- Sweet Spots: In-Between Spaces in New Orleans ed. by Teresa A. Toulouse and Barbara C. Ewell
To outside observers, many American cities look devoid of history. Their glass towers and suburban landscapes erase the past in favor of a never arriving future. Only the odd surviving building reminds the visitor of a longer history. This situation, however, is not the case for New Orleans, where history weighs heavily. Part of the reason for New Orleans's sense of history, as argued by Richard Campanella in one of the stand-out essays of this edited collection, is the city's intense structural social memory that reflects a historical mixture of peoples. New Orleans, unlike any other American city, looks as much to the past as to the future.
Sweet Spots: In-Between Spaces in New Orleans emerged from an interdisciplinary course taught by Teresa A. Toulouse, a literary critic, and the late Mac Heard, an architect, at Tulane University (many of the fourteen contributors are affiliated with the university). The intellectual inspiration for the collection comes from Heard's work on the energy and tension within the spatial relations of New Orleans. Each of the essays takes on, in one form or another, the concept of "sweet spots," loosely defined as in-between or interstitial spaces both real and imagined. Throughout the collection, sweet spot is a nebulous term that, as pointed out in the final essay by the philosopher John P. Clark, only really works as a phonetic metaphor: the point of maximum vibration. The book is divided into six "interspaces," with essays conceived and written in a variety of styles, from traditional book chapters, to photo essays, to manifestos. The glossy pages are accompanied by illustrations, maps, and photos.
For the most part, the essays work well together and reflect a truly multidisciplinary group of scholars who share a passion for the city. Chapters on Edgar Degas's A Cotton Office in New Orleans (1873) and John Galsworthy's essay "That Old-Time Place" (1912) work well to develop an interstitial analytic that brings to light tensions between public and private, memory and forgetting, nostalgia and history. The strongest work is contained in the section titled "Constituting and Contesting the Interstitial." Here, cultural geographer Campanella looks at how New Orleans's historical cityscape, what he calls its "high urban granularity," created a layering of acceptability for salacious activity that manifests itself on Bourbon Street (p. 130). At the same time, visitors to the city feel the absence of Storyville, while the almost complete disappearance of slave pens and auction blocks creates a different kind of emotional and structural forgetting. Campanella's belief, however, that "[o]ut of sight, out of mind—and conversely, in sight, in mind," cuts against the premise of the collection, that unseen interstitial space can influence the built and social environment of a city (p. 132). Sociologist Beth Willinger's look at how white and black middle-class women forged an in-between space in the public and private spheres as they addressed the space of prostitution in Storyville and the plight of single women represents the most realized use of the interstitial analytic in the collection. Women reformers created new spaces that remained in-between. "More than housewives and mothers, yet neither [End Page 756] politically nor historically notable, they tackled important issues that were invisible or considered unimportant to male city leaders," notes Willinger (p. 166). Lastly, sociologist Angel Adams Parham traces the history of Congo Square as a "lieu de souvenir," a place of remembrance, in which the shifting sands of race and the city's historic black diversity may be traced (p. 174).
Sweet Spots makes a compelling case for an interstitial analytic through a variety of styles. Joel Dinerstein's cultural analysis accompanied by Pableaux Johnson's photo essay makes a convincing argument that "the second line is the most significant...