All That Is Solid Melts Into Air
The Experience of Modernity
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392 pages / June 2010 / 9781844676446

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A kaleidoscopic journey into the experience of modernization.
All That Is Solid Melts into Airis widely acclaimed as one of the greatest books on modernity. A kaleidoscopic journey into the experience of modernization, it captures the dizzying social changes that swept up and transformed the lives of millions of people. Berman delves into the aesthetic and intellectual controversies of art, literature, and architecture: from the writing of Goethe, Marx and Dostoevsky to the Paris of Baudelaire and Haussmann, the Petersburg of the Tsarist builders and Pushkin, and the New York of devastated wastelands and creative artists.

With respect, Marshall Berman, 1940-2013



“The imaginative range, intellectual force and infectious generosity of this book… place it incontestably in the gallery of canonical texts.”

“A bubbling cauldron of ideas.”

“A visionary work.”

“Berman lights up every text he examines.”

“The subject of our session this evening has been a focus of intellectual debate and political passion for at least six or seven decades now. It already has a long history, in other words. It so happens, however, that within the last year there has appeared a book which reopens that debate, with such renewed passion, and such undeniable power, that no contemporary reflection on these two ideas, ‘modernity’ and ‘revolution’, could avoid trying to come to terms with it. The book to which I refer is Marshall Berman’s All That Is Solid Melts into Air.”

“What Marshall will likely be most remembered for—and deservedly—was his visionary 1982 book All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity. This was truly a revelation, an evocation and sometimes a prose-poem with footnotes. Here he embraced Marx as a prophet—guided not so much by Old Testament wrath as by the idea (written by Marx and his pal Friedrich Engels at a peak revolutionary moment) that what might just be heaving into sight would be “an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

All That’s Solid Melts into Air, which takes its name from that famous line in The Communist Manifesto, is a paean to the divided experience that is modernity: the loss of the old world paired with the creation of the new, decay as the condition of construction. Whenever I think of Marshall, I think of that line from Osip Mandelstam’s poem Notre Dame: “I too one day shall create/ Beauty from cruel weight.”

“A little more than thirty years ago, shortly after I started working at Dissent, I get a phone call from Irving Howe. “It’s just dazzling!” he exclaimed. Irving—not a man to overuse superlatives—was describing an article that Marshall Berman had just submitted to Dissent. It was a piece that later was a part of his magisterial book, All That Is Solid Melts into Air.”

“I first became aware of his intellectual rigor as a lively and analytical writer when I picked up a copy of his now famous book published in 1982, All That is Solid Melts into Air, three decades ago. I was so taken by his humanist view of the modern city—his favorite example was his own home town, New York—that I would read excerpts of his Faustian interpretation of modernization from the book, to anyone who came to visit in my upper west side apartment.”

“The figure that Berman used to describe modernity was Faust, who bargains with his soul in return, in Berman's view, for modernisation and development. He recommends throughout All That Is Solid Melts Into Air that the Faust legend is read dialectically, as a story about the need to have recourse to the "dark side", to the infernal arts of industrialisation and technology. Although he shared their concerns for creating human-scaled places, and for reducing the powers of bureaucracies and big business, environmentalists were sharply criticised, the notion that "small is beautiful" in particular – how can such a philosophy, he asks, hope to achieve the worldwide revolution that its mostly laudable ideas about democracy and transformed production would need in order to be implemented? It's a pertinent question in an age of carbon-trading and offsetting.”

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, published in 1982, wove together disparate ideas, where Marx, Robert Moses, Goethe’s Faust and Allen Ginsberg’s Howl exemplify the essential paradox at the heart of what Mr. Berman termed modernity. “The book is canonical,” said Todd Gitlin, a Columbia University professor and a longtime friend of Mr. Berman. “It was not only an analytical term but a whole set of feelings.” The book became a central text that cut across genres and disciplines, as likely to be read by a literature student studying Virginia Woolf as an urban studies major writing about the Cross Bronx Expressway.”

“When All That Is Solid Melts into Air was published it was met with a wave of exuberant reviews. The Times called it “generous . . . and dazzling.” The Voice insisted that it was “a visionary work which by all rights ought to have the impact of such sixties bibles as Growing Up Absurd and Life Against Death.” It did, in many ways.”

“In the summer of 1987, I went to Brazil for the first time to give a talk at a big conference in São Paulo. Although the local papers covered the event, their cultural pages were devoted to another—the book tour of Marshall Berman, there to discuss his masterpiece, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity, published in 1982. I remember being amazed and full of admiration at all the ink being devoted to a literary event by the mass media. Wherever people were reading newspapers—in cafés, on buses, on the street—there was Marshall’s full-page face.”

“Michael Sorkin is author of Exquisite Corpse: Writing on Buildings and All Over The Map: Writing on Buildings and Cities, both published by Verso”

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