Literature and Place

a qwriting.qc.cuny.edu blog

Archive for April, 2011


Structuring Your Third Essay

Dear all,

As we discussed at the end of class today, think in terms of covering the various aspects of the final paper in the following way:

Introduce your particular, literal  “place/space” (which will also serve as an introduction to the broader category–“house,” “city,” “landscape,” etc.–that you’ll analyze in relation to the short stories) by describing it through an experiential perspective. (*Think ahead to how you want to discuss this place in the literary analyses that your paper will feature when crafting your experiential introduction.)

Provide a history of the place. Your research can include interviews with people about the origin/structure/uses of the place or information you’ve found in archived newspaper articles online as well as more traditional scholarly research material you’ve located in books or articles; try starting with “Google Scholar” if you’re aiming for a more academic historical account like one of “women’s private spaces in 19th century American homes.” (*Think about using McPhee’s essay as one model for how to move between a current experiential perspective and a more historical overview.)

Mention how this history makes the place/space one that particular authors have recognized as having experiential importance, which you’ll then develop in your analysis of how this place/space factors into a couple of short stories.

Describe the experiential perspective an author provides (through a character/narrator) in each respective story. Then explain how this experience in the space/place proves crucial to interpreting the overall significance of the story. (*Think back to your own experiential perspective in this type of place in order to critique, osberve similarities between, and comment on differences among these authors depictions of this space or place.)

Try your best to satisfy all these aims in your draft for this Tuesday, May 3rd (please come prepared with three copies for classmate interviews). Also, please use this post as a message board. Talk to each other. If I’ve written something you find confusing, post a comment about it asking for clarification. If you read a comment that you think you understand or have a response to, comment back! (No need to wait for me to answer you. Address all your posts to the group.)

Featured blogs for the week are also posted below. Please comment on one of those, too. You may include responses and questions about the next paper in the same comment. If you have not been reading others comments on the weekly blog posts, this is the weekend to do it!

Wishing you a productive four days and looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday,

Professor Zino

Blog #1: “The Search for Marvin Gardens”

In Tuan’s chapter “Visibility: the Creation of Place”, he analyzes that some particular architectures, landmarks and places can be visible in different meanings. With this idea, the theme of “The Search for Marvin Gardens” by John McPhee can be classified. McPhee mentions that the narrator plays the monopoly with his friends and he describes all the details about the avenue, railroad, jail, hotels, houses and cash flow on the game board. Based on each of particular streets and avenues, the narrator has flashback about the historic event in the past that he has encountered. He has being impacted by those places when his friend or he has related to the game dealing with the building a hotel or earning the interest rate of renting.

     Tuan mentions that “Each pause is time enough to create an image of place that looms large momentarily in our view” (161). This reveals when some place is visible to people, it records the memories of individuals to make the connection between the present and the past in the same familiar location. In the game of monopoly, the names of those avenues and streets are familiar to the narrator and it is significant to him either he has been visited or he has heard from someone. Also, Tuan tells that “The street where one lives is part of one’s intimate experience. The larger unit, neighborhood, is a concept” (170). The concept of one’s experience can be shared with the visible places. People get experience from each other when they have been to those places and classify the concept of experiences as the neighborhood including all events, individuals and materials. It is like the narrator mentions about the things of his friend when his friend occupies an avenue in the game.

Blog #2: “Construction of a Neighborhood”

Officials always have more powers than the average citizen, so it is no surprise that officials also have the ability to create places both physically and figuratively. Tuan writes, “Scientists thus appear to have a certain power: they can create a place by pointing their official fingers at one body of water rather than another” (162). Scientists achieve legitimacy through facts and research, but the government is able to name places without any merit aside from ownership. Often, streets are named after modern heroes and important figures of history. In “The Search for Marvin Gardens” the creator of
Atlantic City is the one to name the streets, “No one ever challenged the name, or the names of Osborne’s streets” (McPhee 11). Then Darrow creates monopoly with one addition: Marvin Gardens. Creators have the utmost power when it comes to naming a place. Since places are an unique experience to each individual, we create our own space that we associate with the place; we are also creators of place, hence we name places. Local places may be described by child by its local stores rather than its landmarks. We may refer to a place’s location relative to another place that is more commonly known, similarly to how we use street signs. We use street signs to give a universally understood location, but these directions are meaningless if one does not understand how the system works, where one can give more easily understood directions by describing the surroundings. However, descriptions of surroundings become vague when more than one locale is found elsewhere. The creation of a neighborhood begins with the intimate experiences of a place. Tuan writes, “The sentiment one has for the local street corner does not automatically expand in the course of time to cover the entire neighborhood” (170). Sentiment for a neighborhood is often lacking, since the knowledge of neighborhood is also lacking thought. One does not often recall their neighborhood unless pressed about it, also making the neighborhood undefined until pressed for a definition.

