English 110


Man on Wire
November 24, 2010, 8:13 pm
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In the New York Magazine review of Man on Wire, David Edelstein writes, “This is his manifesto: Seize the space, fill the void…define yourself through action.” The concept of defining oneself through action intrigues me.  Philippe Petit’s entire life, it seems, was geared towards walking across large expanses, to “conquering” buildings, and cities and empty spaces.  To him conquering an expanse was not through war or physical ownership, rather, he simply had to tight rope across it. Though, the difference between Petit’s spaces and spaces that we are used to is that his were in midair. So essentially, he wished to conquer a void that no one had physically been to. There is something daring and poetic about this goal.

While watching the documentary, I could not help but notice the similarity between Petit’s yearning for suspension and the theme of suspension in some of our earlier readings. What is so great about suspension? Why is this theme something that comes up in many writings? Why does man wish to be situated in an in between?

When I think of “in between, “ I think anonymity and ambiguousness. I think of not only suspension of man but of suspension of time. In a world where people can sometimes feel pressured into definitions, being in between is a special place of reflection and seclusion; a world of its own.

Yet, there is a difference between Petit and our other readings. While, Whitman loved the suspension because it elevated him to a place above time, essentially connecting him to all of time, Petit is alone while in suspension. When to film narrowed in on his face while crossing the wire, there is a sense of deep concentration, as though he has been transported to another universe.

I think Petit’s in between was a place not even he could define. When asked by reporters why he tight roped between the Twin Towers, the review quotes Petit as responding, “ ‘I did somezing magnificent and mysterious and I got a ‘why,’ and ze beauty of eet is zat I don’t have a ‘why.’”

He wished to live life on the edge, in constant movement and astonishment. He said, “You have to exercise rebellion: to refuse to tape yourself to rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge – and then you are going to live your life on a tightrope.” This is how Petit defined himself through action.  Constantly challenging, pushing, moving, dreaming, scheming.  He was a man on wire, never stationary.



Helen in the City
November 22, 2010, 9:14 pm
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The Panic in Needle Park displays a disorderly New York, with characteristics similar to Wilson’s City. The New York in the film, is a New York through the lens of drugs and the getting high. It is crammed and insular, with a specific community of users. There is a sense of anxiousness and unease that permeates the film and lurks in the shadows of its characters. The main female in the film, Helen, is consumed by a drug filled world, yet there is also something freeing about it. At the beginning she is tied to a man that impregnated her, an is subsequently bed bound after receiving an abortion. By the end of the film though, she has released herself from weight of male dominance, by turning her drug dealing and using boyfriend, into the police.

Consumed in this chaotic realm of the city, Helen is oddly and almost grotesquely, liberated from her meek lamb persona that she embodies at the beginning of the film.

Though in her piece Wilson does not speak specifically of drugs in New York, The Panic in Needle Park and Into the Labyrinth, emote similar vibes and both describe female sexuality. In each work, New York becomes this bohemian world of chaos and disorder, of “pleasure, deviation and disruption” (Wilson 7). In the film, Helen in her own right, becomes the sphinx that Wilson speaks about. Helen is female sexuality, whoring herself out to get high. She is , “Womanhood out of control…” with, “…a loss of identity” (Wilson 7). Yet in the end, as a woman in the city, Helen gains a peculiar freedom.



The Sphinx in the City
November 16, 2010, 10:14 am
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By placing the image of the Sphinx in the city upon urban culture, Wilson is conveying a strong message about femininity in cities. She compares the city to, “…female sexuality, womanhood out of control, loss nature, loss of identity” (Wilson 7). There is a feminine aspect to the chaos and danger of the crowds. Yet, loss of identity is something important as well, in a crowd there are both men and women. This lack of individuality for a woman offers her the option of freedom. Going back to a suburban lifestyle would be, “suffocating” (Wilson 9). Wilson looks at the female aspect of the city, not as negative, but as positive, as the city’s, “Enclosing embrace” (Wilson 7). The woman as the Sphinx unearths an invisible city within the city’s ‘text’.  She sees the as, “an object of exploration” (Wilson 11).



Comfort Zone vs. The Labyrinth
November 10, 2010, 10:55 pm
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The Comfort Zone is exactly what its title describes it as, comfortable. There is nothing within the safe boundaries of this zone that would make its inhabitants uncomfortable. The comfort zone is all about formality, no extremes. There is a dull, dormant hierarchy within this society than cannot be shaken. There is no hunger for mystery, no thirst for the unknown. Instead, there are manicured people within reliable rankings. The Comfort Zone consists of tamed creatures only interested in certainty.

Certainty is a joke in the world of the labyrinth. It is instead, a slithering path of the unknown. The labyrinth is a maze of fear and terror, characterized by change and uncertainty. Yet, the bohemian dwellers of this scatterbrained world do not see these traits as negative, instead it was keeps them going. Unlike the frozen world of the comfort zone, the labyrinth is full of heavy and disorienting heat, heat that promotes promiscuity and pleasure. Its alluring impulses of desire draw in the square people of the comfort zone. Its mysterious and ambiguous nature reels in those that are normally completely identifiable.

Who would not want to experience a heterogeneous world of wonderment?

But, to the opposite effect, do bohemians of the labyrinth ever crave the stability of normalcy?



The Panic in Needle Park
November 3, 2010, 8:14 pm
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When looking at films from the 1970’s one can see their reaction to the previous decade. Films in 1970s, document a harsh reality and its contrast to the hope filled 1960s. Jerry Schatzberg’s film, The Panic in Needle Park, is extremely intimate and revealing about drug culture in the 1970s. The title refers to Sherman Square, a park in New York City that gave drug dealers at the time the illusory feeling of community.

The film opens with Helen, played by Kitty Winn, shown right after a secret abortion with a subdued expression of pain on her face. This expression really sets the tone for the film. Bobby, played by a charismatic Al Pacino, finds her and shows her his world of drug pushing and addicts. They fall in love, and trick themselves into believing that love can exist among the chaos of the world of drugs. But as stated in the film, no element of deceit or wrongdoing is too terrible when a drug addict’s habit is in question.

Schatzberg, who is aware of his wounded characters, only elevates this intense story line, by capturing these characters delicately and consciously. Schatzberg also fully immerses the film in the grime of the character’s lives. The film is shot in a loose manner, and narrows in on physical detail of drug use, such as finding a vein to insert a needle. Emotion plays an important part in the film as well. The little moments, the silently heartbreaking ones, are what stay in the audiences mind.

Even though it is a smaller movie, The Panic in Needle Park, now finds itself to be almost as influential as Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. It set a format for later drug centered films such as Requiem for a Dream.

Summarized from Fernando F. Croce’s  May 9, 2007 review for Slant Magazine online

http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/the-panic-in-needle-park/2885



Gorky’s New York
November 2, 2010, 1:10 am
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Stance, Voice, Support:

1. Gorky addresses his audience like he is telling them a story of New York, as though the audience has never been exposed to this city’s horrors. Gorky is telling these anecdotes from the inside; he seems to be in the thick of things, yet removed because he abhors what is taking place.

2. Gorky is an enraged citizen

3. Gorky uses vivid images and description to personify New York city and create a monster of consumption. He also, tells mini anecdotes of the city’s inhabitants to give the audience a personal glance at the deafening silence and uniformity of New York’s citizens.

