tv Panel Discussion on Writing About Cities CSPAN October 10, 2015 3:26pm-4:17pm EDT
at great length, all of the traditional tenets of class including stratification, but the problem with class in america today is we live in a period of tulsa, we live in a period of tremendous transformation in which nobody is safe, nothing is basically nailed to the ground. so people who consider themselves middle class on the basis of their income this week or next week are making a significant mistake. we don't have, we have a class of rulers, people who really run the country. i have written of book on mills which is called taking a day, big capital and the military constitute a power elite. generally speaking that is a good definition of what is that the topics of the political a leak doesn't fit anymore, they're all second year but the
problem obviously is not everybody else but most people today cannot be bent on what is going to happen if tomorrow. that is the big problem of any class definition because it means is so fluid that people who were middle class yesterday become workers today or become more and people become more sometimes make it and people who are rich managers find themselves unemployed. it is because the capitalist system has become in essence of global system and that global system will sacrifice every american life to survive. >> thanks to everyone on the panel for coming. they will be signing their books outside. [applause] >> ladies and gentlemen, to make space for the next panel we need to completely clear the room and the elevator lobby outside the room, thank you. the others will be outside.
city. i am delighted we have three wonderful writers and an elegant distinguished panel. they may not be inclined to tell you to go by my books but i will tell you please buy their books. wonderful medication, wonderful social histories on cities, writing, life, friendship and so those will be available, what i thought i would do is just give you guys an introduction and a sense of each of the panelists and we begin an open ended conversation, three most recent books. and the attachments, the village voice of the new yorker, the detailed biography and literary accomplishments but what i would like to read, a brief passage,
the odd woman in this city, one of the delightful passages where she encounters her ex-husband on the street of new york city. his name is gerald. i ran into gerald in midtown. you used me, he cried. not nearly well enough, i said. he stood there looking at me, memory clouding his eyes. what was that all about anyway, he asked warily. sweetheart, i said, it could never have worked. i will tell you from where i am now. would visit with you, he counted. why did you make such a holocaust with us, why did you keep making scenes until all are had left was a taste in my mouth of your unfolded dissatisfaction? i felt my eyes turning inward toward the big white capacity that surrounds my heart when it comes to this. i can't do men, i said.
what does that mean, he said. i am not sure. when will you be sure? i don't know. what do you do in the meantime? i take notes. [applause] >> that is vivian gornick. my first question for you is you have this on woman, tell us about each. >> yes i could. well. the city, is it all right? is it working? let's just take it off. can you hear me now? the idea of the walker in this
city, the one who is walking without purpose, the one who is walking in order to absorb the city in order to understand oneself better. that is a tradition that goes back to the 19th century and one that i consciously took upon myself to enter and to join. is also true, very rare that any woman has taken her place in that urban literature. the walker in this city who walks aimlessly and yet with a deeper purpose. that is how i saw myself and that person is inevitably at single person, whether actuality, certainly in spirit. that is the essence and in my case that singleness of life became highlife and i wanted to use it in order to show how,
quote, people like me use the city. >> okay. moving on to david ulin. you may have read his material in the los angeles times, is about credit and in better chronicler of los angeles itself and to give you a taste of his new book called sidewalking, he writes this is what all these years in l.a. have taught me, the only strategy for reckoning with the places to employ a kind of double vision by which we peeled back the cliches, the received wisdom receive from who i often wonder, and interact with the city on its terms. yes, los angeles is polling, random, without narrative of, except where it is now. it can still be sunbaked and vacancy here where no one walks, cars fly and constant island
upstream but the same i might argue might be said of any city where someone shows up for a few days or few weeks and tries to come to a conclusion ranted and engage. in sidewalking, it is an act of mutual creation, you remake l a in your image and l a remakes you in its image. can you talk about that a little bit? >> i think i grew up here. i have kind of the split between new york and los angeles. when i first moved to los angeles i found myself framing it through the filter of an ex new york. there was a group called the 9 for disgruntled ex new yorkers and i never went to one of their meetings but they would get together sunday morning and complained that bagels sucked and there was no good pizza.
