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Writings on Cities

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

Series Introduction:

We hope this blog post finds you well. Though the tough times are continuing and it seems like there's still a long way to go before we can resume our journeys, we decided to try different ways to go on sojourns. We bring you a series of posts on writings on cities by reviewing books that are particularly about cities. Starting here we revisit two cities and fantastic works that have been around for a while. As a way to inaugurate this series we bring you our thoughts on City of Djinns by William Dalrymple and Delirious New York by Rem Koolhaas. This introduction will follow with two separate posts on each of the books.

‘City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi’ (CD) by William Dalrymple and ‘Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan’ (DNY) by Rem Koolhaas are both books about the cities mentioned in their respective titles. While both books could be shelved as studies on the city, they also intersect with the specific disciplines that their respective authors are associated with. CD is a historical exploration of the city of Delhi at the intersection of the city and travel writing. Dalrymple is generally considered a historian however his book ‘In Xanadu: A Quest’ that preceded CD is categorised as travel writing. CD while not strictly travel writing is also often catalogued as travel writing or travel memoir. DNY occurs at the intersection of architecture + urban studies and history. Koolhaas, its author, is an architect but prior to that was a journalist and film script writer. Koolhaas also shot to fame with this book and it has since become necessary reading for students of architecture and urban design studies. Both Dalrymple and Koolhaas are not only making an impact on city studies through their books but also to culture studies and postmodern literature.

The titles of the two books are very relevant to what is in the books. In CD the author is looking at the city of Delhi as if it is inhabited by the spectres (Djinns) of history. The basic story is about the author’s discovery of the history of Delhi which takes on the form of a stream of consciousness memoir as well. DNY is labelled as a retroactive manifesto for Manhattan, New York as if to look at the city as a deliberate project that couldn’t have been designed any better than as it has been through opportunism. Since the title of the book indicates that the city is in a state of ‘delirium’, the writing takes on that exact quality as if the author is performing psychotherapy on the city. Staccato sentences follow one another, the tense confusing the reader about whether one is reading about the past, present or future. Facts are presented in almost fairy tale like way. The Illustrations in the book, found and those created by Madelon Vriesendorp for the book are particularly fantastical and surrealistic. Through both books the authors are attempting to take the reader into the psycho-social space that the city occupies in one’s mind as much as looking at how one occupies the physical space of the city.


Text: Ekta Idnany Photos: © Sahil Latheef

* This text was first written as course work for Ekta's PhD coursework

at CEPT University in April 2021.

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