David Kishik is the author of Wittgenstein’s Form of Life (2008), The Power of Life: Agamben and the Coming Politics (2011), The Manhattan Project: A Theory of a City (2015), and The Book of Shem: On Genesis Before Abraham (2018). Self Study (2023) is the fifth and final volume in his series of books, To Imagine a Form of Life.

He is associate professor of philosophy at Emerson College, where he received the Miller Award for outstanding teaching in 2016 and the Huret Award for faculty excellence in 2020.

Sheer Life:
A Theory of New York (To Imagine a Form of Life, III)

ICI Project 2011-13

As Walter Benjamin dedicated his “Arcades Project” to Paris, capital of the nineteenth century, my next book is best described as a philosophical study of New York, capital of the twentieth century. Seen in this way, a world of elective affinities is revealed between the two cities, as the main players in Benjamin’s incomplete work experience a curious metamorphosis: the flâneur transforms into the homeless, the collector into the hoarder, Grandville into Warhol, Victor Hugo into Woody Allen, Baron Haussmann into Robert Moses, Marx into Arendt, Charles Fourier into Jane Jacobs, and the covered arcade into the bare street.

But while Benjamin sees Paris as the dream from which we need to wake up, I approach New York as the reality into which we must still awake from our current state of dogmatic slumber. What may be called “The Manhattan Project” is thus an inversion of the principle behind “The Arcades Project”: it seeks to pass through what has been, in order to experience the present as the dream that refers to the waking world of the past. New York, I argue, was a “landscape built of sheer life,” one that still stands in perfect opposition to Auschwitz’s terrain of bare life.