As we return from break…back in the swing (and spring) of things

Hi all,

We won’t meet on Tuesday this week as spring break runs through April 26th. In preparation for Thursday, please see the latest reading assignment posted on the  “readings” page: John McPhee’s “The Search for Marvin Gardens” (which you’ll read alongside Tuan’s twelfth chapter, “Visibility: The Creation of Place.”)  As one of our final readings for the course, you’ll want to take note of the fact that this piece falls under a different genre than the others we’ve read this semester.  McPhee’s piece is a creative non-fiction essay.  As a result, part of what we might discuss on Thursday is how composers of creative non-fiction (in comparison to those writing fiction) treat “places” and “spaces.”  We can also talk about how McPhee’s essay deals with landscape (in relation to your third assignment).

Below I’ve posted the two featured blogs, which will count for this past week. Though there was no official assigned work for the break, we cannot skip out on a week of featured posts. For Thursday, please respond to one of the posts related to “attachments to homeland” and complete a reading response for McPhee’s essay. I will post another round of featured blogs that will come out of the most recent responses on Thursday evening.

As we’ve done for the first two essays, an “idea map” is listed on our schedule for this Thursday as a brainstorming exercise for the third writing assignment. I will make this third idea map optional–in other words, if you have found these maps useful for the last two essays and would like to create one to bring in on Thursday, I will happily review it. If you would prefer to just get started on the draft in preparation for our peer interviews on Tuesday, May 3rd, please do so.  (**If you have an idea map that you would not mind sharing with the class this Thursday, please drop by my office hours and show it to me.**)

Please be sure you review the assignment sheet for the third essay during these last few days of our break. This 10-page essay combines the literary analysis and attention to an “experiential perspective” that you’ve practiced in the last two essays with a call for you to describe and research an actual place in the same category of possible places/spaces; your discussion of the actual place should makes the fictionalized places/spaces described by the authors come alive for you and your reader.

See you on Thursday,

Professor Zino

Blog #1

In “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” Victor is living on an Indian compound when he leaves to Arizona because of his father’s death. When he goes back to his father’s home with Thomas he remembers different events throughout his life that Thomas and he were previously involved. Because of the power of the compound that caused Victor’s lack of money, Victor needed Thomas to join him in Arizona because of the money that Thomas was able to provide for the trip. Reading this makes me think of Tuan’s chapter “Attachment to Homeland” for a few reasons. Because of the fact that the Indians on the compound are born there, work there, and live there, they are fully dependent and therefore attached to their homeland both emotionally and financially. Victor is so attached, literally, to his home land that it is a struggle for him to even fly to Arizona to claim his father’s assets and ashes.

In this chapter Tuan explains that religion can do one of two things, bind a person to their place or free them from it. In this case, their religion is completely binding them to the compound. “In religions that bind people firmly to place the gods appear to have the following characteristics in common. They have no power beyond the vicinity of their particular abodes” (Tuan 152). This brings to mind two events in the story. One is that when Victor’s father sees Thomas wandering from the compound as a child, he is angry and brings him back to the compound. The symbolism here is that Thomas’ dreams are what caused him to wander in the first place and that in the end both Victor and Thomas want to bring his father’s ashes here is no coincidence. This is because of the second event which is when they are driving back and Thomas starts to drive, he kills the jackrabbit. Throughout the trip out of the compound the common theme is death.  Starting with the whole cause of the trip being the death of Victor’s father, the desert is described as empty, dead, and lifeless. When they do see the jackrabbit it is emphasized that it is the first living thing they have seen, but it is killed instantly.

