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April 6, 2015

Book Notes - David Kishik "The Manhattan Project: A Theory of a City"

The Manhattan Project: A Theory of a City

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

David Kishik's The Manhattan Project: A Theory of a City boldly imagines a scenario where Walter Benjamin did not die in 1940 and followed up his Arcades Project with a similar study of 20th century Manhattan.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"A beguiling work of literary and social criticism that begins with a subverting counterfactual and moves into a deeply searching inquiry into the nature of an iconic island . . . [F]ans of Arendt, Howe and Kazin will find Kishik's invention, and his playful seriousness in maintaining it, both a pleasure and a provocation.:

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is David Kishik's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Manhattan Project: A Theory of a City:

Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich
Not many people know that every philosophy book requires a certain soundtrack to put the reader in the right mindset. My theory of a city is dedicated to twentieth-century New York. The problem is that the variety and quantity of musical compositions that this place has spewed out during this period is rather staggering. So anything that my playlist is going to include or exclude is bound to be contested. Which is why it is not trying to be representative. It is not even an attempt to reflect my own taste. There is such a rich tradition into which I could have tapped. The book itself turned into an expansive literary montage. But after some deliberation I decided to restrict myself here to a very limited selection.

"Proverb" by Steve Reich
"How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life." I was thinking about this quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein as I was realizing how my narrow musical choice is the result of a strange thing that happened in the long process of distilling a detailed urban history into an essential philosophy. Certain artists and genres clung to the structure of the argument and propelled it forward. Others fell by the wayside. For example punk didn't do the work I expected it to do. While rap turned into an exemplary and undeniable force. I have little doubt in my mind that rap is an utterly new and truly indigenous musical form that twentieth-century New York will ultimately be remembered for. But for some reason it feels almost impossible to read or write while it plays in the background.

City Life by Steve Reich
Another example is John Cage's conspicuous absence from the text and the elevated significance given to Steve Reich. For my money, the ideal accompaniment to The Manhattan Project as a whole could simply be just a few of Reich's iconic pieces. Three are mentioned here for your consideration. I used to believe that they show something that my book chapters are trying but failing to say. But then I considered Sol LeWitt's claim that "the philosophy of the work is implicit in the work and it is not an illustration of any system of philosophy." In minimalist art what you see is what you see. And in minimalist music what you hear is what you hear. In a way my strange book is a strange attempt to illustrate the brilliant philosophy implicit in Reich's brilliant work.

David Kishik and The Manhattan Project: A Theory of a City links:

excerpts from the book

Kirkus review
Politics and Prose review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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