In an innovative contribution to the challenging of disciplinary boundaries, Edward J. Ahearn juxtaposes works of literature with the writings of social scientists to discover how together they illuminate city life in ways that neither can accomplish separately. Ahearn's argument spans from the second half of the nineteenth century in Western Europe to the present-day United States and encompasses a wide range of literary genres and sociological schools. For example, Charles Baudelaire's essays on the city are viewed alongside the work of Emile Durkheim and Georg Simmel; Bertolt Brecht's Jungle of Cities heightens the arguments of Louis Wirth and Robert Park; Richard Wright's Native Son and Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March are re-visioned in tandem with works by William Julius Wilson and others; Herman Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" poses a challenge to James Q. Wilson's Bureaucracy; Toni Morrison's historical novel Jazz is buttressed by the career of Robert Moses and the revisionist work of historians Hilary Ballon and Kenneth T. Jackson; and Don DeLillos's Cosmopolis comes into brilliant focus in the light of arguments on world cybercities by David Harvey, Saskia Sassen, and Manuel Cassels. Resisting the temptation to ignore contradictions for the sake of interpretation, Ahearn instead offers the reader a view of the modern city as complex as his subject matter. Here the methodologies and knowledge generated by the social sciences are both complemented and subverted by the experience of city life as portrayed in literature. With its diverse narrative tactics and shifting points of view, which can be as disorienting to the reader as a foreign city is to an arriving immigrant, literature reinforces the importance of method and outlook in the social sciences. Ultimately, Ahearn suggests, neither literature nor the social sciences can capture the experience of urban misery.
'… it is as a reader of texts, and particularly literary texts, that Ahearn shines. His readings of literary works are impressive and invariably illuminating. Ahearn engages these texts profoundly, working to make connections between them and the abiding problems of the modern city.' Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, Columbia University, and author of Paris as Revolution: Writing the 19th-Century City ’Ahearn brings an impressively comprehensive knowledge of the field to his readings, from Ã‰mile Durkheim and Max Weber to recent studies of global cities by David Harvey and Manuel Castells. Urban Confrontations assembles a rich assortment of politically committed writers whose work testifies to a significant overlap between literary representations of the city and sociological ones.’ Times Literary Supplement ’Ranging from the poetry of Baudelaire to the fiction of Don DeLillo, set adjacent to the work of social scientists from Durkheim to Harvey, Ahearn’s innovative work captures the exuberance and paradoxes of city life, and generates a contradictory and riotous light on the urban landscape… This interdisciplinary project is exhilarating… The scope of this assemblage with its pretension to span the development of urban theory through its fictional accompaniments makes Urban Confrontations groundbreaking.’ Housing Studies Journal ’Ahearn is a comparatist, and this is a fine example of what comparative literature can achieve… The scope of comparative work is extraordinarily wide, and much depends on what the scholar chooses from an ocean of possibilities. In every respect, Ahearn has chosen well.’ British Society for Literature and Science 'Ahearn provides deft plot summaries, and strategic reminders of his process, to clarify his interpretations and critiques. This is an exemplary pedagogical work, the fruit of a life-time of award-winning teaching and co-teaching at Brown University.' Literaturesalon’s Blog
Contents: Introduction: breaking the glass; Part I The Heroism of Modern Life? Baudelaire, Brecht and the Founders of Urban Sociology: City visions of the poet and social scientist; 'Let's beat up the poor!' Baudelaire on urban conflict and the failure of policy; In the jungle of Brecht's cities. Part II Chicago Black and White: Immigration and Race in Native Son and The Adventures of Augie March: Introduction to Part II; The native son we didn't (and still don't) want to see; Augie's immigrant adventures. Part III Power, Governance and the Struggle for Human Realization: Bureaucracy and the lone city dweller: James Q. Wilson - and Michel Foucault - meet Bartleby; Jazz and The Power Broker: urban tycoon versus the real lives of ordinary Black people; Immigrant women writing against the urban regime: The House on Mango Street and Bone; Epilogue: DeLillo's global city; Bibliography; Index.