i agree i often consciously put myself in that category. i think walking for me is a way of connecting with and integrating and understanding place and personality through place. i always watched in cities. the way i understood it when i moved to los angeles which is not walking culture as we all know, the only way for me to really find my own way and my own identity was to try to figure out how to walk so walking in and on walking environment became a way of me imposing my sensibility on the city but paradoxically it allowed the city to kind of enter me in a certain sense and that is a set of dichotomy i was thinking about and wrestling with. >> luc sante has written low life, the experience of old new york. his newest book is a wonderful social history of paris, the
other paris and also associated with crime, culture, books, photography, to give you a taste of the other paris, he writes the past, whenever its drawbacks, was wild. by contrast the present is farmed. the exigency ease of money and proclivities of bureaucrats, terrified of anomalies, chaos, dissipation, have conspired to create the basis, to the point where there may be no supplies, no hazards, no outbreaks. it was a flavor to the city that is eradicated. it had a fugitive--almost impossible to recapture. what is this other paris and what do you think a stranger would be most surprised to learn about this other parents that
you write about? >> he would be most surprised to learn that existed at all. into the mike like this. they would be most surprised to learn that there was this other paris. is a place of luxury and design, high style and the working-class paris the occupied a good three quarters of the land mass as recently as 40 years ago is pretty much gone. there are relics, traces, housing projects which have the effect of eliminating street lights anyway. i come to this book from a number of different personal perspectives. first of all the european working class is my people, that is where i come from so i have a
personal stake. i am belgian but there is not much difference between the culture of the parisian working class and that of the 50 or 75 or 100 years ago. also had a few like changing periods in paris. in the 70s and 80s mostly. the street life, many possibilities, chance encounters, coming up on something completely unexpected and the fact that so much of that is diminished, has been diminished by real-estate interests, etc. i felt it was imperative to get it down on paper before everybody forgot. >> all three of you mentioned this issue of loneliness, living
in the streets but for vivian you talked about loneliness and this character in your book called leonard. i am jealous of leonard. not of his life but the friendship he develops with you. that is beautiful. can you describe loneliness in the book and how it developed you as a writer? >> how can i describe lonely? the way i use loneliness, this huge catchall word in our lives is really simply to dramatize the singleness of the experience of walking the streets which we all can describe ourselves as being lonely thing -- figures on the street. is also true that in my generation first-time in history millions of people living alone, people like ourselves, people of every stripe and condition are
living alone. 50%, the census tells us 50% of all new york city households are single person households. never before have so many of us should isn't, not chosen but experienced singleness of life as so many do. in that sense we are living in a time when actual crude block bottom loneliness is something that spills out onto the streets and in this city like new york, where people are eager, eager to engage, eager to hear themselves speak in public, you have street theater on demand anywhere you go, in a bus, on the street, in a store, your own apartment, you open the door for the election
of a plumber, there's always a willingness and openness, readiness and eagerness to encounter, is not frightened, it is not withdrawn, it is not hesitant, not suspicious, it is exactly the opposite. that is how i am using the word or the idea of loneliness and the interaction with the city. i have no theorys, no abstraction. my entire encounter is on the ground, what actually happens. i start with the concrete and try to make larger sense of it. my book is filled with actual ordinary encounters and it is out of that, that i piece together this question, from there that i begin to examine what friendships are, what love
is etc.. the ground is the necessity of these encounters on the street and it is true i do experience life that way. i can be miserable, the press, lonely, anxious, what i am is an example of a writer who has taken crude materials of her own life and as i teach my students i have tried to make a virtue out of it, a riding virtue and that is it. >> the dialog -- >> did not make anything up. >> speaking of the streets, tell us about the phenomenon that interested you the most about 19 century paris that might interest contemporary new yorkers? >> well, that is -- i hardly
know where to begin. i was interested in finding out just how far bohemia went back, this vague idea in the 1830s right after the fall of napoleon, young people living together in large groups, not only are they revolutionizing paintings and stuff like that but started all these fads, first, at the time the officials culture is neoclassical and the paintings of david, architecture and so on so they rebelled against this by affecting a complete medieval get up, with the hair cuts and changing their names to medieval sounding names and carry on with clothing until they are bored and they become
the nation's from the seventeenth century and one fad after another proceeding this way for 20 years until bohemia became something else. all these things, the dress up things got offs debt into now or did, this kind of stuff was going on 200 years ago. that really fascinated me. i had no idea. >> david, what do you find most challenging about writing about l.a. and the place generally? >> to enter the last question first, finding something or original new to say. that is particularly true in terms of los angeles which is a
city that is completely surrounded by, in many ways, defined by stereotypes and cliches which for me how many of you guys know who angelina is? we have some good ones. famous for being famous. don't know how to describe her. drives and a pink corvette, has billboards of herself, she never did much but was famous for being famous when i moved to los angeles i hated her. represented everything i hated which was a culture of flash and spectacle and everything i wanted the city to not represent. meghan daum five years i fell in love with her because she was a symbol of flash and spectacle. with everything the irritated everybody outside the city about the city, after another five years i became entirely ambivalent about her. she is both. she is the cliche on the one hand of flash and spectacle, she is something kind of interesting in another way because she is an
entirely self created phenomenon. symbol of will in a certain sense which is one of the fundamental things about los angeles we overlook, it is a vast semi desert encampment, big basin full of tar and sand that will one day be shaken into dust, maybe today, there's a kind of existential tension in living in that city. whether it has to do with the geologic history of the place or the human history of the place and so trying to wrap your mind around that is fascinating, trying to undercut all of those cliches, all the receive information about what this city means is really challenging and interesting and that was one of the reasons i consciously decided to write a book using walking as a lens because of the counterintuitive filter and my initial impulse was to write a sort of an on resident version of walker in the city but set in los angeles. i love the idea of looking at
the city throughout lens that was not the expected lens because we constantly have to jar ourselves particularly in a city surrounded so much by that stuff. we have to jar ourselves into thinking about it a different way. >> is your book filled with stuff that you see while walking? >> there is a lot of walking in it but also a lot of history because i think los angeles is considered the city without history in many ways that is true but also not true. it has an american history of 100 plus years at this point but along geologic history, it is considered an artificial city which is partially true but all cities are artificial. walking some history and thinking about the city evolving now because it is becoming more of a traditional city with finally the rebuilding of the public transportation infrastructure, and the kind of vertical lines into a certain extent. even l.a. has run out of space
said that is an interesting phenomenon to think about. >> don't know if this is an appropriate moment but i would like to insert something that goes back to what luc sante was describing when he told you working-class europe was where he came from. by the same token, working-class immigrant bronx is where i come from and it made me realize for each of us that history is inside us so deeply it covers all my growing up years. i am positive i still seen n.y. through that lens and whether it is there or not, i created it and there is enough of it there to help me. i am not crazy so i am not making things up. i am taking what is there to be seen and giving it back to you through all that is inside me and i am sure we are all doing that. what is interesting to me is to read a book about new york written by a park avenue watch
and god knows what will come out of that. >> the blue line approach. >> the book says generally has been loved by new york about by new yorkers about new york, has been written by people who come from the extremely flavorful new york places in this city that are so marked by the inventiveness of those who have less in material terms and therefore make more out of what they have. there is the scene in my book in which i describe walking with the lifelong friend, leonard, and the way he walks the streets of this city which is throughout the boroughs, his feet are flat on the ground and he knows every single borough and he always reminded me of post-world war ii
italian movies in which you had working class rome scenes so often, the world of people who own the streets by walking them and knowing them and therefore transforming them, making them in your own image and having that imprint. i am not in the working class anymore and i don't know working class neighborhoods. people always say the city is finished, it is all over but what do i know, what do we know? it is being replicated, the bronx, don't know about brooklyn, in the bronx, queens called all over the place. we are waiting for those books, i am waiting to see those books. i don't know why i feel compelled to say this. >> i am glad you did. i was talking to a bookseller in a wonderful book store in texas that he certified have to read another book about brooklyn i'm going to have to jump off a building.
one of the many things i enjoy about your book was having been born in new york it really is as you set foot on the ground or original take on new york it helps me see it through eyes i hadn't seen. there's a proliferation of books about brooklyn and new york and a lot of it seems right. >> the brooklyn that comes through unfortunately is full of middle-class wannabes. and that doesn't have much city flavor i have to say. isn't that true? >> i you suggesting paris and new york are finished? would you say that? >> could be. i am posing the question. i don't know about finished because there's always something around the corner but it is a very different experience because you don't have people
very much selling stuff on the street, you don't have -- it is an expensive place to live, you don't have the kind of social arrangements you once had. talking about more single people than ever living individual the in apartments, there were just as many single people may be a few less in the city of the past, but in rooming houses or boarding houses with distinct communal -- there was a lot more common space when real-estate was cheaper if you want to open the store you got money from the bank and opened the store, try that now. there was -- it was understood that this stretch of sidewalk even though it belongs to the city and not to you, you could do your thing. if you were a fire eater you could set up shop and breathe
fire. that sort of thing has diminished dramatically. we have blocks taken up by modern architecture, modern constructions that fill up the entire block, that many fewer places for people to hang out and there are probably laws and not to mention spikes that prevent people from sitting. in every way, laws, real-estate, money has driven people narrowly to walk down the sidewalk and into the appropriate source they can spend their money and then come out again. the experience of living in the streets and just experiencing the streets for their own sake is something that is greatly diminished. i won't say it is finished but it is not in a good way right
now. >> are you from paris or new york? >> both really. >> i have a friend in l. a named norman kline who calls it the gentle repression of the street from the purpose of the street is now not necessarily so much something we pass through but we are being either forcibly or subtly guided into stores, the streak has become kind of commercial conveyance as opposed to human convey and then there's merit to that observation. >> it goes really far back. i always remember this little rhyme which i think was a song by the time of the english revolution in the seventeenthcentury which went the long presence, man or woman who steals the dues from the common but sets the greater fellow lose to steals the common from the goose.
it has been going on since then. >> i have to register a dissenting view here. i can't help but. is reading why i wrote this book, i don't experience the city this way. i don't know from this culture. i never buy anything. nobody i know buys anything or if they do i don't notice it. i don't know anybody who talks about real estate or city government and a lot of you out there are still making this place move. it is true that character, a profile of the city, of the world has changed. that is why it is called global but we don't experience the world globally. we experience it locally. the day i am directed into the store i will come back and write that book, but i see a huge amount of invented, resourceful,
entertaining life on the streets that continuously gives me back affection for life. i can't desert that with you. >> if i could ask one more question and we would love to gear from you. i as i understand it, you live in new york, do you guys literally right in the city or you the type of writer who goes away and shuts life of weather and a writer's call money or in the middle of nowhere? can you describe your writing process and the place of your writing process? >> i used to write in the city when i lived in the city. i have been gone from the city for a while now but i work -- i right at home. i have always done so. i made sporadic attempts to write in motel rooms and i did
spend, last year -- basically i right in my office in my basement. >> i am a working writer. when my kids were young and never apply because i thought i would not do any writing and would come home and my wife would kill me so i decided i stayed home and also and right for a living, i write my own books but i write for the newspaper, one of the best things about being a journalist is it kind of forced me to learn how to produce, deadline is a beautiful creative endeavor. it made me get out of my own way and i have been able to apply that to my own writing so i sit in a converted breakfast room surrounded by 20,000 books, my son is convinced i like to call your brothers, i will be buried under that stuff at some point and i just write. and i write without a plan. i will have an idea what i
started this book i was really using the book as a model but the book morphed on me as they always do and at a certain point i had to listen to what the book was telling me. i fought it for awhile and it fought back. i think of it in those ways and i sit there until the is done. i read the draft and right while i am drafting and go back and revise once the draft is done. >> i live in a neighborhood called mid city, a little bit south of mid wilshire so i often call it generic city of l.a.. there was a terrific book about los angeles called los angeles architecture, he calls it the plains of it. i will go with that. >> funny you should ask this question because i just wrote a piece why i live why i live, from the southern writer harry crews, he wrote a piece called
why i live what i live and die joel that these many times and would he said essentially is he lives in gainesville, fla. small university, why does he live there? because when he looks out the back window of his study he see is the stream and that stream he knows goes back to the occasion of the swamp where he came from in georgia and essentially he says i can't write when i am home, i tried in georgia and couldn't, i sat there and ate my gut. on the other hand went to tennessee or upstate new york and i couldn't write very. if he stays home he suffocates he loses his oxygen, he found this place, this particular geographic distance that echoes for him the necessary in a distance he needs.
