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Downloadable Lost New York

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Thumbnail image for lost_new_york_cover.jpgThe Fales Library exhibition that accompanied our recent Lost New York conference will remain on view through November 6. If you're in the area, stop by the Bobst Library (Washington Square South at LaGuardia Place), tell the security desk that you're going to Fales, and head up to the third floor. It's a wonderful exhibit. You can read more about it in this post from earlier in the month.

While you're there you can pick up the volume essays that accompanies the exhibit -- not exactly a catalog, the volume takes both the exhibit and the conference theme as a point of departure.

If you aren't able to visit before November 6, you can download a copy of the volume here in PDF format. (The download is approimately 28.5 MB.)

And, for a limited time, readers of this blog can request a complimentary copy of the book itself, which is printed on glossy stock and makes a handsome addition to any library of books about New York. Just send an e-mail with your mailing address to

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commonplace-medium.gifI'm taking the liberty of writing today about the special issue of the online journal Common-Place that Bryan has just edited with Joanna Brooks and Eric Slauter. Common-Place, which describes itself as "the Interactive Journal of Early American Life," is co-sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society and the University of Oklahoma.

Bryan has a piece called "Who Reads an Early American Book?" His answer: "More people than you might think." The piece examines "the history of one curious early American text: the epitaph on the headstone of a Revolutionary-era poet named Elizabeth Whitman, the prototype for the heroine of one of the new nation's bestselling novels, Hannah Webster Foster's The Coquette (1797)."

Other pieces that might be of interest to readers of this blog include Edward Cahill's reading of Irving's Sketch Book in the light of the Panic of 1819; Max Cavitch's account of the publishing of early American texts "from codex to Kindle"; and Lisa Gordis's meditation on why readers are drawn to certain early American texts. Gordis's piece includes a discussion of the stone marked "Charlotte Temple" in the graveyard of Trinity Church, which became something of a tourist attraction for reader's of Susanna Rowson's popular novel of the same name.

In fact, the entire issue is a pleasure to read, and it's aimed at a more general readership than the standard academic journal.

Bohemian Beginnings

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bleeckerbroadway.jpgMost of lecture today was devoted to the idea of Greenwich Village in the early twentieth century -- and to the group of people the historian Christine Stansell has termed "American Moderns."

I did mention during lecture some earlier stirrings of New York's bohemian subculture, strong enough that they received commentary from outsiders. W.D. Howells pokes fun at middle-class slumming -- young writers and artists who want to make a romantic escape from their parents' stifling genteel culture -- in The Coast of Bohemia (1893). In the 1870s the journalist James D. McCabe, in Lights and Shadows of New York Life, has this portrait of "Bleecker Street":

In many respects Bleecker Street is more characteristic of Paris than of New York. It reminds one strongly of the Latin Quarter. ... It is one of the headquarters of Bohemianism, and Mrs. Grundy [a code word for the epitome of genteel propriety] now shivers with holy horror when she thinks it was once her home. The street has not entirely lost its reputation. No one is prepared to say it is a vile neighborhood; no one would care to class it with Houston, Mercer, Greene, or Water Streets; but people shake their heads, look mysterious, and sigh ominously when you ask them about it. It is a suspicious neighborhood, to say the least, and he who frequents it must be prepared for the gossip and surmises of his friends. ... Walk down it at almost any hour of the day or night, and you will see many things that are new to you. Strange characters meet you at every step; even the shops have a Bohemian aspect, for trade is nowhere so much the victim of chance as here.
Who are these strange characters? He goes on to say they're quite a different crowd than you'll find walking on Broadway, so close by:

