From back number aesthetics to new expression: James Gibbons Huneker's New Cosmopolis


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Abstract

James Gibbons Huneker was an influential cultural critic in the decades around 1900. His idiosyncratic style has lead to his work being somewhat overlooked. This article relates Huneker's collection of New York travel sketches, New Cosmopolis (1915), to other examples of literary impressionism, and specifically to the work of J.K. Huysmans, Stephen Crane and Henry James. It then argues that New Cosmopolis moves beyond the aestheticism and detached analysis of the impressionistic literary sketch towards a more subjective, engaged form of city writing. This led Huneker to an urban aesthetic and to an embrace of cosmopolitanism comparable to the ideas celebrated in Paul Rosenfeld's Port of New York (1924). Rosenfeld argues that the writers and artists he profiles, including Randolph Bourne, Alfred Stieglitz and William Carlos Williams, represent a flowering of ‘new expression’ in America. Huneker's relationship to these modern, progressive figures is, in part, attributable to his tendency towards spontaneous, idiosyncratic and highly subjective statements and his recognition of the visceral sensory experiences provided by New York's tango halls, movie theatres and Coney Island roller coasters.

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