David Kishik’s ‘The Manhattan Project: A Theory of a City’

Illingworth-web1Dustin Illingworth at The Brooklyn Rail:

But what if Benjamin had not made his fateful decision on the French border? What if, instead, he faked his own death, assumed the name Carl Roseman, and moved to a cramped apartment in Manhattan to live out his remaining 40 years creating the Gotham twin to his exhaustive Parisian blueprint? This is the premise of David Kishik’s new book, The Manhattan Project: A Theory of a City, a curiously effervescent text that is simultaneously a work of imagined philology, an index of urban delirium, and a fascinating evocation of a city that became the de facto capital of the 20th century. The book’s format can be a little abstruse at first. Kishik marshals actual quotes from Benjamin and fabricated quotes from the fictional Roseman to examine the cultural and philosophical ramifications of urbanity. However, once oriented, there is no small amount of pleasure to be had in the whirling transitions between the factual and the fictive, the settled and the spectral. Kishik, an assistant professor of philosophy at Emerson College, avoids what could be an overly precious conceit by virtue of a charming transparency (“This is a study of a manuscript that was never written,” he begins the very first chapter) and a richly perceptive, almost visceral sensitivity to the “undeserted island” of the city. Far from a nostalgic chimera or gilded illusion, Kishik’s New York emerges here as an existential foil, labyrinthian, a lover both desired and spurned. His seductive interpretations of New York art, culture, tragedy, architecture, celebrity, and history, refracted through the imagined elucidations of a persuasively reanimated Benjamin, emulate the teeming life of the city in all of its breathless variety and unexpectedness. The point of view is unmistakably Kishik’s, a voice erudite though unafraid of irony or humorous observation; however, in employing the real and imagined quotes of Benjamin/Roseman, the book moves beyond mere criticism into a kind of urban bildungsroman, New York’s coming-of-age as told by three worthy author-theorists.

more here.