That long-haired, queerly dressed young man, with a parcel under his arm, who passed you just then, is an artist, and his home is in the attic of that tall house from which you saw him pass out.  ... If you look up to the second floor, you may see a pretty, but not over fresh looking young woman [an actress], gazing down into the street. ... She is used to looking at men, and to having them look at her, and she is not averse to their admiration. On the floor above her dwells Betty Mulligan, a pretty little butterfly well known to the lovers of the ballet as Mademoiselle Alexandrine. No one pretends to know her history. In the same house is a fine-looking woman, not young, but not old. Her 'husband' has taken lodgings here for her, but he comes to see her only at intervals. ... Women come here to meet other men besides their husbands, and men bring women here who are not their wives. Bleecker Street asks no questions, but it has come to suspect the men and women who are seen in it. [Excerpted in Sawyers, ed., The Greenwich Village Reader]
whitman_pfaffs.jpgThe intersection of Broadway and Bleecker had, even earlier, been home to a bohemian literary scene that met at a cellar pub called Pfaff's. The characters affiliated with the Pfaff's scene fit some of McCabe's character types: artists, actresses, dancers, writers, the most famous of whom was Walt Whitman. (He took a visiting Emerson to Pfaff's for dinner.) A terrific website hosted by Lehigh University and created by Ed Whitley and Rob Weidman offers biographies of over 150 key figures who made their way through Pfaff's, including Howells, Horatio Alger, the famous actress Adah Isaacs Menken, and the actor Joseph Jefferson. The site, The Vault at Pfaff's, also contains searchable digital reproductions of The Saturday Press, the short-lived newspaper edited by Henry Clapp, Jr., a key publication for the Pfaff's crowd. There's enough there to lose yourself in for several hours, to be sure.

[Whitman at Pfaff's, image taken from The Vault at Pfaff's]

Walking in the City

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In response to Cyrus's injunction to "Ask Bryan" what the hell "Rhinestone Cowboy" would have to do with our overview to a course on New York lit, I'll offer this link, which takes you to a version of what I said this morning in my part of our opening lecture. The bit on "Rhinestone Cowboy" comes at the end, and I'd just add here what one of our students mentioned after class: that Campbell's persona isn't even a Rhinestone Cowboy, at least not yet: he's just feeling like one, which is even a little sadder than the song was already.

In other news of the flâneur (and yes, I read the sad, would-be rodeo star's saga as fitting in the tradition of the flâneur), I've long wanted to direct readers to the terrific blog Walking Off the Big Apple, a daily log of city walks. The site's author, Teri Tynes, describes her project as "an homage to the flâneur tradition and to the literary heritage of New York arts and letters."

Here's a link to one of her year-in-review posts. You'll also find plenty of links to NYC lit and culture walks and loads of ideas if you're itching to get out and strut your stuff.

TriBeCa 1980

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artbook_2029_38437712.jpgWatching Wild Combination last week, I had my curiosity piqued by references to a club called Tier 3. I'd heard the name before, but never really paid too much attention -- it seemed third tier to more famous (and more fully chronicled) places like Mudd Club, CBGB, etc. More references turned up last week, though, in a book I bought as a Christmas gift for a friend: Soul Jazz Publishing's New York Noise: Art and Music from the New York Underground, 1978-88.  (Review here. Fun fact: I once played in a band with someone featured in the volume.)

I'm sad to admit I didn't even know where Tier 3 was located. So I poked around. God bless the internets.

Turns out it was an early TriBeCa club, West Broadway and White, that catered to post-punk/new wave acts, a lot of them British acts that provided the soundtrack to my teenage years in faraway rural Arizona. Post-punk photo chronicler Eugene Merinov has a set of Bauhaus photos online from a 1981 gig.

Must be something in the air right now about Tier 3 nostalgia; the current issue of the online music magazine Perfect Sound Forever has a profile on the club by Andy Schwartz, based primarily on an interview with founding booker Hilary Jaeger. The piece is part of an ongoing series about defunct NYC venues. Hilary recalls the club's origins:

I was waitressing at the L&M Coffee Shop, at Second Avenue and 10th Street, and I had a friend named June Giarratano. Her mother, Kathleen Giarratano, and Kathleen's friend Maureen Cooper somehow got the lease and the liquor license for Tier 3. June told me they needed a waitress, and I started working there in March or April 1979... TriBeCa at that point was just a no-man's-land. There was hardly anybody there.

