Astoria, Queens (video)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSZ0oBqzdg8

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Walking

In Thoreau’s essay “Walking” he talks about how knowledge is power and his thoughts on it. He believes that there is a “knowledge useful in a higher sense” called “Beautiful Knowledge” which is like a “robbing of our actual ignorance” (Thoreau 282). From what I understand, he’s saying that all knowledge is ignorance and all ignorance is knowledge in a way if you look at it from a certain perspective. “A man’s ignorance sometimes is not only useful, but beautiful-“, and so from that we can understand that not having any knowledge can be a good thing because the less we know the more there is to learn but thinking too much can change the way we live. Tuan in his “Epilogue” chapter believes this.
Tuan stats that “Analytical thought has transformed our physical and social environment…we are so impressed that to us “knowing” is practically identical with “knowing about” and Lord Kelvin has gone so far as to say that we do not really know anything unless we can also measure it” (Tuan 200). Tuan believes similarly to Thoreau that you don’t really need all the knowledge in the world because it’s not always the best thing. It’s healthy for a person to be ignorant of things because knowing too much “increase[s] the burden of awareness” (Tuan 201) on people. We eventually begin to overthink things and form clichés in our actions and words by taking example from the people who formed the knowledge for us. Seeking knowledge is good but staying ignorant is beautiful because its more natural for us to do so.

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“The Search for Marvin Gardens”

“The search for Marvin Gardens” by John McPhee is a very weird story about a person playing monopoly in some sort of grand final all the while taking us through each monopoly space in great detail. The narrator of the story give vivid descriptions and special details about each space on the monopoly board and each space happens to be an Avenue, place or industry of sorts.
According to Tuan in his chapter on “Visibility: the Creation of Place” we come to understand that “as we look at a panoramic scene our eyes pause at points of interest…each pause is time enough to create an image of place that looms large momentarily in our view.” (Tuan 161). In McPhee’s story the narrator takes this to an extreme when his eyes loom over each space on the Monopoly board. Whenever he gazes upon a colorful square he seems to drift off into great detail about the place that he somehow remembers from another time. It’s possibly a time when he visited each place, or maybe perhaps from what he’s heard about each place. Regardless, at some point he created detailed images of these places in his head and he remembers what he saw or created.
Tuan also goes off saying “A city does not become historic merely because it has occupied the same site for a long time…Past events make no impact on the present unless they are memorialized in history books, monuments, pageants and solemn and jovial festivities…” (Tuan 174). In McPhee’s story the narrator goes over all of these things as he describes each avenue, place and company. The narrator also mentions more minor things that seem to make a place historic and of course each place he mentions is somehow historic considering they’re on the damn Monopoly game board.

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Everyday Use

Early on in Tuan’s chapter of “Attachment to Homeland” he states that “Human groups nearly everywhere tend to regard their own homeland as the center of the world. A people who believe they are at the center claim, implicitly, the ineluctable worth of their location” (Tuan 149). In Alice Walker’s story “Everyday Use” we see Tuans idea emanating from the unnamed narrators older daughter Dee.
Dee is the narrator’s older daughter who left home and got married to a classy city man and moved onto better more modern things than the rural, farm-like life her mother and younger sister still lived. Even though she seems to have moved onto “better” things she still feels an attachment to her home, almost as if it was something stylish to do. When Dee visits her mother she shows up with a new name (Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo) and clothing as well as her new man with his own odd name of Asalamalakim. Dee asks her mother to give her the family quilts which have been in their family for generations. She wanted the quilts to hang them up and frame them just for the sake of being stylish, keeping old relics of the past in the home as decoration seems to be some sort of modern/hip thing to do. When the mother refuses to let her have her way Dee says “You just don’t understand…Your heritage.” (Walker 461).
Apparently Dee seems to feel she has an even deeper attatchment to her “true” homeland which is Africa which explains why she adopted the Swahili name and began to act like a more noble and pretentious person. As if learning about her roots gave her a higher place than that of her mother and sister. She seems to feel the important things go beyond what she truly knows and that they are the origins of which she doesn’t really know.

