What is San Francisco Modernism?
The everyday: what is most difficult to discover
—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places
This course studies the cultural life of the city from its days as a Spanish settlement named Yurba Buena to the present. This particular version of the course treats the historical and cultural life of the city as coextensive with modernity (modern capitalist development, including “progress” and its ideologies, which we generally refer to today as globalization). Because the City of SF is bound-up with modernity, it is something that is still happening, something that we are all participating in and working through. This is why my versions of the course are often subtitled A History of the Present.
This is a fun class where we learn about the cultural life of the city, including the dirty stories from the 19th century, the gossip, and the unique characters of San Francisco. But we will also think seriously about place and exclusion, the genocide of native peoples, and the history of race in the city, particularly with regard to Chinatown and the Chinese Exclusion Act. We will also study gender and its construction, sexuality, nature, commodification, prostitution, image and spectacle as they relate to everyday life in SF modernities. Significant cultural works, places, and events, will be studied in relation to the city.
I hope this course serves as a jumping off point for students to explore their own relationship with the cultural life of SF. We are living in the place that we are studying. That’s unique insofar as it enables us to bring together life, thought, and research.