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Eric Lott

"Storming Heaven: Philippe Petit, Man on Wire, and the Reinvention of Lower Manhattan"

Thursday, April 21, 2011

4:oo pm, Franklin Patterson Hall, Main Lecture Hall

In August 1974, French street performer Philippe Petit made an illegal high-wire walk between the tops of the World Trade Center's newly completed Twin Towers--the subject of the recent documentary film Man on Wire (2008, dir. James Marsh). Petit was responding to what we might call the Haussmanization of lower Manhattan, in which state and capital had begun to kill vibrant urban bustle with windswept plazas and steel-and-glass towers (as they had a hundred years earlier in Paris). Petit offered a different kind of urban reinvention, recasting not just the space between the towers but also spatial relations on the ground, where hundreds if not thousands of spectators looked on in delight, their city, their relations with each other, their relation to the towers for a moment transfigured. In this talk I read Petit as the radical, post-1968 sky-writing performance artist of post-Fordist New York City.

Eric Lott received his Ph.D. from Columbia University and has taught American Studies at the University of Virginia since 1990. He is the author of Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (Oxford UP, 1993) and The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual (Basic Books, 2006). His current work includes a study of white cultural constructions of blackness (White Like Me). He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Princeton University, among others, and his work has appeared in The Nation, The Village Voice, American Quarterly, American Literary History, and Representations.




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