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The Things They Carried

In Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” the story talks about the burdens a platoon of soldiers sent to Vietnam must carry. Among the burdens are physical objects such as guns, food, lucky charms, keepsakes and other necessities a man needs when he knows he’ll probably die. More importantly they carry much heavier things that are more abstract and still more physical to the mind. “They carried the land itself – Vietnam, the place, the soil – a powdery orange-red dust that covered their boots and fatigues and faces. They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity…” (O’Brien 602). As Tuan would describe it, they became intimate with the land itself, they became one with and they were the land. They were part of its world, its life, its jungles and geography. They were Vietnam.
“Intimate occasions are often those on which we become passive and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, exposed to the caress and sting of new experience.” (Tuan 137). The troops in Lieutenant Jimmy Cross‘s Alpha Company became vulnerable to everything Vietnam could throw at them. They began to live the Viet life, a war life that had no meaning and yet still a part of it all. They did what they did, no questions asked and they did it without thinking. They would “burn villages and leave others, they would kill some and leave some and they were just too into it all. They were exposed to the elements and it changed them, the things they carried are what kept them sane. The little reminders of home or hobby’s they tried to continue during the war. Any trace of their character or personality was all they needed to carry to stay sane. When you get too intimate with a place, you lose yourself. But there’s always something in that place that reminds you of you and that’s what keeps you going for a time and a time after.

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Death by Landscape

In Yi-Fu Tuan’s chapter on “Time in Experiential Space” he mentions that “when we look outward we look at the present or future; when we look inward we are likely to reminisce the past… going up a river to its source is to return symbolically to the beginning of one’s own life.” (Tuan126). In Margaret Adwood’s story “Death by Landscape” there are several instances where we see a form of Tuan’s concept occurring.
“Death by Landscape” is a story of a mother named Lois looking back at her childhood when she attended a camp and made a very good friend there named Lucy. At first Lois seemed to dislike camp but she gradually became use to it and came to enjoy it. Lucy on the other hand arrived at camp one year sluggish and lazy hating her home and the seemingly juvenile activities she had to put up with in camp. On the day of the traditional canoe trip the campers rowed their canoes across a lake and made camp on its other shores. Nearby there was a sort of cliff or ridge called “The Lookout” where Lois and Lucy went up to for a walk to enjoy the scenery and gaze at the lake they just crossed. At one point in this scene, Lois left Lucy alone at the top of the hill, when she did Lucy disappeared. She most likely fell to her death in a suicidal attempt because she hated her life which we make note of on page 110 when Lucy says “I hate it there”.
Alright, first off we have the rowing of the canoes across the lake. Though it may not be a river it’s still some body of water and I feel that it relates to how Tuan spoke of going up a river a return to ones birthplace. In knowing this information we feel a sense that something will happen at the other end of the lake and of course death occurred. There’s nothing closer to returning to ones birth than dying because it is a return to nothingness which is what you were a short time before being born. On another note when the girls reach the top of “The Look Out” the girls stare “outward” across the lake they just canoed across (Adwood 111-112). From what Tuan has told us, looking outward is like “looking at the present or future”. Obviously Lucy was looking at her present unhappy state and decided to create her own future by taking a dive off the cliff. When Lucy was alone at the cliff Lois had her back turned facing in the opposite direction (inland), she was always looking toward the past from that point. She reminisced over days where Lucy was happier and enjoyed the camp more with her and 20 years later she still looks toward the past on the day Lucy disappeared.
Sometimes our outlooks on life change and we see the world differently as time goes on. Sometimes, we see the world the same way and time stands still for us. It all depends on whether you were looking outward or inward at a certain time and place in your life.

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Babylon Revisited

As much as I enjoyed reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Babylon Revisited” I couldn’t seem to make any connections with Tuan’s chapter on “Architectural Space and Awareness” and so this response will be about how Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Fall of the House of Usher” makes better connections to Tuan than “Babylon Revisited”. In Poe’s story the main focus is based around a spooky house like something you’d see straight out of a Scooby-Doo cartoon. As Tuan talks about in his chapter certain structures make people have a different sense of awareness. Basically, the size, shape, color of a building for example will give a person a different feel when they are near the structure or within it. A large and decorated structure with a rather blown-up interior will make a person feel meager and make them act well behaved.
In Poe’s story the actual house the Usher dynasty (?) lived in was a spooky sort of house, very dreary and overwhelming that seemed to emanate an a disturbing and haunting aura that would make most people foreign to it want to leave; I like to imagine bats flying about as lightning strikes in the background while a harsh squall passes through ruffling and jarring any unfortunate bystanders. As the unnamed narrator ventures into the seemingly haunted house to meet his good friend Roderick Usher he soon feels it was probably a mistake as a rush of discomfort and regret begins to occupy his very being. The home is dark, damp, and probably clean but still feels dirty and the air seems to be filled with paranoia and sickness mainly due to Roderick and Madeline Usher’s demeanor. Though the narrator was uncomfortable the entire time he was in this home it only got worse when Roderick’s sister Madeline supposedly died and they had buried her in the catacomb like underpants of the house. Knowing there was something so heinous beneath him the narrator began to lose sleep and started to become almost as paranoid as Roderick Usher was acting. When Madeline arose from the dead and attacked them in the last portion of the story she almost seemed to embody the feelings and aura of the house itself in all its spookiness, fright, dreariness, frailness and cartoon-like state. As the narrator made his escape he watched as the crack the house had from its base to roof developed into a large fissure which brought the house down finally ending the legacy of the house of usher. It’s easy to see that your structural surroundings can change your personality and actions given enough time. Your awareness sometimes heightens depending on the space and you become a different person. I think that’s the main point of all this.

