[Photography] has become more and more subtle, more and more modern, and the result is that it is now incapable of photographing a tenement or a rubbish heap without transfiguring it. Not to mention a river dam or electric cable factory: in front of these, photography can now only say, How beautiful!
Alice Malloy had dark, stringy hair, and even her husband, who loved her more than he knew, was sometimes reminded by her lean face of a tenement doorway on a rainy day, for her countenance was long, vacant, and weakly lighted, a passage for the gentle transports and miseries of the poor.
Some day you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of East Northfield, is dead. Don't you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now; I shall have gone up higher, that is all, out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal-a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto His glorious body.
Dwight L. Moody
The poorest man may, in his cottage, bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake; the wind may blow though it; the storm may enter; the rain may enter; but the King of England may not enter; all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement.
'Sunday Morning Coming Down' is probably the most directly autobiographical thing I'd written. In those days, I was living in a slum tenement that was torn down afterwards, but it was $25 a month in a condemned building, and 'Sunday Morning Coming Down' was more or less looking around me and writing about what I was doing.
From the Berlin tenement reform law of 1897 to H. P. Berlage's plan for Amsterdam South of 1917, designers and theorists in Germany and Holland moved toward the development of a perimeter residential block that would preserve the plastic continuity of the street while opening up the resultant courtyard for use as an enclosed semi-public space.
I have spent much of my life around death. I have sat with people as they died. I have listened to others relate near-death experiences. I have studied theology and am aware of what scriptures and religions say about life and death. And I have come to the conclusion that death is not to be feared. Moreover, when it is time for me to move out of this tenement in which I am housed, I intend to look forward to it joyfully.
My loving friend, you see, my life was never given a foundation, no one was able to imagine what it would want to become. In Venice there stands the so-called Ca del Duca, a princely foundation, on which later the most wretched tenement came to be built. With me it's the opposite: the beautiful arched elevations of my spirit rest on the most tentative beginning; a wooden scaffolding, a few boards....Is that why I feel inhibited in raising the nave, the tower to which the weight of the great bells is to be hoisted (by angels, who else could do it)?
Rainer Maria Rilke
This is your heritage,' he said, as if from this dance we could know about his own childhood, about the flavor and grit of tenement buildings in Spanish Harlem, and projects in Red Hook, and dance halls, and city parks, and about how his own Paps, how he had beat him, how he taught him to dance, as if we could hear Spanish in his movements, as if Puerto Rico was a man in a bathrobe, grabbing another beer from the fridge and raising it to drink, his head back, still dancing, still steeping and snapping perfectly in time.
This is your heritage, ' he said, as if from this dance we could know about his own childhood, about the flavor and grit of tenement buildings in Spanish Harlem, and projects in Red Hook, and dance halls, and city parks, and about his own Paps, how he beat him, how he taught him to dance, as if we could hear Spanish in his movements, as if Puerto Rico was a man in a bathrobe, grabbing another beer from the fridge and raising it to drink, his head back, still dancing, still steeping and snapping perfectly in time.
Because there is something in the touch of flesh with flesh which abrogates, cuts sharp and straight across the devious intricate channels of decorous ordering, which enemies as well as lovers know because it makes them both:---touch and touch of that which is the citadel of the central I-Am's private own: not spirit, soul; the liquorish and ungirdled mind is anyone's to take in any any darkened hallway of this earthly tenement. But let flesh touch with flesh, and watch the fall of all the eggshell shibboleth of caste and color too."¨
You took a walk on a Sunday afternoon and came to a nice neighborhood, very refined. You saw a small one of these trees through the iron gate leading to someone's yard and you knew that soon that section of Brooklyn would get to be a tenement district. The tree knew. It came there first. Afterwards, poor foreigners seeped in and the quiet old brownstone houses were hacked up into flats, feather beds were pushed out on the window sills to air and the Tree of Heaven flourished. That was the kind of tree it was. It liked poor people.
As a poodle may have his hair cut long or his hair cut short, as he may be trimmed with pink ribbons or with blue ribbons, yet he remains the same old poodle, so capitalism may be trimmed with factory laws, tenement laws, divorce laws and gambling laws, but it remains the same old capitalism. These "humanitarian parts" are only trimming the poodle. Socialism, one and inseparable with its "antirent and anticapital parts," means to get rid of the poodle.
Daniel De Leon
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by Facebook, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through photo slideshows at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connections of their youth through the machinery of night, who clicking and poking and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural brightness of tiny screens floating across the tops of cities contemplating likes, who bared their brains to the network and saw who got pregnant and who got fat and who's living the life best lived by posting Instagrams of themselves staggering on tenement roofs illuminated, who passed through newly cropped profile pics with radiant cool eyes obsessing over whose ex's new lover is the best looking ex-lover's lover, who breaking their backs falling out of ergonomic chairs while shouting into the icy streets, Everybody look how clever I am, Look how much fun I am having, Look at this amazing party I went to, Look at how well-liked I am, Look at my effortless carefully constructed casual desperate thrown together fun, Everybody look, This is fun, Look, Look, I swear to God I am having so much fun.
