Manhattan Transfer – John Dos Passos II

Manhattan Transfer does not reach a conclusion or climax but fades out, true in its effort to capture the erratic, cinematic way of life in New York. I found a blurb of a bookseller who described the book as ‘cubist’, which is quite apt. The characters and scenes are put together in the way in which painters would collage newspaper clippings, bottles, tables and violins. I enjoyed being immersed in this modern work, it reads thoroughly contemporary. A nice conversation between three downtrodden men to close the post on Manhattan Transfer:



“It’s the same all over the world, the police beating us up, rich people cheating us out of their starvation wages, and who’s fault? … Dio cane! Your fault, my fault, Emile’s fault….”

“We didn’t make the world…. They did or maybe God did.”

“God’s on their side, like a policeman…. When the day comes we’ll kill God…. I am an anarchist.”

Congo hummed “les bourgeois à la lanterne nom de dieu.”

“Are you one of us?”

Congo shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not a catholic or a protestant. I haven’t any money and I haven’t any work. Look at that.” Congo pointed with a dirty finger to a long rip on his trouserknee. “That’s anarchist…. Hell I’m going out to Senegal and get to be a nigger.”

“You look like one already,” laughed Emile. “People are all the same. It’s only that some people get ahead and others dont. … That’s why I came to New York.”

“Dio cane I think that too twentyfive years ago. … When you’re old like me you know better. Doesn’t the shame of it get you sometimes? Here” …he tapped with his knuckles on his stiff shirtfront. … “I feel it hot and like choking me here. … Then I say to myself Courage our day is coming, our day of blood.”

“I say to myself,” said Emile “When you have some money old kid.”

“Listen before I leave Torino when I go last time to see the mama I go to a meetin of comrades. … A fellow from Capua got up to speak … a very handsome man, tall and very thin. … He said that there would be no more force when after the revolution nobody lived off another man’s work. … Police, governments, armies, presidents, kings … all that is force. Force is not real; it is illusion. The working man makes all that himself because he believes it. The day that we stop believing in money and property it will be like a dream when we wake up. We will not need bombs or barricades. … Religion, politics, democracy all that is to keep us asleep. … Everybody must go round telling people: Wake up!”

“When you go down the street I’ll be with you,” said Congo.

“You know that man I tell you about? … That man Errico Malatesta, in Italy greatest man after Garibaldi. … He give his whole life in jail and in exile, in Egypt, in England, in South America, everywhere. … If I could be a man like that, I don’t care what they do; they can string me up, shoot me … I don’t care … I am very happy.”


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About thomaswensing

Architect and Activist. Over the years I have become increasingly aware that I need to actively engage with the issues I care about. My passions and irritations are many and change often, but a red thread is always a deep concern over the fact that capitalism does not work as it is claimed it does, democracies only serve the needs of the few and environmental resource depletion and pressures continue to mount. I think it is time for citizen's activism to create pressure, to bang on the doors of established powers and interests until we get it right. As you will notice, if you continue to follow my blog over time, there are certain fetishes I have; modernism, social housing, the avant-garde. I propose to recuperate the Modern Project from the dustbin of history and re-establish the link between social engagement and architecture. Watch it all come down needs to be followed by let the good stuff blossom!

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