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The Soul and the City: Art, Literature, and Urban Living

Art represents the city in ways that go beyond quantifiable measures, serving as a record of subjective experience and providing a rich picture of how humans live in cities.
The Soul and the City: Art, Literature, and Urban Living is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 27.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Underwhelming The instructor tried to associate literature to describe city life. Although he tried to make things relevant, it seemed like there were similar themes with each lecture.
Date published: 2022-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from City life can be complicated… Having lived in cities off and on for half my life, my most recent move was happily out of one again. However, Professor Weinstein's course ("The Soul and the City: Art, Literature, and Urban Living") gave me a new appreciation of urban environments without glossing over the often harsh realities of metropolitan areas. I agree with the professor that there is beauty to be found there, often expressed in art. I also found it can be a struggle to see that beauty without it getting overwhelmed by everything else that goes along with typical city overcrowding and anonymity. Then again, my tastes are narrower than Professor Weinstein's as he seems more willing to embrace disturbing art that provokes a negative response. I figure there's already enough ugliness in the world and I don't think art should add to that (I'm referring primarily to visual art, while Professor Weinstein concentrates more on literature). I found the course to be interesting, in depth, and worthwhile. I learned about the subject through the material and sources the professor shared, and also felt as if I got to know him a bit as a person though the opinions he revealed. Many people seek out cities, others just seem to find themselves there. Turns out cities are a lot like most other things: the best things about them can also be the worst.
Date published: 2022-09-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Needs an video version! Interesting material, but it very much needs video. Fortunately, I was familiar with most of the video examples mentioned the course.
Date published: 2021-09-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Soul and the City A bit difficult to hear at times. The range of topics and their connections to one another is imaginative and well presented. Good course-would like Professor Weinstein to do a similar lecture focusing on American cities alone in the future. Overall, solid course!
Date published: 2019-12-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not as good as others by this lecturer The lecturer purports to connect cities and urban living to his selected examples of literature. Yet these connections seem less than convincing to me. Other courses by this professor are much better.
Date published: 2018-06-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Video Option Needed This is a difficult course to take as well as to review. It was difficult for me to take, as Professor Weinstein has chosen to look at city life from a perspective that was new to me (and I suspect new to a great many others). Dr. Weinstein has chosen to illustrate and comment on the city and life in it via the arts. In the main poetry (his first lecture uses Blake’s poem “London” as the basis for a point of departure in examining city life. Professor Weinstein makes the point that artists and their art can consider issues that are not immediately apparent when just considering hard facts. I find this to be an intriguing approach, but one that in execution has some problems. As an example, different artists and writers look at the same world in very different ways. Dr. Weinstein has chosen many of my favorite writers and artists to illustrate his points. Dickens, Blake, Defoe Hogarth, Goddard, Lang, Munch, Melville, Monet, Hopper and more are all used to illustrate points that they are attempting to make. Along the way Dr. Weinstein comments usefully and knowingly on their writings, paintings or films. And herein lies a problem: most of these writers and artists tend to have a similar view of the city qua city, something that Professor Weinstein acknowledges in his last lecture. Clearly other writers and artists could have been chosen who would have had different perspectives on cities and city life. But given the limitations of having only eight lectures that may not have been possible. On the very positive side, the course opened me to different way of looking at the city environment and some of the lectures were truly original and insightful. To cite just one example, lecture two uses the myth of the Minotaur to consider how city planning and space are used. The lecture jumps from Theseus and ancient Crete to the design and construction of Petersburg. Simply brilliant. I was less convinced of his use of “Alphaville” (a movie I love) used to illustrate cities reducing the population to machines. Less positively, Dr. Weinstein often refers to paintings that he is showing to his audience, often commenting on details of the work he is showing. Perhaps this is carping, as one reviewer noted that one could easily look up any of those paintings on the internet. But for me (even though I was familiar with most of his examples), I listen to audio courses during my morning walks or while driving, so that is not really an option. If TTC had offered a video version of this course, I would have no complaint had I chosen the audio version. But there is no current video option. I really missed, for example, not seeing Hopper’s “Nighthawk” when it was being discussed. While I am intrigued by the decision to present such an offbeat course, and while I enjoyed many parts of it, I cannot recommend a course using visuals that has no visual option available and must also deduct a star.
Date published: 2017-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Course About Literature I bought this course because I had just moved to a big city, and I thought this course was one of those "Better Living" courses that offers tips and advice. In my case, I was hoping to learn how one adjusts to living in a metropolis, things like how to hail a cab, how to fend off panhandlers, how to deal with a mugging, and so forth. It turns out this course is actually about literature, so while, I was surprised at first, I was really glad in the end because this has probably been one of my favorite courses so far. Thanks to this course, I have returned to reading Blake. Weinstein is a fine teacher, too. He's got a slight southern accent (I think), but his close reading and elucidation of the texts is nothing short of amazing. After listening to this course, I checked out a few of his books from the library, and they are great, too. I see that Weinstein has a few other courses available, and as soon as a get a few bucks together, I'll probably buy them all. I have one other one, which I'm listening to right now, and I'll review it later, but I've got some other things to do the dishes and the laundry, and I think the cat needs to some attention. One other thing: I listened to Lecture Three of this course while I was sitting on top of my file cabinet -- one of those tall, three-drawer jobs, and somehow I fell off. I don't blame the lectures or "The Great Courses" company, but if you listen to these courses while sitting on a tall piece of furniture, be careful!
Date published: 2016-08-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from not for me, may be better in video Besides what I thought was sub-standard audio quality (MP4 format) this course just isn't my cup of tea. As I have said before in my review of "Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind" allusion and symbolism just don't interest me that much. This one is all about allusion and symbolism. It is not so much about art as how art relates to life in the city. I hesitated to review this course because, as evidenced from other reviews, many find this course valuable and well done. Perhaps someone out there of my ilk will find my brief observation valuable. Also this course may be better in video due to references the professor makes. It's a marginal call.
Date published: 2016-07-31
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This course explores artists' complex renderings of the humanity of city life from the 18th to the 20th centuries, selecting particular moments and cities to illustrate urban themes such as anonymity, orientation, and exchange. Art represents the city in ways that go beyond quantifiable measures, serving as a record of subjective experience and providing a rich picture of how humans live in cities such as St. Petersburg and London. Ultimately, The Soul and the City: Art, Literature, and Urban Living is a celebration of humanity and the rich texture of human experience.


