Ruins and Reforms: New York Yesterday and Today

Ruins and Reforms: New York Yesterday and Today

We beg delinquents for our life.
Behind each bush, perhaps, a knife;
each landscaped crag, each flowering shrub,
hides a policeman with his club.

—Robert Lowell, “Central Park”

…the block is burning down on one side of the
street, and the kids are trying to build something on
the other.

—Grace Paley, “Somewhere Else”

There are all sorts of ironies in a Dissent issue devoted to New York City. In one sense, nothing could be more obvious. Most of Dissent‘s editors have spent most of their lives in or near this city. Indeed, the strong vertical form of our masthead resembles nothing so much as a New York apartment house. [Editors’ note: With this issue, the masthead changes to a low-rise model.] Examined at closer range, this mostly but not wholly Jewish masthead— “Howe, Walzer, Geltman, Phillips, Carpenter, Plastrik, Avishai,…Schapiro, Sexton, Steinberg, Steinfels, Wrong” —evokes the rows of doorbells on the thresholds of the
Bronx and Brooklyn apartment houses where many of us grew up, or in the lobbies of the more formidable piles of the Upper West Side where many of us live now. In scrutinizing New York, we are buzzing our own bells to get
us to come out in the open.

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels