do they reflect? What pain,
betrayal, affection, hope will be diminished now that the parents are
gone, and what will grow up in their absence? These are Williams questions,
the frame for the pages that follow, and in his quest to understand,
Williams disturbs but a few bare bones from the pastlays them out,
returns to them, turns them over and over in his meticulous archaeologists
Williams recalls: His fathers
determination to never say that he was sorry. His mothers accusation,
directed to the father, You used to be such a nice man. The day his
unusually tall father sat astride a too-small horse. The lines the father
doled out to Williams himself, We were kids together, you and I, but
also, Youre a bastard, just like your mother. Williams recalls as
well the discovery of the possibility that his father, dirt poor in
the Depression, a proud financial success later on, might have liked
to have been a poet, might have chosen another lifethe very life his
eldest, brilliant, long-suffering son found a way to live.
Im speaking of my parents
as though they were emblematic of something, Williams confides to the
reader early on, as though there were some aura of meaning about them
that transcended the small storiesand I realize they are small storiesthat
contain them. But all parents are emblematic, Williams argues. And
all children look for meaning. His personal tale is a universal one.
His consciousness acts upon ours.
An impeccable poet whose
work has been awarded almost every conceivable honor, including, last
spring, the Pulitzer Prize, Williams has traveled fearlessly into confounding
literary territory for more than 40 years. He has told stories with
his poems, shocking stories. He has been merciless with the truth and,
always, merciless with himself, and here, with Misgivings, hes
just as shocking, just as truthful. (In May, the book received the PEN/Martha
Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir.)
He does not back away from
what he finds, does not hesitate to reveal the darker side of the legacy
he inherited: I have my mothers tendency to brood on causes, her passion
to find reason, and, though I dont like having to say so, her need
to lay blame, Williams writes. From my father the urge to despise
and dismiss anything that doesnt meet my expectations.
And yet the
brutal honesty of Williams autobiographical meditations does not negate
the love he ultimately and so gorgeously finds for his parents, and
between his parents, and among the three of them. Love is behind every
word of this book. Love and Williams final faith in it. For perhaps,
as Williams writes, as the story nears its end, We complete those we
love, fulfill their finally unchanging essence, when theyre gone from
us, when we take into ourselves those portions of them still available
to us, to acknowledge them more perfectly, more purely, and do homage
to the fugitive, protean forms of love of, and love from.
Kephart C82 is the author of the memoirs A Slant of Sun and
Into The Tangle of Friendship. She is working on a book about
selection of recent books by alumni and faculty, or otherwise of interest
to the University community. Descriptions are compiled from information
supplied by the authors and publishers.
AND DEGENERATION: Tropes of Reproduction in Literature and History from
Antiquity to Early Modern Europe
by Valeria Finucci and Kevin Brownlee, Faculty.
Duke University Press, 2001.
327 pp., $21.95
(paper); $64.95 (cloth).
explores the construction of genealogies in both the biological sense
of procreation and the metaphorical sense of heritage and cultural patrimony.
Focusing specifically on the discourses that inform such genealogies,
this book moves from Greco-Roman times to the recent past to retrace
generational fantasies and discords in a variety of related contexts,
from the medical to the theological, from the literary to the historical.
The discourses on reproduction, biology, degeneration, legacy, and lineage
that this book broaches not only bring to the forefront concepts of
sexual identity and gender politics but also show how they were culturally
constructed and reconstructed through the centuries by medicine, philosophy,
the visual arts, law, religion, and literature. Contributors reflect
on an array of topics, such as what makes men manly, the identity of
Christs father, and early writings on the presumed inferiority of female
bodily functions. Brownlee is a professor of French and Italian and
the author of Poetic Identity in Guillaume de Machau.
IN THE CITY OF THE BLUES:
Sickle Cell Anemia and the Politics of Race and Health
Wailoo G89 Gr92.
The University of North Carolina Press, 2001. 360 pp., $16.95.
Set in Memphis,
home of one of the nations first sickle-cell clinics, this book reveals
how the recognition, treatment, social understanding, and symbolism
of the disease evolved in the 20th century, shaped by the politics of
race, region, health care, and biomedicine. Using medical journals,
patients accounts, black newspapers, blues lyrics, and other sources,
Keith Wailoo follows the disease and its sufferers from the early days
of obscurity before sickle cells discovery by Western medicine; through
its rise to clinical, scientific, and social prominence in the 1950s;
to its politicization in the 1970s and 1980s. Looking forward, he considers
the consequences of managed care on the politics of disease in the 21st
century. Wailoo is professor of social medicine and history at the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The author of Drawing Blood: Technology
and Disease Identity in Twentieth-Century America, he received the
James S. McDonnell Centennial Fellowship in the History of Science in
The Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures
of a Good Girl Gone Broke
New York: Villard,
2001. 224 pp., $9.95.
financially to put herself through college, Angela Nissel decided to
chronicle her day-to-day trials and tribulations in an online journal.
