James Peacock discusses how cultural and literary criticism can help us to unpack Brooklyn’s complex cultural history

How did you come to write Brooklyn Fictions?

James Peacock, Brooklyn Fictions: The Contemporary Urban Community in a Global Age (Bloomsbury, 2016).
James Peacock, Brooklyn Fictions: The Contemporary Urban Community in a Global Age (Bloomsbury, 2016).

There are two strands to this answer – three, if I’m being really honest. First, it evolved quite organically from my previous research on Paul Auster and Jonathan Lethem – both contemporary writers strongly associated with the borough. Having written articles and monographs on them which explored, at least in part, their representations of Brooklyn neighbourhoods, it made sense to embark on a multi-author project which dug more deeply into these representations. Looking at my research as a whole, I realise that the importance of place and the relationship between the individual and the community have been connecting themes. The second inspiration for the project was more personal. While I was studying for my Ph.D., my wife and I lived in Leith. Once a separate town, now part of Edinburgh, Leith retains a fiercely independent streak and a sense of identity in opposition to the fancier city up the road. Even though it has been undergoing gentrification for many years, and despite the fact that it has Michelin-starred restaurants and some very expensive new apartments, Leith still values a down-home, honest authenticity many of its residents feel the centre does not have. When I began to understand that the relationship between Brooklyn and Manhattan was very similar, I saw some wider potential in writing about these ideological constructions, with Brooklyn as a suitable case study. Thirdly – and here’s the confessional moment – I visited New York City for the first time in 2005 and (though it’s not very original to say this) fell in love with it. I cannot deny that a research project which might take me there a few times was an attractive prospect. (more…)