Luc Sante’s most recent book is The Other Paris. He teaches writing and the history of photography at Bard. (October 2016)


Dylan’s Time

Bob Dylan has accomplished something that few novelists or poets or for that matter songwriters have managed to do in our era: he changed the time he inhabited. Through words, with music as the fluid of their transmission, he affected the perception, outlook, opinions, ambitions, and assumptions of hundreds of millions of people all over the world.

My Lost City

The idea of writing a book about New York City first entered my head around 1980, when I was a writer more wishfully than in actual fact, spending my nights in clubs and bars and my days rather casually employed in the mailroom of this magazine. It was there that Rem Koolhaas’s epochal Delirious New York fell into my hands. “New York is a city that will be replaced by another city” is the phrase that sticks in my mind. Koolhaas’s book, published in 1978 as a paean to the unfinished project of New York the Wonder City, seemed like an archaeological reverie, an evocation of the hubris and ambition of a dead city.


The Greatest Enigma of French Film

Jacques Rivette and Pascale Ogier, who starred with her mother, Bulle Ogier, in Rivette’s film Le Pont du Nord, New York City, 1981

Out 1

a film directed by Jacques Rivette
Jacques Rivette, who died on January 29 at the age of eighty-seven, was always the least known, least commercially successful, and most enigmatic of the French New Wave directors. The core group who got their start as critics at Cahiers du Cinéma in the early 1950s—Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Claude …

On ‘Paris Vagabond’

One of the dozens of photographs of Paris taken by Patrice Molinard for the 1954 edition of Paris Vagabond
Paris Vagabond, first published in 1952, is one of the most extraordinary books ever written about that city.* It follows in the lineage of great narratives by champion walkers—Louis-Sébastien Mercier’s Le Tableau de Paris (1781–1788), Nicolas-Edme Restif de la Bretonne’s Les Nuits de Paris (1788–1794), Alexandre Privat d’Anglemont’s Paris …

The Birth of Bohemia in Paris

A production in Beijing of Puccini’s opera La Bohème, based on the novel Scènes de la vie de bohème by Henri Murger, 1986
In Jean Renoir’s Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932), a bookseller rescues from the Seine an uncivilized free spirit named Boudu, who proceeds to call down chaos upon the bookseller’s tidy existence. Boudu, large, hairy, and inarticulate, is a clochard—a word, derived from cloche (bell), signifying a bum or hobo. There …


The Last Time I Saw Basquiat

Jean Michel Basquiat in his Great Jones Street studio, New York, 1987

The last time I saw Jean-Michel Basquiat I was going home from work. As we walked toward each other in the subway, he stopped briefly at the first landing, whipped out a marker and rapidly wrote something on the wall, then went up to the second landing, where two cops emerged from a recess and collared him. I kept going.

A Roomful of Death and Destruction

A dead body in front of a church on 86th Street, Queens, May 13, 1926

Three years ago, The Municipal Archives received a call from the NYPD, wanting to know whether they could help dispose of a roomful of photographic material stored at One Police Plaza. The final yield amounted to about 180,000 images from perhaps 50,000 cases, ranging from an uncertain point prior to 1914 all the way to 1972. These pictures are of undeniable photographic significance.


New Year's Eve, 1980

Let me play you “Arleen,” by General Echo, a seven-inch 45 on the Techniques label, produced by Winston Riley, a number one hit in Jamaica in the autumn of 1979. “Arleen” is in the Stalag 17 riddim, a slow, heavy, insinuating track that is nearly all bass—the drums do little more than bracket and punctuate, and the original’s brass-section color has been entirely omitted in this version. I’m not really sure what Echo is saying. It sounds like “Arleen wants to dream with a dream.” A dream within a dream. Whether or not those are his actual words, it is the immediate sense. The riddim is at once liquid and halting, as if it were moving through a dark room filled with hanging draperies, incense and ganja smoke, sluggish and nearly impenetrable air—the bass walks and hurtles.

Thirteen Most

One night in the 1980s, a low period for me, as I slumped on my regular stool at Farrell’s, in Brooklyn, staring into my fourth or fifth of their enormous beers, the gentleman to my left struck up a conversation. Like nearly everyone in the bar but me, he was a cop, a retired cop to be exact, and unlike most of them he looked like a churchwarden, lean and grave and puckered, definitely on the farther shore of eighty. He had much to say; his proudest accomplishments had gone unrecognized. It seemed he had been the first to put together a numbered list of the most-sought reprobates from justice.