He begins with immigrants. The fresh, new, people arriving by ship with, “…the curious eyes of hope and apprehension, fear and joy” (Gorky 7) I did not realize this simple introductory description would be so significant to Gorky’s main point, his social observation. Now looking back, it was a perfect way for him to begin. What I found significant about the point Gorky was trying to get across was not just his ceaseless attacks on New York City, but the way he described the city’s relationship to its people. Immigrants get off the boat expecting America to be the land of the free and the place to fulfill the dreams of prosperity and success, and instead they get swept up by the “oncoming turbid flood, and in its swift flow the voiceless people swarm miserably” (Gorky 11)

I found Gorky’s voice and the way he crafted his writing to be effective in getting this point across. Every moment while reading this chapter, created a feeling of an actual flood, of words and descriptions that is. His language has a constant sense of bombardment. As a reader, I could not help but feel this terrible disdain for New York and its heavy cloud of pollution that poisoned its inhabitants. Yet there were moments of clarity that Gorky created that made me think that he was sympathetic towards these people. The character, or rather the monster, that Gorky creates out of New York is so real and is alive that it becomes the enemy, and its people just victims, for, “…their blood is poisoned” (Gorky 12).

New York City’s inhabitants, formerly curious immigrants, have simply become blinded by the lack of pure light in their vicinity. There is all this grime and consumption, and lack of individuality and freedom, yet, “The people in the houses of the City of the Yellow Devil calmly endure all that kills man” (Gorky 12), completely naïve to the disgusting nature of their lives and surroundings.

Gorky’s commanding and descriptive voice allowed for his main points about American Imperialism in the 19th to 20th century and New York City as its capital, to be distinctly realized. Yet, stemming from his descriptions of man in the city, I found that Gorky was also revealing what he felt it meant to be alive. He declared, “A living man, who thinks, who creates dreams, pictures and images in his own mind, who begets desires, who yearns, wants, denies and waits- a living man would be annoyed by this wild howling …Outraged he would go outside and smash and destroy this abomination…for he is the master of life” (Gorky 12).  With all the negative imagery that Gorky created there is something to be said about the idea of man and his ability to be alive and to be free. Gorky is suggesting that man should be aware of his actions and his surroundings and has the capability to take control of his own thoughts and his own life.

Even though this was written over a hundred years ago, Gorky’s voice pulled me in and consumed me. The aversions he felt I felt. I was deeply troubled by this sense of suffocation. Gorky created a relief as well. This piece shows that man is and was capable of finding pure, non-convoluted light, (not yellow from gold). For, “Through this misty veil, in the remote infinity of the heavens, the peaceful stars gleam faintly” (Gorky 18).



Luc Sante and the “Invisible City”
October 25, 2010, 11:44 pm
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The best feeling is the feeling you get when you finished reading something and you get it. That’s how I felt when I finished reading the chapter on Bohemia, by Luc Sante. What I really found at the end was a need to delve into the topic of “The Invisible City.”

Obviously, I was also thinking about the similarities between this piece of writing and the others we have read this semester. Sante’s fluidity in the way he spilled out facts and sequences of events, reminding me of Disponzio. While his acute word choices brought me back to the Kriegel piece. In a more general sense, the themes of time and suspension and especially illusion, all of which we had touched upon in the Mumford, Whitehead and Whitman pieces, were prevalent in this chapter.  Yet through my different thought processes, I came to the conclusion that the small similarities, while interesting, were not what I was seeking, and asking of this piece.

When I googled “Invisible Cities,” a book by an Italian author, Italo Calvino, came up. In the description on Wikipedia it said, “The book explores imagination and the imaginable through the descriptions of cities by an explorer, Marco Polo.” I found this idea of imagination and the imaginable significant to people’s relationship to New York City. In all the pieces we have read, the one thick, red string that connects them is that they are each a view of an individual’s personal perception of New York. How does this relate to an invisible city, you ask? Well, it is that every person notices different things in New York, and to each his own personal connection. To others, these views of New York are completely invisible. Each author we have read, has opened my eyes to a once invisible and seemingly marginal New York, they have matched my “…plan of the real city with that of the model in their heads.” (Sante 338)



Thesis and outline for Essay 2: Motifs
October 12, 2010, 8:07 am
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Thesis:

– Useful for its collective nature, the concept of memory and its association with the idea of time, is used as a motif in these three pieces to help shed light on a writer’s personal view towards New York City.

