Cover of The Manhattan Project by David Kishik
The Manhattan Project
A Theory of a City
David Kishik


March 2015
288 pages.

Cloth ISBN: 9780804786034
Digital ISBN: 9780804794367
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In The Manhattan Project, David Kishik dares to imagine a Walter Benjamin who did not commit suicide in 1940, but managed instead to escape the Nazis to begin a long, solitary life in New York. During his anonymous, posthumous existence, while he was haunting and haunted by his new city, Benjamin composed a sequel to his Arcades Project. Just as his incomplete masterpiece revolved around Paris, capital of the nineteenth century, this spectral text was dedicated to New York, capital of the twentieth. Kishik's sui generis work of experimental scholarship or fictional philosophy is thus presented as a study of a manuscript that was never written.

The fictitious prolongation of Benjamin's life will raise more than one eyebrow, but the wit, breadth, and incisiveness of Kishik's own writing is bound to impress. Kishik reveals a world of secret affinities between New York City and Paris, the flâneur and the homeless person, the collector and the hoarder, the covered arcade and the bare street, but also between photography and graffiti, pragmatism and minimalism, Andy Warhol and Robert Moses, Hannah Arendt and Jane Jacobs. A critical celebration of New York City, The Manhattan Project reshapes our perception of urban life, and rethinks our very conception of modernity.

About the author

David Kishik is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson College and the author of The Power of Life (SUP, 2011).

"[P]erhaps the most idiosyncratically ambitious book about Benjamin ever written...Kishik's Benjamin becomes a kind of Metatron, the biblical archangel whose task it is to record all the deeds of Israel."

—Benjamin Wurgaft, Los Angeles Review of Books

"[T]he portrait The Manhattan Project conjures of New York manages to be that rare combination of skeptical but not cynical; a combination often difficult to sustain in modern urban life... [A] feeling of living on borrowed time—a sense that eventually the daily experience of being overwhelmed by crowds and noise will catch up with you, to say nothing of the deeper displacement of migration—runs through Kishik's book, [and] this is its pay-off. "

—Stephanie Boland, Los Angeles Review of Books

"An extraordinary new book which I know Edward Soja would have read with the greatest interest. It's David Kishik's The Manhattan Project. But it's not about that Manhattan Project at all. Instead, it riffs on Benjamin's Arcades Project in the most astonishing of ways."

—Derek Gregory, Geographical Imaginations

". . . a thoroughly diverting read"

—David B. Hobbes, The National Post

"Kishik has written an imaginative, thoughtful, and engaging account of the intellectual afterlife, in the US, of German philosopher Walter Benjamin . . . This book will have significant appeal to those interested in critical geography, urban history, and 20th-century philosophy and cultural history more generally . . . Highly recommended."

—M. Uebel, CHOICE

"Finally. A book about Walter Benjamin that Walter Benjamin might consider reading."

—Eric Jarosinski, NeinQuarterly

"A curiously effervescent text that is simultaneously a work of imagined philology, an index of urban delirium, and a fascinating evocation of a city that became the de facto capital of the 20th century . . . It is therefore much to Kishik's credit that his slim volume, a drop in the vast ocean of literature on the city, packs such a considerable theoretical punch."

—Dustin Illingworth, The Brooklyn Rail

"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."

Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

"[A] brilliantly realized thought experiment that's as full of wit and imagination as it is of serious thoughts about Benjamin."

—Laurie Greer, Politics and Prose

"Written with rare lightness and wit, this book is without equal, incomparable in the present landscape of literature written on New York."—Yehuda Emmanuel Safran, Columbia University

"The Manhattan Project is a work of enchantment that disenchants the city. Kaleidoscopic in its effect, dazzling in its artistry and intensity, it is an astonishing accomplishment, a veritable intellectual and imaginative tour-de-force. Kishik playfully and perceptively allows Benjamin's idiosyncrasies and genius to shine through his book, just as he enables New York's pulses and rhythms to energize it."—Graeme Gilloch, Lancaster University

"The Manhattan Project channels Walter Benjamin in a quest to understand twentieth-century New York. Deftly blending history and fiction in order to capture the city's delirious yet weighty reality, David Kishik offers astute observations of phenomena as diverse as photography, the character of the street, Andy Warhol, dance, and the New York Public Library. Turning the pages of this fascinating book is like turning a New York street corner only to find some new and unexpected pleasure."

—Todd May, Clemson University