chapter  1
27 Pages

The city as creature

New York
WithRob Sullivan

In this chapter I explore the idea of the city as creature, using New York City as the exemplar. Through the work of James Baldwin, Jack Kerouac, Michel de Certeau, Edith Wharton, Walt Whitman, Luc Sante, and others, I examine how writers have identified New York with various creatures, including monsters, witches, sphinxes, armpits, and animals. We conceive of the city not as a built environment separated from humanity and not as humanity separated from the built environment, but as both melded together into one thing: the city as creature. When we add in the various manifestations of flora and fauna that appear in the city, this notion of the city as creature appears even more credible, for microbes, cockroaches, rats, flowers, crabgrass, dogs, and cats all make the city that much more creaturely. The application of terms such as “our New York” or “the eyes of New York” also testify to the fact that the city is thought of in much greater terms than simply a collection of buildings with human beings walking in and out of them. Once we recognize the myriad of assemblages at work in the city and how they are in a constant state of metamorphosis, we can begin to fathom how the city is a mixture of elements across the spectrum: skyscrapers, weeds, humans, buses, filth (of all kinds), language (of all varieties), and even such nonmaterial qualities as love, beauty, bravery, and depression. This mix, taken altogether, is both city and creature. The creaturely manifestation of the city is one of the city’s most common manifestations, yet it is one that is little recognized.