The fact that there is only death outside of the compound pushes further the point of what Tuan says, showing that the power of the gods that are protecting them on the compound is not in any location outside of the compound that Victor and Thomas travel to. This is obviously not true because in Arizona there is life without a question, but that they see it as dead can only be attributed to the fact that it is because they have left their safety net of compound and are not under the protection that they feel by being there. Both by religion and the highers-up of the compound.

That Victor and Thomas bring the ashes to the place where Victor’s father had unknowingly caused Thomas’ helping Victor to bring back the ashes is following this theme. His dreams, that come from somewhere implied to be heaven, lead him to the place that eventually caused a full circle, their returning with the ashes is Victor and Thomas coming back to their faith and compound with a renewed loyalty, because of the life that they recognize in it, especially after seeing dead Arizona.

Blog #2

In the story “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” by Sherman Alexie we see Victor re-establish his ties to his community after the death of his father with the help of an old childhood friend, Thomas. After his father dies Victor is faced with the task of finding a way to get to phoenix Arizona, where his father died, to collect his dad’s ashes and inherited belongings. Since he is low on funds, Victor reluctantly accepts help from Thomas with whom he no longer considers a friend. By going on this trip together Victor allows himself to become familiar with where he came from once again by reminiscing about how he and Thomas were once very good friends. The story proves many of the views that Yi-Fu Tuan writes about in his chapter, “Attachment to Homeland.”
According to Tuan, “attachment to homeland is a common human emotion. Its strength varies among different cultures and historical periods. The more ties there are the stronger the emotional bond (159).” We see that Victor does not have a strong connection to his community through his relationship with Thomas because all Victor seems to view him as is “a storyteller that nobody wanted to listen to (Alexie 475).” We do, however, this bond strengthen between the two as well as victors connection to his community.
The first indication that the relationship between the two is improving is when Victor agrees to accept Thomas’ help despite being too proud to do so. The second happens after getting settled on the plane over to Phoenix when Victor remembers the fight that potentially signified the end of their friendship when they were 15 years old. However, it isn’t until they are at the place that Victor’s father died where we see Victor’s remorse over the situation when he tells Thomas, “I never told you I was sorry for beating you up that one time (Alexie 478).”
The fact that we can see Victor and Thomas getting along better also signifies Victor reconnecting to his community; which Thomas has obviously played a big role in. According to Tuan “a homeland has its landmarks, which may be features of high visibility and public significance, such as monuments, shrines, a hallowed battlefield or cemetery. These visible signs serve to enhance a people’s sense of identity (Tuan 159).” In Victor’s situation, however, enhancements within his identity don’t come from tangible objects but from his relationship with certain people like Thomas. There is not one childhood memory in which Victor cannot recall Thomas being in.
Victors improved relationship with Thomas and his stronger connection to his community can also be seen when we see him give half of his father’s ashes to Thomas. Thomas then goes on to say “I’m going to Spokane Falls one last time and toss these ashes into the water. And your father will rise like a salmon, leap over the bridge, over me, and find his way home (Alexie 482).” Victor agrees to do the same and before leaving agrees to listen to one of Thomas’ stories.
By choosing to re-open these ties to old friends and his home we do see that Victor’s attachment to his homeland grow. Originally his attachment is weary but by establishing his identity further through others within his community and re-familiarizing himself with places he once used to live Victor proves Tuan’s view that people do “consider their own homeland as the center of the world (149).”

On commemoration and the importance of quoting with an attention to context…

Hi all,

As you continue to revise and send me your final drafts tonight, I thought I’d pass along this very interesting piece that a friend sent me about the quotation that will adorn the new 9/11 memorial in lower Manhattan. This article is about commemorating a (former?) place and a space, and it is also a good lesson for all of us who aspire to be better writers and readers. Take a look: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/07/opinion/07alexander.html?_r=1&hp

I’ll see you on Tuesday to discuss Tuan on “attachment to homeland” as well as Sherman Alexie’s story, “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona.” I have a feeling that thinking about your own experiences in line with these two pieces will generate an interesting discussion.

Looking forward to seeing you soon,

Professor Zino


Spam prevention powered by Akismet

Skip to toolbar