Have a Nice Day: The City as Joke

Marcus, Sharon

This essay explores critical responses to developments in the late-capitalist city, and how those critiques are circumscribed by the very ideology they oppose. I focus on three books that reviewers have identified as among the most provocative recent writing about New York City: Lynne Tillman's No Lease on Life (1998); Mitchell Duneier's Sidewalk (1999); and Samuel Delany's Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (l999)- Each of these texts develops a Utopian vision of the city and each identifies capitalism as the greatest obstacle to that vision; yet in gesturing towards a better city, each ultimately reproduces capitalist ideology. Given the untrammeled course capitalism has taken in the last decades, and given that cities are expressions and engines of capitalism, writers must analyze capitalism's effects in order to understand what cities are. My interest in this paper is in how writers simultaneously fail to analyze capitalism by allowing it to delimit their ideas about what cities could be. As sites that bring large numbers of very different people into relatively close proximity, cities could, more plausibly than suburbs or rural areas, occasion radical social experiments. Cities could encourage the formation of alliances across class and other social divisions that in turn could challenge the very bases for distributing resources and power.

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English and Comparative Literature
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March 4, 2013