conversely, i once brought a dinner table conversation about this subject to an end in houston why i live where i live and i set if everybody i knew died tomorrow i would be okay because they still have new york. not so far. when i said that i realized i never started seriously writing pieces of work in the city. so i echoed that and i write this piece to include speculation about all the people who needed to get that far away but like me and terry crews to write about home. ..
identity. in fact, one of the charms is that it's not. the notion of that kind of, let's say a los angeles sensibility or sense of the city is hanging together is one of the most interesting social developments in the last ten years. a lot of it has to do with identification. >> yeah, i mean, in terms of population mass, i realize that whole big chunks of manhattan are -- have a fraction of the population they had a hundred years ago. the famous blocks on lower-east side -- at one time the block between bounded stem streets were the most densely populated place in the western hemisphere. >> right.
>> so it's not population density. it's really how crowd views the streets. >> right. >> relation on where you live. if you go to a place -- when i went to battery park city i was astonished. i'm on the hudson river. i can see jersey city across the way, yet, why do i feel like -- forgive me wisconsin, forgive me. >> absolutely. [laughter] >> it's so weird. i love across the street from st. vincente hospital. developers won. there will be a couple thousand people in no time and everybody
is anxious. >> i remember what happened hob hobo, buildings were half empty and there was this huge rush around the 80's. the first thing that had happened there was literally no place to park and this is a place where people had cars. people were moving out because they wanted to go some where where they could park their cars. >> right. and yet, we are still here. >> i'm a native new yorker, after reading vivian's book, i realized that everyone on the street that is telephones.
there's really the sense of street life. i almost felt like your book wases no -- nostalgic. people seem like they have minutes to spare. they have to be listening to something. >> yeah. >> so i was wondering if you comment on that. >> the other say i saw on the street a young man with a telephone, walking, not looking and a man about my age walking towards him and this guy was crearly -- clearly angry, the one my age, put his hand on the chest, heads up. [laughter]
>> my mom was born and raised in brooklyn, clogging up the street traffic. i was think of it that way. now i think about phone-walking. people stop on the middle of the sidewalk on the phone, you have to get out of the way. >> they have no platform left or fewer of encounters that many people walk right about. >> i wonder the difference between vuffian is the difference walking the streets in new york and walking the streets in parís which i have done as well as here and geneva and also function of age. i find i have white hair now, i can talk to anybody.
[laughter] >> i turn to him and say, you look great, and he looks at me and smiles. you made my day. it's a difference of age, but also of national character. americans are outgoing. i couldn't do that in geneva and parís. do you comment, do you agree or disagree or what? >> no, you're absolutely right. you're totally right. [laughter] >> of course, you know, it has to do with also -- well, part of the street life of the past was people tending to walk mostly in their neighborhoods where they were connected with and there
was ecosystem thing. and it's true when i was young, there weren't that many people. i could not take a walk without running into one or two people i knew. now there's so many people that are here temporarily, just come in, just leaving, et cetera, plus i don't live here anymore either, but, you know, a bunch of strangers. but it's true, americans and new yorkers are not known for being particularly friendly. they're outgoing in that they have an opinion. [laughter] >> they are friendly. i've seen them on the subways talking. i mean, really. [applause] [laughter] >> you made the argument. >> in the spirit of friendliness, vivian, but anyone is welcome to comment. i wanted to thank you for the place that you made in your book
for sex for women over a certain age and talking about intimacy and wondering how can i put this in the book. [laughter] >> i really don't know how to answer that. i decided it's my experience and my experience is what this book is derived from. i didn't think i was being brave. you thought it was brave? i certainly felt old enough to own and i'm not going to suffer social degradation. >> can you talk about the experience just to fill us all in? >> what? >> this is the wrong question. [laughter] >> not much to do with the city,
really, except -- silly, no, no. not appropriate question. please ask another one. [laughter] >> i've been interested in the different between more english phrase of in the street and england, in the high street in a small town versus being on the street and a more american on the road, which is all wrapped up with the automobile, so i was wondering if you maybe it's a los angeles question, but if there's any optimism you might have about the street light that might come with the decline with the age of automobile in the 21st century and anything about difference about american identity that resinates for you? >> i wish i could say the age of automobile is declining in los angeles, but i don't think it is.
