Group 2- Response to Back2Brooklyn blog (Marchiano)

Posted: August 11, 2010 by mmarchiano in Uncategorized

In the most recent post by the back2brooklyn blogger, she reminisces about her grandmother’s visit to cook with her mother.  It created an image, that somehow, being surrounded by family gives way to story telling.  This seems to be true for both Kazin and Marshall.

I question, why do we have the desire or feel the need to tell “our story”? Is it because we seek feedback and responses from others that offer and share similar experiences? Or do we simply do it for our own satisfaction as a way of analyzing who we have become due to our past experiences? The back2brooklyn blogger seems to think the latter.  She says “I realized how important my past was in framing the woman I am today.”

Kazin likens his mother to the stories of her past; her stories of home. Although Kazin will never know first hand any of her experiences, it is through her stories that he has a connection of who he partially is. In effect, he creates his own stories; taking a trip down memory lane to reflect. It seems as though story-telling is a way of self-expression. Perhaps it is this new wave of self-expression that we get blogging.

Marshall would agree, for she says, the women that would join her mother and herself at the table “were women in whom the need for self-expression was strong…was an integral part of their lives…and their talk was a refuge.”

So would we agree, that bloggers, authors, poets and anything far or in between, use their words; use their writing as a way to escape? I think so.

Group 1 Wrapping Up (Lastique-Farr)

Posted: August 11, 2010 by emlf in Uncategorized

We have covered a lot of ground in the last month.  I have changed the way I have thought about place and space and Brooklyn.  I still have a few unanswered questions for our group though.  Tricia- I know that you don’t like the Lethem book and I am not fully sure what I think of it, reading it from a critical race theory perspective.  I think it works in terms of structure and does pose interesting questions about race and power but taken as a whole the question remains: Is the book racist?  What I mean by this is that the book is written by a white man about a white man’s experience of race, as Godbey complains Mingus is marginalized and Robert Woolfolk is indecipherable (is he a “person” in the novel or a representative of a white man’s nightmare of a black man?). So is the book racist because the black characters aren’t as real as the main white character?  Is the book racist because it focuses on what are the worst stereotypes of black urban men (and women to a certain extent)?  Is it racist because we don’t see Henry’s path to become a DA?  Or is not a racist because the text tries to explore a very specific racial interaction in the “honest” perspective of a white child/man?  I still feel we haven’t addressed this head on in class.  Thoughts?

The Zukin piece:  I said this before in one of my posts but I wouldn’t be living in Brooklyn if it hadn’t become “cool”.  What I mean by this is that as soon as I was old enough to decide where I wanted to live I sought out neighborhoods, communities and places that were multicultural, diverse, interested in art & culture, liberal politics and “open”- the opposite of the suburbs that I grew up in.  The majority of the culturally/ethnic closed enclaves of Brooklyn were not like that before the “change”.  The combination of economic policies and population growth has forced traditional residents of neighborhoods to move and that is a shame when the neighborhoods were functioning and open.  However, many of the neighborhoods that changed were not functioning or “open”.  I do believe that better economic and government decisions could have been made to help traditional residents but capitalism is a force that has one motivation: more. I don’t think that middle class city dwellers looking for affordable home with services they want should be blamed, as they are just another actor in the larger capitalist change being played out.

Group 4 (Jennie Ré on Sennett)

Posted: August 11, 2010 by jenniere in Uncategorized

In Richard Sennett’s book, The Fall of Public Man, published in 1977, he writes of a twentieth-century social isolation within a “meaningless public domain” fraught with “dead public area[s]” (342).  The author cites the Lever House, built in 1951-52 on Park Avenue in New York City, as a site of dead public area.  He points out that the architecture of this skyscraper is such that the ground floor is built as an open-air square filled with dead space that is used only as a “means of passage to the interior” (342).  Sennett points out that “people need specific places in public whose sole purpose is to bring them together” (344), but Lever House’s ground floor, although in the form of a miniature public square, ironically, does not allow for “diverse activities [with an] intermix of persons” (342).

I have been to Lever House too many times to count, and this reading brought back wonderful memories lived in a public space that was anything but dead for me.  From the time I was a small child, up until sixteen years of age, my grandfather took me to Lever House to see the annual Christmas Carousel display there.  The kaleidoscope of color dazzled the eye as the merry-go-round glided gracefully with horses posed majestically in gem-encrusted reins.  And the crowd stood in awe of the grand spectacle.  The Christmas Carousel display was, for over fifty years, one of the more enduring annual New York City traditions.  Every December the ground floor of Lever House was transformed into the most wondrous place in which an intermix of persons shared a truly heartwarming experience together, and the child in all of us imagined taking the most magical ride of a lifetime. 

Memories of those trips to Lever House encompass both my private and public life.  The excitement I felt at being part of a crowd thrilling in the moment together, does not compare to the love I felt for my grandfather as we stood there hand-in-hand and heart-to-heart year after year.  This public space for me was filled with connection, not isolation, and I thank my dearly missed, sweet grandfather for this special gift he gave to me.

