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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Keeping it up rather than Tearing it down

"Every time I heard or read about the destruction of a building I had known, or saw it burn on the local news, I felt like a piece of my flesh was being ripped away. 
         I've always turned the old corner with dread: What if, when I reach the apartment house where I grew up, there's nothing there? It wouldn't be surprising: so many of the buildings in these parts have been sealed up or torn down; streets that were busy and noisy and too narrow for the crowds twenty years ago are as open and empty as deserts today. But it hasn't happened, at least not yet; the building looks surprisingly good, a little Art Deco jewel in the midst of devastation. A heroic superintendent and organized tenants have held it together; and its present landlord appears to have some interest in keeping it up rather than tearing it down. I feel a sense of metaphysical relief...
     ...Life is rough in the South Bronx, but the people aren't giving up: modernity is alive and well."


—Marshall Berman "The Signs in the Street" [1984],
collected in Adventures in Marxism (Verso 1999) & Modernism in the Streets: A Life and Times in Essays (Verso 2017).
 

Considered among Berman's best essays, "Signs in the Street" was a reply to a review of All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity. As Michael Walter points out, "The last line in Marshall’s essay summarizes his new position: “Reading [Marx's] Capital won’t help us if we don’t also know how to read the signs in the streets.”


Read it here.