That was our first home. Before I felt like an island in an ocean, before Calcutta, before everything that followed. You know it wasn't a home at first but just a shell. Nothing ostentatious but just a rented two-room affair, an unneeded corridor that ran alongside them, second hand cane furniture, cheap crockery, two leaking faucets, a dysfunctional doorbell, and a flight of stairs that led to, but ended just before the roof (one of the many idiosyncrasies of the house), secured by a sixteen garrison lock, and a balcony into which a mango tree's branch had strayed. The house was in a building at least a hundred years old and looked out on a street and a tenement block across it. The colony, if you were to call it a colony, had no name. The house itself was seedy, decrepit, as though a safe-keeper of secrets and scandals. It had many entries and exits and it was possible to get lost in it. And in a particularly inspired stroke of whimsy architectural genius, it was almost invisible from the main road like H.G. Wells' 'Magic Shop'. As a result, we had great difficulty when we had to explain our address to people back home. It went somewhat like this, '... take the second one from the main road... and then right after turning left from Dhakeshwari, you will see a bird shop (unspecific like that, for it had no name either)... walk straight in and take the stairs at the end to go to the first floor, that's where we dwell... but don't press the bell, knock... and don't walk too close to the cages unless you want bird-hickeys... '' ('Left from Dhakeshwari')
As I became older, I was given many masks to wear. I could be a laborer laying railroad tracks across the continent, with long hair in a queue to be pulled by pranksters; a gardener trimming the shrubs while secretly planting a bomb; a saboteur before the day of infamy at Pearl Harbor, signaling the Imperial Fleet; a kamikaze pilot donning his headband somberly, screaming 'Banzai' on my way to my death; a peasant with a broad-brimmed straw hat in a rice paddy on the other side of the world, stooped over to toil in the water; an obedient servant in the parlor, a houseboy too dignified for my own good; a washerman in the basement laundry, removing stains using an ancient secret; a tyrant intent on imposing my despotism on the democratic world, opposed by the free and the brave; a party cadre alongside many others, all of us clad in coordinated Mao jackets; a sniper camouflaged in the trees of the jungle, training my gunsights on G.I. Joe; a child running with a body burning from napalm, captured in an unforgettable photo; an enemy shot in the head or slaughtered by the villageful; one of the grooms in a mass wedding of couples, having met my mate the day before through our cult leader; an orphan in the last airlift out of a collapsed capital, ready to be adopted into the good life; a black belt martial artist breaking cinderblocks with his head, in an advertisement for Ginsu brand knives with the slogan 'but wait-there's more' as the commercial segued to show another free gift; a chef serving up dog stew, a trick on the unsuspecting diner; a bad driver swerving into the next lane, exactly as could be expected; a horny exchange student here for a year, eager to date the blonde cheerleader; a tourist visiting, clicking away with his camera, posing my family in front of the monuments and statues; a ping pong champion, wearing white tube socks pulled up too high and batting the ball with a wicked spin; a violin prodigy impressing the audience at Carnegie Hall, before taking a polite bow; a teen computer scientist, ready to make millions on an initial public offering before the company stock crashes; a gangster in sunglasses and a tight suit, embroiled in a turf war with the Sicilian mob; an urban greengrocer selling lunch by the pound, rudely returning change over the counter to the black patrons; a businessman with a briefcase of cash bribing a congressman, a corrupting influence on the electoral process; a salaryman on my way to work, crammed into the commuter train and loyal to the company; a shady doctor, trained in a foreign tradition with anatomical diagrams of the human body mapping the flow of life energy through a multitude of colored points; a calculus graduate student with thick glasses and a bad haircut, serving as a teaching assistant with an incomprehensible accent, scribbling on the chalkboard; an automobile enthusiast who customizes an imported car with a supercharged engine and Japanese decals in the rear window, cruising the boulevard looking for a drag race; a illegal alien crowded into the cargo hold of a smuggler's ship, defying death only to crowd into a New York City tenement and work as a slave in a sweatshop. My mother and my girl cousins were Madame Butterfly from the mail order bride catalog, dying in their service to the masculinity of the West, and the dragon lady in a kimono, taking vengeance for her sisters. They became the television newscaster, look-alikes with their flawlessly permed hair. Through these indelible images, I grew up. But when I looked in the mirror, I could not believe my own reflection because it was not like what I saw around me. Over the years, the world opened up. It has become a dizzying kaleidoscope of cultural fragments, arranged and rearranged without plan or order.
Frank H. Wu