it's an interesting question. this goes back to what luke was saying about neighborhoods. for me in terms of los angeles and in terms of that sense of cliché and reality. los angeles is famously a city and city of neighborhoods. both of those things are true. i have a similar kind of neighborhood experience that luke was describing. i walked in my neighborhood, various stores, i walked the liquor store, restaurant, bar, bank, whatever, i do run into people i know. i do have the street-level encounters with people. maybe people like, you know, i may not know their name or might know their first name, another dog, i've never been to their house, we recognize each other. something really interesting about that as kind of social fabric, and to be honest i grew up in upper east side, i did not have the experience in new york. i did have that experience when
i moved downtown. but there's something interesting about that fiber, and i don't know what it means in terms of -- you know, we do like to talk -- a friend of mine said you're not going to make a case. i'd love to but i can't. i love to say that the public transportation development or redevelopment of public transportation in la is going to sort of do something but actually more to the point i think driverless cars are going to reassert. in la one of the tensions of that particular city. i don't know how it is here. driving here would be a total nightmare but i also find it to be a nightmare there. >> bloomberg did a lot by creating pedestrians to try to bring the traffic down rather than keep catering to more and more cars. we have that effort. i don't know how well it's -- >> talk about bring --
eliminating those very sense -- >> right. [laughter] >> yeah. >> okay. one more question. okay, go for it. >> yeah. thanks for coming out. new york, los angeles and parís have seemed to be global cities, very, you know, centuries center of global capital, they've had many kinds of immigrant, hundreds of languages spoken in the cities. there's also this idea that only recently we're entering this age of globalization, do you think that like there is some difference between globalization that we see now a days and the globalization that was in the past or is it all just one continuous concept? >> well, you know, there are smaller and larger things, for
example, i remember how in the 70's you could readily distinguish americans and paris or french people in new york by their hair. this is out the window. okay, i'm a weirdo when i go to a new city, not in the united states so much but abroad, the first place i want to go to is a supermarket because that's where you see the most pronounced regional characteristics. you have the interesting packaging, all the stuff. but, you know, i've seen that diminish over the last 30 years considerably, many little things like this. we have much more of -- you know, we all watch the same like netflix all over the world. translate to various languages.
everybody -- you know, there are starbucks on the moon now. [laughter] it's crazy. >> but the conversations that are going on in those conversation -- starbucks are different. >> we come down to the intimate details, and that's the part where if you find yourself in parís and you don't know anybody, you'll never find the stuff out because you won't be invited in. and -- >> right. >> depending on the local culture. you'll see young people, young women with the shorts and jeans, they open their mouths and they are french and italian. they are if anything being affected by the city, i think. right? i mean, there is a difference in
every single one of these cities, the way in which -- the other day i saw two young women stop on the street with a lot of hair and skinny and one said to the oh, you're acting hostile. why are you so hostile. i don't think you'll hear that in parís or in rome. i know. >> here is something else -- >> i mean, that's the point, you know, that's the point, look otherwise the european union would be working a lot better than it is, right? [laughter] >> we are going to our culture -- >> you're suggesting that new york is springs from therapy.