Arnold Weinstein

Literature is not information-driven. Instead, it offers us a unique opportunity to see, even to experience, the subjectivity of others. This adds to our own stock.


Brown University

Dr. Arnold Weinstein is the Edna and Richard Salomon Distinguished Professor at Brown University, where he has been teaching for over 35 years. He earned his undergraduate degree in Romance Languages from Princeton University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. Among his many academic honors, research grants, and fellowships is the Younger Humanist Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a Fulbright Senior Lecturer Award as a visiting professor at Stockholm University, Brown University's award as best teacher in the humanities, Professeur InvitÈ in American Literature at the Ecole Normale SupÈrieure in Paris, and a Fellowship for University Professors from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Professor Weinstein is the author of many books, including Fictions of the Self: 1550-1800 (1981); Nobody's Home: Speech, Self, and Place in American Fiction from Hawthorne to DeLillo (1993); and A Scream Goes Through The House: What Literature Teaches Us About Life (2003). Northern Arts: The Breakthrough of Scandinavian Literature and Art from Ibsen to Bergman (Princeton University Press, 2008), was named one of the 25 Best Books of 2009 by The Atlantic. Professor Weinstein chaired the Advisory Council on Comparative Literature at Princeton University, is the sponsor of Swedish Studies at Brown, and is actively involved in the American Comparative Literature Association.

By This Professor

The City as Container, the Artist as Mapmaker

01: The City as Container, the Artist as Mapmaker

Using William Blake's poem "London" (1793) as an illuminating centerpiece, Dr. Weinstein outlines the fundamentals of city life—anonymity, encounter, exchange, orientation—and goes on to show how works of art—often considered "soft" by social scientists—provide a unique map of these elements, showing us what we cannot see with our own eyes.

46 min
Lost in Space

02: Lost in Space

Arguing that space is the basic medium of the City, Professor Arnold Weinstein discusses key issues of Design and Order, understood in terms of city planning, social philosophy and ancient myths. Of special interest is the potential arrogance of city building, especially those examples of "grand design" foisted on Nature, such as St. Petersburg and Washington.

46 min
The Marketplace

03: The Marketplace

Dr. Weinstein focuses on the living conditions of 18th-century London, as represented in the fiction of Defoe and the paintings of Hogarth, in order to guage the unprecedented freedoms, constraints and ethical challenges made possible by the new mercantile urban order.

46 min
The Family Plot, or Municipal Bonds

04: The Family Plot, or Municipal Bonds

Plot entails connection, the linking together of discrete elements into a causal pattern. This elemental dynamic is at the heart of much fiction, and it is particularly at home in city art. 19th-century artists and writers, attuned to the crisis in "family values" produced by early capitalism, wrestle incessantly with the unmaking and making of the family in the city.

47 min
Urban Apocalypse

05: Urban Apocalypse

Going back to the Old Testament and Boccaccio and forward to Camus and Bergman, Dr. Weinstein sketches out the ramifications of the Destroyed City, with special attention to the role of plague and its modern equivalent, nuclear war. Against this backdrop of destruction and disappearance, the saving graces of memory, language and art appear.

46 min
Transmission and Storage

06: Transmission and Storage

This lecture articulates the master plot of the entire series: the city as the place where the flow of history, culture and information is passed on—living—to human beings. Cities are not only repositories of history, they are the locus of a vital chain of being, and they make available to their inhabitants something of the rich store of the past.

46 min
The Industrialized City and the Machine Vision

07: The Industrialized City and the Machine Vision

Very often the city engages artists and writers because of its energy, vitality and technological power. Yet, the human corollary of such an urban scheme is frequently anomie, alienation and anonymity. Art offers us a privileged optic on this drama; drawing on Leger and Lang, Melville and Rilke, Munch and Hopper.

49 min
A Movable Feast

08: A Movable Feast

This lecture challenges the argument that the electronic revolution has rendered the city obsolete; as information now moves over the wires, the notion of a place for exchange may no longer be viable. The response to such claims comes from the physical character of our life-in-the-city: we experience buildings, streets, museums, restaurants, theater and, above all, people in rich unmediated ways that no computer can rival.

40 min