Leaving nothing to the imagination, her diary covered a variety of topics,
including scamming for free textbooks, dating a chicken farmer just
to get a free rotisserie chicken dinner, and entertaining herself at
a free, open-mike poetry reading. Before she knew it, Nissel had a loyal
following of readers who identified with her plight and began to share
their own experiences and stories. Two years after placing her first
journal entry on her homepage, Nissel received an unexpected message
from Villard, a division of Random House. The publisher loved her writings
and wanted to turn her diary into a book. No longer broke, Nissel is
co-owner and site manager for Okayplayer.com, an online community that
houses sites of several hip-hop and soul music artists. She is also
working with The Boondocks comic strip creator Aaron McGruder
and director Reginald Hudlin to adapt a feature script based loosely
on her book.
ZEBRA-STRIPED WHALE WITH THE POLKA-DOT TAIL
art by Shari Faden Donahue C79.
Crossing, Pa.: Arimax, Inc., 2001. 43 pp., $18.00.
whale with a polka-dot tail and a pink and purple octopus igniting
our trail lead readers on an imaginative journey to a place where all
trues are false and all falses are true. Shari Faden Donahue was inspired
to write this childrens book in honor of her father, Leon Leigh Faden,
who suddenly died in 1990. Though the entire verse emerged in a few
days, she spent almost a decade creating illustrations from a wide variety
of elements, including fabric, paper, cellophane, paint, clay and other
dimensional materials. She founded her own publishing company and has
written several titles, including Celebrate Hanukkah with Me,
My Favorite Family Haggadah, and Phillys Favorites Recipe
Conn.: Renegade Books, 2001. 176 pp., $10.95.
Steve Perry writes in his foreword, is not an autobiography, but I
have bumped into its characters many times. Written while he was a
graduate student at the School of Social Work, this book was born out
of the lives of his former students from the citys Mantua section.
Set in 1980s Philadelphia this novel combines their stories to create
a realistic portrayal of self-discovery as well as falling in and out
of love. Perry is currently the director of a youth program that he
once attended. He has previously served as director of a homeless shelter,
worked for U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, been a candidate for state
representative, an adjunct professor, and served on numerous regional
and local non-profit boards. He has also received several state and
regional awards for causes ranging from promoting educational access
for low-income students to fighting all forms of sexual violence.
STAND OF THE TALLGRASS PRAIRIE
Larrabee and John Altman C68.
New York: Friedman/Fairfax
Publishers, 2001.144 pp., $24.95.
prairie, which once stretched all across the heart of the continent,
is today the most endangered ecosystem in North America, with less than
five percent remaining. Yet these native grasslands
provide home for a diverse range of plants and animals, are integral
to the production of fresh air, and played a vital role in our history.
Through contemporary photographs and archival pieces, this illustrated
journey into the grasses portrays both the beauty of the natural landscape
and its importance
in the lives of the people who settled there. It is the companion book
to a documentary film by the same name which aired on PBS in April.
Altman has written, directed, and produced more than two dozen documentary
LADY TASTING TEA:
How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century
New York: W.H.
Freeman and Company, 2001. 340 pp., $23.95.
a time, in the infancy of science, when great men and women used some
form of experimentation and calculation to estimate the validity of
their hypothesis, yet there was no way to determine with any real precision
whether a so-called proven hypothesis was actually proven at all. Enter
the statistical model of reality, which took a foothold in the early
20th century and revolutionized the sciences. David Salsburg, a retired
pharmaceutical company statistician, tells about the statistical revolution
through the stories of some of the people who shaped the field. A former
senior research fellow at Pfizer, the author has taught at Penn, Harvard,
Connecticut College, the University of Connecticut, Rhode Island College,
and Trinity College.
OF A LUCKY LAWYER
Pa.: Infinity Publishing.com, 2000. 216 pp., $14.95.
Born in 1908,
the child of immigrants, the author recalls incidents from childhood,
his early education and college years, law school, the Great Depression,
the World War II era, his first job, and the founding of the firm where
he became senior partner. He also details some of the cases from his
65-year legal career, including the one concerning the only existing
replicas of the British Crown jewels and Coronation chair, and the formation
of the worlds first supermarket. Schachtel is a retired Philadelphia
civil lawyer and has served as president of various civic organizations,
devoting many years to the betterment of underprivileged children.
DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA
New York: Avon
Heights, N.J., a quaint coastal community that prides itself on its
piety, the residents shudder at word of the newest fad among local teens:
devil worship. Despite rumors that Old Scratch himself has appeared
at their beachside revels, the kids late-night antics seem more ditsy
than dangerousuntil ghostwriter Anne Hardaway happens upon the corpse
of young, would-be witch, Abby Podowski. Anne doesnt want to touch
this case. But when the prime murder suspectan apprentice witch and
grandniece of an elderly friend disappears, Anne is pulled into an
eerie, arcane world of black magic. Beth Sherman, the author of four
Jersey Shore mysteries, is a writer, editor, and playwright whose columns
appear regularly in Newsday.
issue's reviews | Reviews in Brief | July/August
Contents | Gazette Home
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