You walked up a few steps to enter the place, and the bar was on the right-hand side of a sort of narrow room. We built a DJ booth to the left, and behind that a couple of booths with bench seating. The whole space was divided by a half-wall, so you could see over and into the rectangular space where the bands played, to the left and a few steps down. Because of how low the ceilings were, the stage was only about ten inches off the floor and maybe fifteen feet wide.

I don't who named it Tier 3, but in fact it did have three levels. The second floor was a more brightly lit room with tables and chairs. People didn't really go to the third floor--there were bathrooms up there, and a disco ball, and in the very beginning there was a DJ booth there. At some point we showed films there, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. God knows what else went on up there!

There were really very few places to play in Manhattan at that moment--basically C.B.G.B., Max's, and Hurrah. The Mudd Club was open, but I don't think they were doing a lot of live bookings at the time. My sister [singer Angela Jaeger] was in bands and my friends were in bands and I was completely involved in music. Tier 3 was obviously an auspicious space in which to do something.

New York acts featured regularly: dB's, DNA, The Stimulators, The Bush Tetras, 8 Eyed Spy with Lydia Lunch, The Raybeats; UK bands included the Raincoats, the Slits, the Pop Group, Delta 5, Young Marble Giants, A Certain Ratio, Bauhaus, and Madness.

All this talk about new wave in TriBeCa reminded me of the great little 10-minute film Soul Jazz included on their ACR compilation Early a few years back. It intersperses footage of the band banging out beats in their TriBeCa loft with a performance at Hurrah's, the famed "punk disco" venue on W. 62nd Street. The YouTube embedding is disabled; link here.

ACR's MySpace page has this recollection of the early 80s downtown scene:

In late 1980, the [band relocated] from post-punk Manchester to the hustle-bustle of the Big Apple, New York City. Romantic Mancunians love to ponder the similarities between the two cities, the skyline over Hulme, the great canals running through the cities (born from their mutual industrial heritage), the fantastic nightlife. Realistic Mancs know the score -- Manchester is fuck-all like New York, but it looks good in print. The band played gigs with local funk-machine ESG, along with a fledgling New Order and a little known support act by the name of Madonna.

For the intellectually and musically curious, our friends at Fales Library and Special Collections have compiled a set of resources for studying the scene.

Forgotten New York

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cover copy 2.jpg Do you know Kevin Walsh's Forgotten New York?

I've had a copy for a year or so, and every once in a while remember to pack it with me when I'm heading to an unfamiliar neighborhood. (There's also an accompanying blog, cheerfully cluttered, that's well worth checking regularly.)

The book offers hundreds of out-of-the-way or in-plain-sight-but-easily-overlooked details from the city's past, broken into categories like "Truly Forgotten," "Quiet Places," or "What's This Thing?" It's  designed for New Yorkers rather than tourists; it's for people constantly on the look for little glimpses into lost parts of the city.

I rarely use the book to find a destination for an afternoon outing, say, but when I pack it along it always adds a nice dimension to a trip to or from somewhere I already wanted to go. A few weekends ago, ssw and I took our bikes and headed up the paths along the Hudson. We weren't sure how far we'd go, though we had a vague idea we wanted to go kayaking up at Pier 96 before the weather turned. Once we were done (and had spent enough time spread out in the sun to dry our asses off) we got back on our bikes and headed up as high as St. Clair Place, around 125th street.

I had my copy of FN in my basket, and vaguely had some idea that we were close to Grant's Tomb, which we'd never managed to visit. So we circled around until we hit Riverside Drive, pumped our way up the rather steep hill, and made our way back a few blocks to 123rd St.

Do you know who's buried at Grant's Tomb? I'm sheepish to admit I didn't know the answer to that riddle until we visited with FN's assistance.

