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New York Nocturne

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New York Nocturne is a wonderfully rich plum pudding of a book on the evolution of the modern urban environment and how it has been perceived, especially in New York. Teeming with little-known history and keen critical insight, this study illuminates how artists and writers made imaginative capital of the changing New York nightscape. Their vision helped construct the image of New York as we still see it today: a city that never sleeps, a brilliantly lit stage set that comes alive in dramatic, even thrilling ways after dark. -- Morris Dickstein, CUNY Graduate Center New York Nocturne is a tour de force of scholarship and an instant classic. I cannot think of another book that so convincingly shows the connections between technological innovation, spatial transformation, and cultural change. -- Steven Hoelscher, University of Texas, Austin New York Nocturne raises important questions concerning the history of cities, urban modernism and modernity, and the relationship of technology to the urban experience. The breadth is ambitious and the text is studded with lovely analyses of individual works. -- Rebecca Zurier, University of Michigan

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi Acknowledgments xvii Introduction The Dream Site 1 Seeing in a New Light 10 Dark Arts and the Urban Sublime 14 Getting Acquainted with the Night 26 One Story of the Night 32 Chapter One: Gaslit Babylon 37 New York Lights Up 39 Walking the Night 42 Terror and Taming 46 Morality and Light 55 The Country and the City 60 Night People, Night Prowling 63 The Devil, the Moralist, and the Voyeur 66 Police Take Note: The Fl"neur Flummoxed 70 Gaslit Barbary 73 Lullaby for Babylon 76 Chapter Two: The Nocturne: Moonlight, Metamorphosis, and Modernism 80 Contemplating the Moon 82 The Softer Satellite in Eclipse 86 No More Than I Wish 91 As with a Veil 97 Fireworks in Court 100 Everywhere I Looked I Saw Whistlers 105 Unrecorded Miracles 112 The Photo-Nocturne 118 Chapter Three: Colonizing the Night 132 Conquering Some Realms for the Night 136 A Mighty Woman with a Torch 138 Armies of the Night 143 Lightning Powder 148 Living Like the Other Half 157 The Poor En Masse, the Rich One by One 161 Moonlight Reservation 165 Chapter Four: The Empire of Light 170 The Lesson of the Moth 171 Nightlife Goes Native 177 Beneath the Singer Tower 184 Electric Eden 189 Empire of Signs 194 Picturing the Imperial City 199 The Apotheosis of Electricity 208 Chapter Five: Skyscraper Fantasy 217 Lights, Height, Sex, Romance 222 Manhattan, the Night-Blooming Cereus I Am Seeing Great Things 230 The Body of a Skyscraper 240 Down-Gazing I Behold 243 I'll Make Them Big: O'Keeffe's Exhibitionist Androgyny 249 Nobody to Say: Pinholes 257 Lame with Lights 262 Chapter Six: Staging the Night: Theater, Voyeurism, Violence 266 Night Windows 272 The Feel of the Night 277 Nighthawks 285 Balcony Seats at a Murder 292 Darkness Invisible 304 Then See It! 313 Epilogue Night Now 319 Whose Night? 321 Fairyland Still? The Aerial View 330 The City of Dreadful Light 340 Notes 349 Index 393

About the Author

William Chapman Sharpe is professor of English at Barnard College, Columbia University. He is the author of "Unreal Cities" and the coeditor of "Visions of the Modern City".