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The Lottery

In Tuan’s chapter of “Mythical Space and Place” he mentions how people created symbolic meanings for many different things such as cardinal directions and visible celestial bodies (Tuan93-95). It shows how nothing has meaning until we give it meaning and anything can be unimportant until it’s acknowledged as something to be withheld in our hearts. In doing so we create our own world that may not make sense scientifically but it makes sense morally and it sure as hell allows people to live way more comfortably or uncomfortably than they would have thought possible.
In Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” we see Tuan’s concept of symbolic meaning given to something during the actual Lottery in the story. The lottery itself is a tradition that takes place every summer on the 27th of June in a certain few towns. During the lottery the entire town gathers where each family takes one folded paper from a black box. Whoever gets the devilish paper with the black dot on it gets the privilege to be stoned mindlessly by the entire town including friends and family. It’s a traditional event that’s fun for the whole family with the exception of the person being stoned. In the story we see how people gave such a powerful symbolic meaning to this ridiculous lottery even though they detest it deep down. Nobody goes against it and acts as if it were a normal yearly event that mustn’t be missed. Beneath the acting we see the villagers dislike the lottery when we see Mrs. Hutchinson arriving late to the lottery (Jackson 249). She makes excuses as to why she was late even though you could tell she really didn’t want to partake in the event itself. We also hear a few people murmuring among the townsfolk gossiping about how other villages were “considering giving up the lottery” (Jackson 250). Over here we see how a manmade symbol can become an object of fear as they were almost testing their peers to see who might happen to agree that giving up the lottery might be a good idea.
Obviously nobody really likes this whole lottery business and it serves no purpose except to withhold ancient tradition. It’s apparent that people in the past got a real kick out of stoning the people around them legally and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a lottery every week. It most likely served the purpose of pinpointing the people who were evil among the village and cleansing them with by bludgeoning their faces with jagged earthen clasts. This story shows just how unreasonable people can be when it comes to long time symbolic traditions. They’d even harm their own family if it meant withholding proper ancient traditions that seemed to be all the rage at the time. Also, I laughed at the end of the story, didn’t expect the lottery to result in a stoning of all things.

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Cathedral

A strange story, which seems to have no clear goal, is what Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral” turned out to be. The story spoke of a married couple who invited a blind friend to come stay in their home due to some unfortunate circumstances (besides the fact that he’s blind). The story expressed Tuan’s concept of special ability and knowledge as the blind man didn’t act like the common blind man normally does.
First thing to note was that Robert, the blind man walked around without a cane to support his spatial knowledge. Most blind people feel around with a walking stick of sorts to gain a better understanding of their surroundings. Robert on the other hand seemed to do fine without it. It must have been his high level of spatial ability. With only a few descriptive words he seemed to know where everything in a room was. Robert also seemed to use his fingers to assist him as we saw that during dinner, he picked and cut his food as if he knew where it all was. Apparently he did know where it was and he seemed to handle a fork and knife with as much skill as any person would. It would make sense because eating is something you do every day, I’m sure over time his spatial knowledge at the dinner table increased and his ability to eat just become a habit. If you really think about it, when you eat, you don’t always look at your food anyway. I’m sure it’s just habitual for us after some time.
In the end, spatial ability and knowledge doesn’t seem to be a factor limited by sight only. It can involve feeling and practice as well. It’s easy to notice this every day when you do many simple things out of habit without thinking about it or looking. You don’t look at your legs as you walk around your house and you don’t need to look at the door knob every time you close the door to your room.

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Paper #1, First Draft. The Metamorphosis