Body Paragraphs:

-“The Brooklyn Bridge”, by Lewis Mumford

A.

-“During this early period of manhood (1914-1919) I began to experience the waterfront of New York…” (Mumford 840)

– “Since we lived on Brooklyn heights between 1922 and 1925, I took every possible occasion to walk back and forth across the Brooklyn Bridge…”

– “…and I knew it in all weathers and at all times of the day and night.” (Mumford 842)

B.

– “But as often happens with repeated experiences, one memory stands out above all others…”

-“The world at that moment, opened…challenging…beckoning”

C.

-“…with a sense of identification,” and he “…felt every sensation he [Whitman] described…”

-“The fact that Poole saw the city in much the same way was beginning to  see it gave…support to my own efforts”

-“The People on the Bus”, By Adam Gopnik:

A.

-“On the very first day I visited Manhattan, in the anxious summer of 1978…”

-“I will never forget his look of disbelief and disgust”

-“When I began riding the subway, particularly in the late seventies and early eighties, it was both grander and stranger than a newcomer can imagine now.”

B.

-“Coming home in 2000…” he was, “…stunned by the transformation in them both [subways and buses]”

– “…now graffiti free, with dully gleaming metal cars…” Gopnik found the buses, “humane in many ways…”

C.

– “…a beautiful morning of our time, the sky blue, the alert orange…”

-“…seeks out the illusion of certainty”

-“…trying to remember the names of popular Drake’s snacks from his past.”

-“…is possible on the bus right now, and nowhere else”

-“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”, by Walt Whitman

A.

-“Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt.”

– “others the same-others who look back on me because I looked forward to them.”

B.

-“As I lay in bed I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution.”

-“We use you, we do not cast you aside- we plant you permanently within us”



Desire as a Motif
October 7, 2010, 12:01 am
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In “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Walt Whitman speaks of his experience while riding the ferry. The language Whitman uses to describe this experience emotes a sense of ravenous longing to connect with his surroundings and his fellow man. The sense of pining is what makes Whitman’s experience on the ferry so monumental. I found that the motif of desire that Whitman creates in this poem really shaped the way I read the piece. The way he feels, his emotions and his wants, shine brightly within the text and made me feel these same desires.

Whitman begins the poem with, “Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!” (section 1) In this instance, Whitman is creating a link between himself and the water that he so desperately wants. He attributes a face to the water, and stairs it straight in the eyes.  It is not just the river he wishes to connect to. In section nine, Whitman longingly commands the clouds and the sun to, “…drench with your splendor me…!” He wants to be completely immersed in nature. This extreme craving gives the entire piece a sense of longing.  In the next stanza, Whitman shows his interest in his fellow man as well. He repeats multiple times, the idea that they are “curious” to him (section 1). This repetition highlights his wish for a human connection, for Whitman believes that, “The men and women I saw were all near to me” (section 4). He does not have to know them or converse with them; the fact that they are all in New York, traveling by ferry, creates a bond.

Just as he did with the sun and the clouds, Whitman requests his fellow men to, “Sound out…loudly and musically call me by my nighest name!” (section 9) Once again, he wishes to unify himself with his surroundings. This act of calling out to others is a big gesture, yet it is interesting to note Whitman’s appreciation of a subtle bond as well. He asks, “For what is more subtle than this which ties me to the woman or man that looks in my face? Which fuses me into you now, and pours my meaning into you?” (section 8 ) Here, Whitman’s desire is manifested in a simple glance. Just looking into another human’s eyes can empty out his soul.

This connection is possible because of mankind’s shared experiences. Whitman describes this idea when he writes, “It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall, the dark threw its patches down upon me also.” (section 6) This perhaps can explain the roots of Whitman’s desire to connect with his surroundings. The idea that man is never alone is a comforting notion. When someone is hurting, someone across the river is feeling the same way. Whitman’s desperate wish is to feel this connection in his everyday life, in his everyday activities, while riding the Brooklyn ferry.



