Wednesday, April 23, 2008

All that is solid melts into air

Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge on Tuesday morning, I noticed a kind of black hood over the federal courthouse tower on Centre Street, and the top of the Woolworth Building dissolving into the fog. (This photo isn’t mine; it’s from the city government.) It made me think of Marshall Berman’s All That Is Solid Melts into Air, a book I used to own (whatever happened to it?) and that I can hardly remember, except for the sensation it gave me of stretching my mind in unexpected directions. The title is a quotation from Marx, though it sounds much too spiritual and speculative for that boil-plagued materialist. (Edmund Wilson noted that to “weigh like an incubus” was one of Marx’s favorite turns of phrase.) Here’s what’s a reader said about Berman’s book at a popular mainstream online bookstore. It confirms my memory that this is a very hard book to summarize:
Among the choice subjects he includes Goethe's Faust, the vibrance of city streets, Marx and Engels in the examination of The Communist Manifesto (treated as a literary piece), the enigmatic Crystal Palace, Baudelaire, the Czars, Nietzsche and the whole hearted destruction of the inner cities such as the Bronx. It is a sort of eclectic mix that both confuses and informs.

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