Geography Thursdays #1: The Rise and Decline of Detroit

Rotting building in Detroit, photo by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, from their Time Magazine series (click on the picture to see all the photos)

This is the first installment of a regular feature. Every Thursday, Lily Hoang and I will be bringing the news from the world of geography. First up is the most beautiful piece of writing about a city I have ever read — Rebecca Solnit’s “Detroit Arcadia,” which first appeared in Harper’s, but which now seems to be available through a link from the James & Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership. The thesis, or one of them, is that Detroit has completed the usually epochal life cycle of a major city, from rise to decline, in a hundred years:

After the Panic of 1893, Detroit’s left-wing Republican mayor encouraged his hungry citizens to plant vegetables in the city’s vacant lots and went down in history as Potato Patch Pingree. Something similar happened in Cuba when the Soviet Union collapsed and the island lost its subsidized oil and thereby its mechanized agriculture; through garden-scale semi-organic agriculture, Cubans clawed their way back to food security and got better food in the bargain. Nobody wants to live through a depression, and it is unfair, or at least deeply ironic, that black people in Detroit are being forced to undertake an experiment in utopian post-urbanism that appears to be uncomfortably similar to the sharecropping past their parents and grandparents sought to escape. There is no moral reason why they should do and be better than the rest of us, but there is a practical one. They have to. Detroit is where change is most urgent and therefore most viable. The rest of us will get there later, when necessity drives us too, and by that time Detroit may be the shining example we can look to, the post-industrial green city that was once the steel-gray capital of Fordist manufacturing. (Click here for PDF Full Text of Solnit Article.) Continue reading “Geography Thursdays #1: The Rise and Decline of Detroit”

Isaac Bashevis Singer in Carbondale, Illinois

Four years before he died, Isaac Bashevis Singer visited Carbondale, Illinois, at the invitation of the Southern Illinois University English Department, and on money mostly from the Honors College.  It must have been some visit. Both times I’ve visited SIUC for their Devil’s Kitchen Literary Festival, there was no after-reading bar talk that was entirely Singerless. In the introduction to the new Best American Short Stories, Richard Russo, who taught there at the time, relates Singer’s formulation of the purpose of literature (First, to entertain; Second, to instruct; and in that order, and that order only.) My favorite account of Singer’s visit is recorded by Rodney Jones, in his estimable poetry collection Elegy for the Southern Drawl:

The Limousine Bringing Isaac Bashevis Singer to Carbondale

Rodney Jones

A town is the size of a language.

In four more years he would be dead, but now, Continue reading “Isaac Bashevis Singer in Carbondale, Illinois”

Opening Sentences

Openings in directly quoted dialogue:(*)

“‘Either foreswear fucking others or the affair is over.'” – Sabbath’s Theater, Philip Roth

“’49 Wyatt, 01549 Wyatt.” – In Parenthesis, David Jones

“‘Tell me things I won’t mind forgetting,’ she said.” – “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried,” Amy Hempel

Openings simply establishing who speaks and/or when and where we are in space and/or time:

“William Stoner entered the University of Missouri as a freshman in the year 1910, at the age of nineteen.” – Stoner, John Williams

“When I am run down and flocked around by the world, I go down to Farte Cove off the Yazoo River and take my beer to the end of the pier where the old liars are still snapping and wheezing at one another.” – “Water Liars,” Barry Hannah

“I am Gimpel the Fool.” – “Gimpel the Fool,” Isaac Bashevis Singer Continue reading “Opening Sentences”