I'm currently obsessively reading All That Is Solid Melts into Air, underlining seemingly half the book while nodding in agreement. I love this passage that I just read, from his essay on Baudelaire, "Modernism in the Streets: The Mire of the Macadam":

"[Baudelaire] finds to his amazement that the aura of artistic purity and sanctity is only incidental, not essential to art, and that poetry can thrive just as well, and maybe even better, on the other side of the boulevard, in those low, 'unpoetic' places...One of the paradoxes of modernity, as Baudelaire sees it here, is that its poets will become more deeply and authentically poetic by becoming more like ordinary men...The 'bad poet' in this world is the poet who hopes to keep his purity intact by keeping it off the streets, free from the risks of traffic. Baudelaire wants works of art that will be born in the midst of the traffic, that will spring from its anarchic energy, from the incessant danger and terror of being there, from the precarious pride and exhilaration of the man who has survived so far...His mouvements brusques, those sudden leaps and swerves so crucial for everyday survival in the city streets, turn out to be sources of creative power as well. In the century to come, these moves will become paradigmatic gestures of modernist art and thought."

The "century to come" is now past, but this spirit still drives me and thousands of other urban writers, artists, filmmakers, musicians, and thinkers. But then Berman goes further, envisioning the present-day uprisings in Hong Kong, Ferguson and my beloved NYC while recounting the many people on the streets of the Twentieth Century:

"[F]rom Baudelaire's time to our own - the boulevard will be abruptly transformed into the stage for a new primal modern scene. This will not be the sort of scene that Napoleon or Haussmann [or Robert Moses or Rudy Guiliani or various police departments would like to see, but nonetheless one that their mode of urbanism will have helped to make.

"As we reread the old histories, memoirs and novels, or regard the old photos or newsreels, or stir our own fugitive memories of 1968, we will see whole classes and masses move into the street together. We will be able to discern two phases in their activity. At first the people stop and overturn the vehicles in their path, and set the horses free: here they are avenging themselves on the traffic by decomposing it into its inert original elements. Next they incorporate the wreckage they have created into their rising barricades: they are recombining the isolated, inanimate elements into vital new artistic and political forms. For one luminous moment, the multitude of solitudes that make up the modern city come together into a new kind of encounter, to make a people."

AuthorJohn Proctor