Intersections: Streets and Other Democratic Spaces

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter explores urban prose, poetry and painting that moves from sense impressions encountered on city streets to implicit and explicit statements about American social and political conditions. A strain in American culture, from Ashcan School painting through James Baldwin’s mid-century essays on Harlem to Don DeLillo’s set-piece performative protests, insists that the nation’s politics take shape and moods register on city streets. The chapter argues that certain, primarily literary, forms, through their close attention to and lucid expression of the way streets feel, offer access and insight into experiences that range from jostling crowds through organized protests to violent confrontations. Where the flâneur pursues urban aesthetics and fleeting impressions in the spirit of leisured dilettantism, Henry James restlessly analyses early-twentieth-century New York’s metropolitan scale; insiders and outsiders probe the tensions that shape and define ethnic enclaves; and in Tillie Olsen’s strike journalism and E. L. Doctorow’s political fiction pre- and post- Second World War mass protests are at once inspiring and monstrous. Where Doctorow and DeLillo describe a postmodern withdrawal from the street as a site of meaning, the chapter ends with its re-emergence with Occupy and other twenty-first-century protest movements.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe City in American Literature and Culture
EditorsKevin R. McNamara
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781108902168
ISBN (Print)9781108841962
Publication statusPublished - 6 Aug 2021

Publication series

NameCambridge Themes in American Literature and Culture
PublisherCambridge University Press


  • impression
  • flâneur
  • politics
  • protest
  • crowds
  • community
  • activism
  • street


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