Winner of the 2009 Peter C. Rollins Award, Northeast Popular Culture/American Culture Association Winner of the 2009 MSA Book Prize, Modernist Studies Association "Sharpe says that the 'first dark glimmer' for his book came as he was looking at work by the expatriate American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler... Sharpe shows how the aesthetics of [Whistler's] 'nocturnes' abroad shaped paintings and photographs of night in New York, including work by such figures as John Sloan, Arthur Stieglitz, and Edward Steichen. The nocturne form, he says, helped photography claim status as an art. Beyond words, the book offers nearly 150 often haunting and sometimes touching images."--Nina C. Ayoub, The Chronicle of Higher Education "By now an archetypal image, the New York skyline at night captures the excitement and beauty of a city still humming long after bedtime... William Chapman Sharpe offers an academic tour through a landscape that was transformed by gaslight and the advent of electricity... Artists such as Joseph Stella, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper and Faith Ringgold were drawn to the new glow, and writers from Joseph Conrad to Ralph Ellison came to investigate urban life after dark. Sharpe's examination of nocturnal art and storytelling tracks the ways illumination changed city life forever."--Patrick Huguenin, New York Daily News "New York City claimed the title 'capital of the 20th century' not owing to its magnitude and energy but for its hold on the imagination of people around the world. While we wait to see what will succeed it as capital of the 21st, Columbia University Professor of English William Chapman Sharpe provides a brilliant look back in New York Nocturne... Ranging freely between the literary and visual arts, Sharpe seeks the roots of American modernism in nighttime city life. He has something involving and informative to say about every topic he touches."--Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle "Night has long been the frontier of the urban world, a place where crime is an omnipresent danger, where sexual violence or fulfillment hides just around a darkened corner, and where loneliness triumphs over human connectedness. For a society that has grown up taking electricity for granted, New York Nocturne is illuminating... If electricity has transformed, if not completely solved the mysteries of the night, Sharpe skillfully interprets how artists have approached the meanings of darkness and, in a Melvillean touch, of light itself."--D. Schuyler, Choice "In this gorgeous, erudite book, [Sharpe] examines the myriad ways that writers, painters, and photographers have represented New York nightlife, beginning in the mid-19th century, when works by Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Edgar Allan Poe dramatized the moral perils of the artificially lit city... Sharpe, whose own affection for the city is charmingly apparent here, insists throughout that artists and writers haven't simply reacted to the changes in urban existence; rather, they have 'helped turn the unscouted terrain of the urban night into a legible part of contemporary life.'"--Barbara Spindel, Barnes and "My favorite book of the year. New York Nocturne is a chronicle in words, photographs and paintings of New York City at night... Although this is a book about New York City, it's also a book about artists, writers and photographers who were drawn to and inspired by the evolution of the illumination of the city and all that it brought about. The social and cultural changes that light brought about are examined here and strung together magnificently by author William Chapman Sharpe... The art and photography are brilliantly reproduced--the color plates are especially handled with great care and one can see that the author has taken pain-staking pride in his research and efforts."--Norman Maine, Soho Journal "A beautiful volume that would sit proudly on the coffee table of any city dweller and city lover. William Chapman Sharpe details the way in which the city evolved after the Civil War into a world metropolis of leisure, politics, the arts, and commerce."--The Village Voice "Treat yourself to an elegantly written, beautifully illustrated, copiously researched sojourn into New York City's night. With William Chapman Sharpe as your guide, you will get a tantalizing new perspective on the city as reflected in art, literature, and history... Set within historical contexts without being mired in historiography, this book balances in-depth analyses of specific works with a broad discussion of patterns over time. It will enlighten any urbanist... Sharpe's study provides a provocative historical perspective on creativity in and about the city. A book of breadth, depth, and grace, it must be savored slowly to fully appreciate 'the relation between the human, the urban, and the dark.'"--Joanne Reitano, History News Network "The challenge and accomplishment of the book is the way it cuts a swathe across New York's modernisms... Sharpe covers a remarkable range of territory here."--Andrea L. Volpe, Reviews in American History "[A] monograph as electrifying as its theme that illuminates from within the making of New York City, a reference work in absence of which, invaluable aspects in New York culture history would be left in the dark."--Adriana Neagu, ABC Journal "For anyone interested in the art and writing of modern New York ... Sharpe provides a rich, encompassing, and informed story."--William B. Scott, American Studies

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