One minor disappointment, though. I remembered, when the Hudson River path hit St. Clair Place and we decided to stop our journey north, that FN had an entry explaining that street's name. It accompanies the entry on Grant's Tomb, in fact. It has to do not with the more famous tomb, but with an obscure grave nearby:

Five-year-old St. Clair Pollock was playing on the rocks overlooking the Hudson River on the Pollock property, and fell to his death on July 15, 1797. When the Pollocks later sold the property, his father (perhaps his uncle; records are unclear) made the request that St. Clair's grave, which was on the property, would always be respected. A small stone urn remains marked, "Erected to the memory of an amiable child." St. Clair is also commemorated with the very short St. Clair Place, which runs between the Hudson River and West 125th Street under the Riverside Drive Viaduct, about a half mile to the north.

We only spent about 15 minutes looking for it, but we couldn't find the little stone urn, which is supposedly a little ways "up Riverside" (I assumed that meant north), "standing by itself, surrounded by an iron fence."

I suppose I'll have to go back and look again. Tip for bikers: ride back downtown as far as you can along Riverside Drive itself, which is somewhat more spectacular than I would have imagined and certainly lusher than a ride along the river at that point.

Adaptations ahoy!

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Yglesias laments the recent announcement of a new Moby-Dick film adaptation -- directed by the guy with the unspellable last name who just directed Wanted, written by a team that has only teen comedies to their credit (including the Olsen twins vehicle New York Minute), and co-produced by the folks who're bring us the American history adventure series National Treasure. (Recall Nicolas Cage peering at the all-seeing eye on a dollar bill: "I think the Illuminati were trying to send us secret messages!")

Is it indulging in Ivory Tower elitism to join Matt in thinking: "Terrifying!" -- and not in a good, White-Whale-crushing-your-boat way?

Part of what's to be lamented, apparently, is that the writers are conceiving this as "an opportunity to take a timeless classic and capitalize on the advances in visual effects to tell what at its core is an action-adventure revenge story" -- something more akin to dramatizing a graphic novel.

Actually, Melville wrote that version of the story himself. And then he spent a year rewriting it into Moby-Dick. Biographer Delbanco draws on Melville's own words to set the scene as a vampire story:

Looking back at his labors on Moby-Dick, Melville saw "two books ... being writ ... the larger book, and the infinitely better, is for [his] own private shelf. That it is, whose unfathomable cravings drink his blood; the other only demands his ink."  Moby-Dick was Melville's vampire book. It sapped him -- but not before he had invented a new kind of writing that, we can now see, anticipated the kind of modernist prose that expresses the author's stream of consciousness without conscious self-censorship.

So what's lost in reducing Melville's two-in-one grand-slam to a film adaptation of a graphic novel? Lots, I suspect, as is true with all other film versions of the book. This time they're jettisoning the first-person narration, for one -- something most of the graphic novel adaptations of the book don't even manage, as far as I can tell.

The news of the new adaptation -- and its conception in relation to graphic novels -- led me to do some poking around. I quickly realized the graphic adaptation of Melville's book had gone through many more versions than I was aware of. I grew up on the old Illustrated Classics rendition; my wife picked up one for our kids when she worked for Scholastic. We own the pop-up version, of course. What self-respecting Am Lit professor under age 50 doesn't?

Moby Dick - preview.jpgBut I hadn't realized until this morning that there's a Will Eisner version, along with two others that feature major figures from my experience as a teenage comic book collector in the 1980s: Dick Giordano and Bill Sienkiewicz. And just this year Marvel published a six-installment adaptation, due for single-volume hardcover release next month (see illustration to the left). I've just put in orders for all of the above -- of course there are many more -- but I have to say that list of names here heartens me. Certainly some of these adaptations are smart? Maybe this will turn out better than the 90s version of The Scarlet Letter, before filming which Demi Moore didn't even feel the need to read the novel.

Sweets and Cheap Eats

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I blogged this elsewhere last year, but this afternoon I'm leading an annual Sweets and Cheap Eats on the LES walking tour for students returning to the Residential College where I live as faculty in residence.