“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka is a short story that truly embodies the essence of characters and what they can go through over time. In the story a young traveling salesman by the name of Gregor wakes up one morning to find that he has mysteriously transformed into a giant insect. Rather than being worried about his inexplicable transformation his main concern is how he would be getting to work to support his family. Even though Gregor seems to detest his job we learn that he is quite an honest and self-less person and quite diligent as well. As the story progresses and Gregor finds himself confined in his room due to his families fears of him we see some important developments in his character and not just physically. We see how Gregor slowly becomes accustomed to his new form and how he takes to his new permanent surroundings as he begins to explore the mechanics of his body and the limits set upon him within his space. As the story progresses so does Gregors personality as we see him express concepts such as personal relations, spatial values, crowding and experiential perspective; all which are ideas displayed in Yi-Fu Tuan’s Space and Place. After reading “The Metamorphosis”, it’s child’s play to see how Kafka incorporates all these ideas of “space and place” to help shape the character(s) in his short story.
When Gregor first woke up the first thing he noticed was that something was quite amiss. He immediately notice that his body had changed as he now had “numerous little legs that never stopped moving” (Kafka 304) as well as a now flat, hard shelled back. Along, with is limbs Gregors eye sight changed as well as he could now only barely make out his surroundings. Gregor realized this when he noticed that his original assumption of it being grey overcast outside was actually wrong and that his eyesight was just impaired in a sense. Gregors new body defined his character perfectly as he was always subject to abuse from his boss. His boss always treated him like a lower being and was very pretentious during his time in the story. Rather than sending a messenger boy to check on why Gregor hadn’t shown up for work he personally visited Gregor’s home and accused him of stealing company funds that Gregor was entrusted to at the time. The boss even went as far as speaking for the other people in the family to show his towering control as he said “I am speaking in the name of your parents and of your director…” (Kafka 306). I wouldn’t be surprised if the boss was at fault for Gregors unexplained transformation because from what we’ve seen Gregor was treated as an insect even before the change. Overtime Gregor became accustomed to his body as he began to explore his space. This shows the concept of experiential perspective (Tuan 8) as Gregor began to experience the new things he was capable of in his small room. He began by walking around and later on climbing on the walls. He discovered that his favorite place to be was the ceiling because “he could breathe more freely, a faint pulsing coursed through his body, and his state of almost giddy absentmindedness up there…” (Kafka 317). Even though Gregor was a different existence altogether it never stopped him from exploiting the new limitations of his body. He expanded the tiny space he was confined to and made the most of it. Just imagine how much bigger rooms would be for people if we could fully utilize the large empty spaces above our heads. As Gregor found new things his attitude towards his situation began to change as the story progressed.
Being confined to his room meant that Gregor couldn’t possibly take care of himself as he was locked inside unable to reach any nutrients and of course the room itself would become filthier as time passed. Luckily for him his sister became his care taker and began to house for him in his room. Gregor was grateful towards his sister with whom he was very close to. She would clean for him and bring him meals even though she was frightened of him. At some point in the story Gregors mother wished to take care of him as well or at least see him. She had this brilliant idea of removing all of Gregors beloved belongings in his room to create more space for him. This was an invasion of Gregors personal space as it would destroy the remnants of his existence, the proof that he was in fact a human. His mother failed to respect his “spatial values” (Tuan 34) and ended up removing what little Gregor had left. When you invade someone space without permission there’s a high chance you’ll disorganize their personal spatial structure and put that person in a state of disarray. When Gregor learned of his mother’s intentions and saw her and his sister begin moving his stuff out he became very territorial and began slathering his precious belongings with his insect residues (?). Of course his mother went into a fit of hysteria when she saw him moving about and that lead to Gregor being confined into his room with very little care. After that point his sister stopped caring for him the way she did at first and began giving Gregor food he couldn’t consume and she even stopped cleaning the room. Though the room hadn’t changed much after his mother’s interference it somehow felt smaller and different. Gregor now felt truly trapped as he knew he was not receiving a sufficient amount of nutrients anymore.
As time passed Gregors family slowly started piling all of their extra belongings and garbage into his already small room. Extra chairs, rugs and tables and various other things found their way into the room and began crowding the space. Gregor wasn’t exactly up for walking much anyway but the obstacles in his way now made it nearly impossible for him to move about as he wished. Kafka utilized Tuan’s concept of crowding in this last portion of the story (Tuan 51). It was a different form of crowding though, not like the kind that involves people but the kind where objects give a sense of a space becoming crowded. It’s a terrible feeling enough to constrict breathing and make a person feel claustrophobic and quite miserable. It’s not difficult to see that during the story Gregor felt this way and as he layed there in his room, too tired to walk or move “his head sank all the way down, and from his nostrils came his last feeble breath” (Kafka 329). That was when Gregor’s character ceased to exist as he passed away in his room alone, forgotten and too miserable and tired to even move.
The entirety of “The Metamorphosis” was based around Gregors entrapment within his room and how his change of space and character affected him. We saw how his space expanded and contracted throughout the story and how other characters greatly influenced these elements. It could be said that Gregors character changed several times throughout the story and they weren’t even subtle changes. It’s a shame but it seems Gregors misfortune began because of the people around him and because of his generosity and of course he met his demise because the people around him were greedy. They wouldn’t share their space and so they sacrificed a part of their space to hold onto as much as they could. Gregor on the other hand lost everything and somehow lost more than he knew he could; though he did gain an learn many new things as he explored his changes in space a long with his physical changes. I’d say Kafka wrote a fine story that showed the limitlessness of “space and place” revolving around one unfortunate character.

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