Tall Stories: New York Skyscrapers in Art and Literature

2012-05-15T13:23:13Z (GMT) by Douglas Tallack
In New York, perhaps more than any other city, skyscrapers have attracted the attention of film-makers, painters, and photographers, and also writers. This essay will concentrate upon the comparatively neglected topic of literary engagements with New York skyscrapers. In The American Scene (1907), Henry James has difficulty comprehending what these “giants of the mere market” (James 1968: 77) could offer writers, and, especially, novelists and short story writers, and his work is determinedly low-rise. A century later, in Falling Man (2007), Don DeLillo, though much-interested in walking or at least driving the city of New York, confronts the skyscraper more dramatically, still, in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Between The American Scene and Falling Man, writers have sought variously to respond to the challenge which the emerging and complex high-rise visuality of New York City has levelled at formal aspects of fiction, notably perspective and narrative. These formal matters are highlighted by passing comparisons with developments in visual art, which have been stimulated by the marked coincidence of modernism and modernization in New York City.