Sounding Harlem: Ann Petry’s The Street and the Experience of “Dwelling”

Joe Varghese Yeldho 1
  • 1 National Institute of Science Education and Research, HBNI, , Bhubaneswar, India


The essay focuses on the thematic coming into being of a place mapped through practices of listening. Sound, noise, and music are seen as part of the racially informed urban “everyday.” The reading depends on the isovist narration of The Street (1946) by Ann Petry, documenting Harlem during the 1940s. The text develops a narrative predicated on the use of aurality as a means of “dwelling upon” the site of a home; a place to live, but where the idea of habitation is compromised by the need to reside. The figural horizon created by Petry anticipates dwelling as Heideggerian habitation rather than as occupation. For Heidegger, the conventional edifice of housing illustrates the forced settling of land. This contradicts his principle of dwelling as a way to remain in a place, leaving us perpetually in search of the dwelling that is more than home. The streets of Harlem cite, among other instruments, the nomadism of such residing, as it attempts to breach the conflicting boundaries of “white” ownership. The trajectory of this subversive foray draws upon the improvisations of a Harlem soundscape, as it works out a means of dwelling anew.

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