The Brooklyn Bridge
September 27, 2010, 11:57 pm
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It was in middle of April this past year when I first realized that New York City was an extremely personal experience. I had been abroad for the year and I had come home in April for Passover. One day, I was walking around Manhattan, and it was as though I was seeing it for the first time. I was by myself walking through the park, and every tree, building, passerby, utterly enchanted me. The city was literally alive.  This moment enabled me to connect to both Mumford and Whitehead’s completely personal pieces on the Brooklyn Bridge. Even though I don’t recall ever crossing the Bridge, I understand the realization that New York City is not merely a place on a map. It is just as alive as I am.

Mumford and Whitehead’s voices in each of their pieces have different dimensions.  An element of Mumford’s voice I discovered instantly was his nostalgia. In his first sentence he begins, “During this early period of manhood…I began to experience the waterfront of New York.”  Obviously, this topic is something Mumford has carried with him his entire life.  He even,”…wrote the first draft of a long play on the theme of the bridge.” In his piece, Mumford goes back in time to teach about his relationship to the Brooklyn Bridge and even lets us in on details of his life. This leads to the next aspect of his voice, the personal dimension. Mumford makes it completely clear to his audience that these experiences and ideas he writes about are seated deep with in his soul. The simple line where he writes, “Yes: I loved the bridges and walked back and forth over them, year after year,” is his personal voice singing loud and clear.

Like Mumford’s, I found Whitehead’s voice to have a personal element, just expressed a little differently. The entire style of his piece is like a stream of consciousness. His phrasing is jumbled. They seem like raw thoughts.  An example of this is when Whitehead writes, “Now he has two kids and a corner office. The day after their first night together they walked across the bridge, seeking its blessing. So far so good. One time you were caught in the rain…” With this quote, I made a point to basically put the entire quote in to show how fragmented his thoughts really are.  Each thought is a different person’s story.

“Passionate”, is an adjective I would use to describe both Mumford and Whitehead’s voice. They each obviously have a great deal of passion towards the subject matter. Mumford writes, “So deeply did the Bridge itself capture my imagination,” about how this large solid structure was able to conquer something so abstract as his inner thoughts. Whitehead displays a similar passion in the way he personifies the bridge, for it, “…pants, exhausted.” He also says that when cars drive through the bridge it, “…sends its vibration through the bridge and into her soul.”

Originally when I read Whitehead’s piece I thought it was very different from Mumford’s. I was wrong. Even though both writers use different motifs, they each come to a similar conclusion.  Something unique I found in Mumford’s writing was his use of literature and writing as an art form to deliver his message. He speaks about his own stint as a playwright, and brings up poets a lot. He says that ferries were worth running, “…if only to give sustenance to poets.”  For Mumford, literature and the act of writing was able to capture the collective thoughts of a generation as well as preserve them. Mumford speaks specifically about Ernest Poole’s “The Harbor” and how it, “…said something for my generation that no one else had said yet.” By using writers and writing, as a motif Mumford was able enunciate his nostalgic voice and his theme of memory. Even though certain magical moments, like Mumford’s on the Brooklyn Bridge, cannot be replicated, they can be preserved through writing. Everyday men are writers and their experiences capture the voice of a collective people. There can be a single poet, such as Whitman, whom thousands of people identify with and it becomes this collective and unifying experience. This experience is similar to the experience that both Mumford and Whitehead indentify with, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.

Whitehead, uses the bridge itself as a motif to help convey the message of connectivity and collectivity of man.  These anonymous stories he tells of joggers, bikers, strollers, all unite man as one. This structure, the Brooklyn Bridge, gives each nameless passerby and collective experience. Even the mayors, “…understand the romance of bridges and have taken this walk more than once.” This walk is something all new Yorkers share. I found the line, “The bones of their ancestors lie at the bottom among refrigerator doors and license plates,” to be so symbolic of the power the bridge has to connect us all. After we walk the bridge, we may end up at the bottom of the Hudson beneath it, and watch the next generation do that same crossing.




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