Brooklyn: The Bloggiest Borough

Posted: August 10, 2010 by mnadell in Uncategorized

New media – blogs, websites, social networking sites, and others – have emerged as some of the central textual and visual forms of the twenty-first century.  The rise of new media raises a host of questions about communication, the dissemination of information, and interactions among individuals, within and across communities.  New media challenge our notions of place/space and materiality of the text.

Brooklyn, in particular, has become both a virtual and literal center for blogs (it is, according to some, the “bloggiest borough.”  Countless individuals and groups have adopted the form for a wide range of purposes, from speculations about real estate to reports on the state of a neighborhood or a street to meditations on history or nature. 

Please check out some of these blogs.

Read many of the blog’s posts.  Pay attention to what questions the blog raises, to the idea of place/space the blog offers, to notions of community, difference, class, home, or any other theme that you find interesting.  Pay particular attention to how the blog conceives of and represents Brooklyn and finds meaning in place.

Here are some links to blogs.  There are many more.

Group 1: Irons

Posted: August 9, 2010 by andrewirons in Uncategorized

Ok.  So I’m not sure that it is my time to post, but here you go.  I feel as if nothing is formed in my head about Fortress.  There is a long list of thoughts that are just kinda bouncing around.  Forgive me if it is rambling.

-The swapping of father roles.  Junior and Dylan to Music, Abraham and, well, Dose to art.

-The falling triangle.  Will it ever fall?  The middle ground.

-Dylan’s mother.  Is the Indiana farm so unlike Gowanus?

-Thirsty People.

-The importance of the final questions from Dylan to Mingus.  Did you know how much I was getting yolked, did you ever get yolked, did you ever yolk a white boy.

-The abrasiveness of Robert’s  Fuck you mother fucker when given the possibility of an out.  Did Mingus know that Robert would plummet?  Was this his way of helping?

-Still thinking of it a bit as a cartoon strip.  Mingus able to read what was going on in the lines between the cells.  Guess that is an interesting pun on Mingus’ later life.

-Invisibility – ok.  I concede.  Totally real, the superpower ring.  Great.  Now I have to read the damn book again.

-The sex – such a bold word was used when Dylan was visiting Mingus.  Dylan’s first person description of the (now) man sitting behind the glass – lover.

-The tagging of Doiley – kinda Buddhist.  passing of one protector to another.

-The spiral nature of the structure.  Give a little and then back up.  give a little more.

– The role of protector.  who is protecting whom from what and when.

-Drugs, drugs, drugs.  Aeroman smokes crack before taking out the random supplier(s).  No one is pure.  All complicit.  Makes you think that as much as dylan feels not of gowanus, it is the only “of” he has.

-Robert with a gun.  Dylan is OF gowanus more than he wants to know.

-Prisonairs – there is no real ending for them.  a group bound together by circumstances and the one with the shining spirit left locked up.  For a while or life or however long.  nobody sure if he’s even still alive anymore as the ones who benefited from his greatness remarkably plug along.

Those are a few of the many thoughts going through my head.  For what they are worth.


Group 4

Posted: August 8, 2010 by hstecklein in Uncategorized

This is the work of Karen Francis. Her page is being difficult so I am posting it for her.

“The Uses of City Neighborhoods” by Jane Jacobs was a very interesting article because it talked about what makes a “city neighborhood”. The essence of the article was basically discussing the issues that neighborhoods encounter. Neighborhood is a term that is being threatened of loosing its identity. Many planners are trying to turn neighborhood cities into mini suburbs. This process that allows the city neighborhoods to change is “gentrification”. Gentrification is a tem that has been around for years and continues to menace our inner city neighborhoods. This is the process that allows renewing and rebuilding in usually low income neighborhoods. The transformation usually attracts middle-class residents, which means raising rents and moving out the originals residents- usually low-income residents. This process changes the authenticity of the neighborhood thus forcing the residents to create a new identity for the neighborhood. In Lethem’s book, Fortress of Solitude it is quite evident how gentrification occurred. He grew up in a Brooklyn neighborhood that held so many childhood memories yet when he returned he did not know it – because of gentrification.
Many city residents feel that if they move into more affluent neighborhoods that it will minimize the crime that occurs around them. In the article contrary to what we would think there was research conducted that contradicts that neighborhoods being “good” meant less crime. A neighborhoods safety I think is determined by the residents taking ownership of their space and safeguarding it by any means necessary. The residents have to take a stand that they will help to police the neighborhoods by creating neighborhood watch forces and being the enforcement to ensure that the neighborhoods are safe.
You ask yourself, do neighborhoods in big cities have meaning? I think that they have meaning when the residents realize that they must assist in the governing of their neighborhood. They must become active in all decision making and not allow only the elected officials to speak for them but make the officials accountable for what the residents want for their own communities. Are you active in your neighborhood? What makes your neighborhood unique to other neighborhoods? Are you willing to fight for the identity of your neighborhood?

