The relentless pace of urbanization since the industrial revolution has inspired a continuing effort to view, read, and name the modern city. "We are now at a point of transition to a new kind of city", write William Sharpe and Leonard Wallock, "and thus we are experiencing the same crisis of language felt by observers of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century cities." Visions of the Modern City explores the ways in which artists and writers have struggled to define the city during the past two centuries and opens a new perspective on the urban vision of our time.
In their introduction, the editors outline three phases in the evolution of the modern city—each having its own distinctive morphology and metaphor— and argue that a new vocabulary is needed to describe the sprawling "urban field" of today. Eric Lampard draws a detailed demographic and geographic picture of urbanization since the late eighteenth century, culminating with the "decentered" city of the 1980s. Other contributors examine the representation of cities from the London and Paris of 1850 to the New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo of the present. Deborah Nord and Philip Collins follow Henry Mayhew and Charles Dickens, respectively, through the urban underworld of Victorian London. Theodore Reff traces the double life of Paris expressed in the work of Manet, while Michele Hannoosh shows bow Baudelaire influenced the Impressionists by transferring the aesthetic implications of the term nature to urban experience. Thomas Bender and William Taylor focus on tensions between the horizontal and the vertical in the architectural development of New York City, and Paul Anderer investigates the private, domestic spaces that represent Tokyo in postwar Japanese fiction. Steven Marcus analyzes the breakdown of the city as signifying system in the novels of Saul Bellow and Thomas Pynchon, writers who question whether the indecipherable contemporary city has any meaning left at all.
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