If you were to add something to this tour, what would it be?

logo72dpi.jpgI've mentioned before my abiding affection for the folks who run the Metropolitan Playhouse. I feel extraordinarily lucky to teach earlier American lit (including 19c drama) and the literary cultures of NYC in a neighborhood -- one of the few in the world, I'm sure, if not the only one in existence -- where you can actually see earlier American plays regularly staged. From Mowatt's Fashion to Fitch's The City and Zangwill's The Melting Pot, the Playhouse is also its own virtual "City on Stage" archive; indeed, I'm pretty sure my idea for the chapter I'm currently writing on that topic gestated over several years of watching Met Playhouse productions.

Of course, our encounter with these plays in such an intimate space differs radically from how 19c and early 20c audiences encountered them -- often in enormous theaters. But I'll take it, and I'll take my students along as often as possible.

The coming season has a lot to offer theater and Am Lit buffs: They'll be doing Nowadays by George Middleton (one of Emma Goldman's favorite American playwrights), a 1914 play that deals with gender issues; O'Neill's Anna Christie (woo-hoo!), and an adaptation of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. I'm especially looking forward to the Middleton, since I'm working, when I get a chance between more immediate deadlines, on a chapter of our cultural history that situates Goldman and O'Neill in overlapping, but not identical, theater and intellectual circles.  I'd never heard of Middleton before I starting researching Goldman's lectures on modern drama.

And then there's Melvillapalooza! For each of the last several seasons, the Playhouse has hosted a festival of small pieces celebrating, roasting, or inspired by famous American authors, including Irving, Poe, and Hawthorne. This year our beloved HM holds pride of place. I can only hope someone dramatizes the death scene from Pierre, one of Melville's finest NYC scenes!

I've spent the better part of the last few months finishing a chapter on the early American novelist Charles Brockden Brown for the forthcoming Cambridge History of the American Novel (not to be confused with the Cambridge History of American Literature, the multivolume project Cyrus had a hand in producing).

brown_charles_brockden.jpgWorking on this piece reminded me again of something I was struck by while writing my dissertation (later revised as Republic of Intellect): that most critics and biographers have treated Brown as a Philadelphia writer, even though the majority of his best-known works -- his gothic novels Wieland, Ormond, Edgar Huntly, and Arthur Mervyn -- as well as his first magazine venture, The Monthly Magazine and American Review, were produced (if not always published) in New York. Brown may have come from a Philly Quaker background, that is, but he stands as an early example of an American writer who came to New York to launch his career. (Warning: the prior sentence risks anachronism, since New York was by no means established as the center of American publishing in the 1790s.)

Brown's first book, the philosophical dialogue  Alcuin, or the Rights of Women, recounts a series of conversations in a New York parlor, where the title character, an impoverished schoolmaster, carries on an exchange with the metropolitan salonierre Mrs. Carter on topics ranging from women's education to politics and the rules of polite conversation between the sexes. Here's a taste of the scene-setting, which reveals some of the narrator's insecurities as he anticipates the "scene" of conversation. Although the conversation itself is rather high-minded, think of these anxieties as an early version of Lou Reed's "New York Telephone Conversation." Alcuin narrates:

I looked at my unpowdered locks, my worsted stockings, and my pewter buckles. I bethought me of my embarrassed air, and my uncouth gait. I pondered the superciliousness of wealth and talents, the awfulness of flowing muslin, the mighty task of hitting on a right movement at entrance, and a right posture in sitting, and on the perplexing mysteries of tea-table decorum.

An early Woody Allen? Certainly there's room here for a comedy of manners. If you want to see how it unfolds, you can nab a used copy of the dialogue here, or find the Bicentennial Edition of Brown's works in your local library. That or shell out for volume one of the forthcoming Wadsworth Anthology of American Literaure, eds. Jay Parini and Ralph Bauer, which includes the dialogue in full with a headnote by yours truly. For more on Brown, visit the site of the Charles Brockden Brown Society.

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