If the effort is ultimately doomed, then Raban is the right guide to follow on the attempt. He brings to the task the audacity of a 30 years old independent writer, a readiness to disclose his personal intimate experience together with detached erudition, and an incisive analytical mind. The author states the premise of his endeavour in the introduction: "Signals, styles, systems of rapid, highly-conventionalised communication, are the lifeblood of the big city. The city, our great modern form, is soft, amenable to a dazzling and libidinous variety of lives, dreams, interpretations. Chapter Two, "The City as Melodrama" argues that city dwellers often stage-act in a way that emphasizes moral extremes - much against common rationalistic or dystopian models of the city population.

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To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them. Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems; we are continuing to work to improve these archived versions. It aspires, however, to be something more: a picture of what all city life shares with this special milieu. Raban believes that all city cultures arise from the fleeting, contrived masks which people are prone to wear when in a milieu of strangers.

Unlike the small town, where a person is a known and fixed quantity, the city is a place where you can assume a pose without easily being found out. Raban makes us feel the charm of this contrivance, a certain vitality in it, and so prepares us to look with sympathy at the same activity among his younger contemporaries he is These he divides into two camps.

One is composed of newcomers to the city who, in discovering that they are free to step out of their provincial social roles, step into another kind of fixed routine.

They become the chasers of Names and Scenes, thinking that in knowing who and what counts, they count. Describing such a style of life could easily become a banal exercise in condemning the Mammon of Glitter. Raban saves his account from this by an act of autobiography; he tells us unaffectedly what it meant for him to give up a university job in the provinces and come to London as a freelance writer.

Each new connection he made in London was more than a job; it was a piece of ongoing life in the city to which he could attach his own. It was the life of a parasite, of a voyeur. London has provided an enormous diversity of scenes in which this parasitism can flower; because most of the scenes, from the parties to the pubs to the literary groups, are unstable composites, the styles of each seldom leave permanent scars.

For a month or so one is heavily into Maoism, a few months pass in the company of friends into macrobiotics, perhaps one then buys a movie camera. The life of the settled young in London ostensibly deniei all the artifices and embellishments that in the past went under the name of style.

Elegance is sin. But the author is not so modest. He believes that, in the cities of the past, contrivance of facades was also the organizing principle of social life. In their place he assembles a collage of short, great quotes from St. Augustine, Dickens, Charles Booth, Flaubert, et al.

It is almost as though he were afraid that a coherent theory of the city would demean his pictures of modern London, that these marvelous portraits would somehow be less real if subjected to rigorous analysis. In refusing to theorize, because it entails the risk of creating illusions and being unnatural, Raban shows himself to share the mentality of those who inhabit the bare rooms and live degree zero; this book is both a concrete critique of a certain life style and an intellectual product of it.

This is one of a handful of nonfiction books about the quality of life in a city which is more than a catalogue of horrors.


Soft City: A Documentary Exploration of Metropolitan Life

A book on City Living by Mr. Soft city Jonathan Jonnathan Good. At least I have the courtesy of using parentheses when I slip into diversions Now it needs a patchwork quilt of intrusions, guesses and observations to get anywhere near its truth. Light shelfwear to boards, dust soiling along the rabsn dust jacket has just a touch of edgewear, but is not chipped or torn. It is diverse, random, out of time, even out of place it is too many different times and places.


Jonathan Raban




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