The pandemic lockdown of 2020 launched an unprecedented urban experiment. Traffic disappeared from the streets. Times Square fell silent. And half a million residents fled the most crowded city in America. In this innovative and thrilling book, author and social critic Jeremiah Moss, hailed as “New York City’s career elegist” (New York Times), explores a city emptied of the dominant class—and their controlling influence. “Plagues have a disinhibiting effect,” Moss writes. “As the normal order is suspended, the repressive force of civilization lifts and our rules fall away, shifting the boundaries of society and psyche.”
In public spaces made vibrant by New Yorkers left behind, Moss experienced an uncanny time warp. Biking through deserted Manhattan, he encountered the hustlers, eccentrics, and renegades who had been pressed into silence and invisibility by an oppressive, normative gentrification, now reemerging to reclaim the city. For one wild year the streets belonged to wandering nudists and wheelie bikers, mystical vagabonds and performance artists working to disrupt the status quo, passionate activists protesting for Black lives—along with the everyday New Yorkers who had been pushed to the margins for too long. Participating in a historic explosion of activism, resistance, and spontaneity, from queer BLM marches to exuberant outdoor dance parties, Moss discovered an intoxicating freedom. Without “hyper-normal” people to constrain it, New York became more creative, connected, humane, and joyful than it had been in years.
Moss braids this captivating narrative with an account of his renewed sense of place as a transgender man, weaving together insights from psychoanalysis, literature, and queer theory. A kaleidoscopic vision of a city transformed, Feral City offers valuable insight into the way public space and the spaces inside us are controlled and can be set free.