Group 2 (Manning)

Posted: August 8, 2010 by jennifer1065 in Uncategorized

Jane Jacob’s “The Uses of City Neighborhoods” explores her perspective of how she imagines the   purpose of   American cities. I agree with her that architects who plan new urban spaces do not know what is right for residents.  Their perspectives are not representative of the community.

As a matter of fact, gentrification that is expressed in Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude drives away the poor and working class. They are no longer able to afford living in gentrified locations anymore. Rent becomes too expensive and prices of consumer products become very high.

I feel that urban areas should not emerge from backroom deals between politicians, such as Marty Markowitz and real estate developers, such as Bruce Ratner. The city and state in combination with the community should come up with the proposals for different areas.

As a Brooklynite, I  really  get disappointed because I feel that I am not a part of the planning process. I plan to continue living in Brooklyn as long as I can. I want to know what is happening to my neighborhood. As a taxpayer, I have the right to know what is going on!

My concerns are valid because I have lived in Brooklyn, my whole life. I deal with the overcrowding of trains and buses. I deal with the traffic jams of Belt Parkway (Robert Moses), Atlantic Ave and Flatbush Ave.

I face the struggles of overcrowded public schools as a teacher. I am sorry to say it but the makers of gentrified Brooklyn and New York as a whole are not concerned with our my views.They are more concerned with their professional legacy.

Lastly, one of my main concerns of gentrification is the stability in the lives of the working class. Will the creation of new and improved housings and businesses make the lives of low-income workers easier or harder? I would suggest that it make it harder than it already is. The low rise living of these residents are ultimately contrary to the high rise lifestyle of new structures.

GROUP 3: Invisibility [Falk-Gee]

Posted: August 8, 2010 by justinfalkgee in Uncategorized

In The Fortress of Solitude, the children socially construct identities out of their relationships with one another, which are either affirmed or dissolved on a daily basis. The streets are the focal point where these negotiations of meaning over identity formation take place. They are also a microcosm for the racial and economic forces that in a sense are, while for the most part unspoken (since their expression resides in the adult’s world), shaping the interactions and struggle for power along racial and other lines. While growing up in the streets of Brooklyn, it is the privileged children, such as Dylan, Arthur, Gabriel and Tim, who find this privilege to be an albatross of sorts, marking them with lack of acceptance and the violence and threats of the African-American and Puerto Rican kids on the street.

In order to gain acceptance, Dylan and Arthur have to forsake their identity and assume one that asserts their “blackness.” But ironically, in trying to appropriate such roles Dylan and Arthur are in a sense made even more vulnerable to the neighborhood kids (who are either knowingly or unknowingly?) acting in ways that reassert the traditional street roles of the neighborhood based on race and social class. As such, Dylan and Arthur become subjected to doubts about their authenticity and their attempts to assimilate into the street culture are met with disdain and fail to confer upon them the acceptance that they sought. The relationships between Dylan and Mingus and Mingus and Arthur are exceptions to the general rule and codes of the street, where privileged kids are “yoked” and have their money taken from them in a process which conveys, at least by the social spheres in which children operate, that they are essentially on the bottom of the social totem pole. However, especially with gentrification, this social sphere, and the identities it produces along lines of power, is diametrically different for the children and the adults. Jonathan Lethem explains this lack of connection between these two worlds, when Robert takes Dylan’s change, by saying “The men at the pizza counter were uninterested: the event occurred at the teenage stratum, which they filtered at a preconscious level” (194). Essentially, the young characters are practicing and acting out the power rules that will reverse themselves once they enter into the adult world. Dylan’s adoption of the Aeroman persona is magical, not only for potentially making him able to fly and be invisible, but it is a marker of an intermediary step between these two worlds, that straddles the void that separates them and allows Dylan to define for himself a role that really, if you consider it, fits neither world.

My question then is which world is more real (or “authentic”): 1) the pre-gentrified one in which Dylan first struggles to find a public (street) identity within the limited role afforded to him by the streets or 2) the private one (which defies the rules of the street) where he shares the secret of Aeroman with Mingus; or 3) the adult version where the white characters have all attained relative measures of success and the black ones (such as Mingus and Robert) have found themselves made invisible (as Dylan once felt he was as a child and through the power of the ring) by virtue of their incarceration, secluding them from the streets and the benefits that can be reaped by certain people in society? Godbey mentions Lethem’s lack of focus on the plight of the black characters in deference to the story of Dylan. But this “omission” (if you accept it as true) is telling in of itself. The African-American protagonists in the story are highly visible and influential in Dylan’s youth, but in societal terms, especially after gentrification, there is a searing absence of their visibility and influence in mainstream society. Maybe the idea of invisibility, a prevailing theme in the novel, is ultimately a main statement of the book and conveyed by Dylan’s thoughts about the ring: “Maybe this night’s just lucky, maybe he’s passed through some flame and come out the other side. Maybe it’s the ring. Maybe the ring has made him invisible. Maybe the ring has made him black” (168). Essentially, Lethem is linking being black with being invisible. Dylan, and others “like” him, have passed the test of the streets, playing the role it demanded of them, in order to assume their “rightful place” in a highly stratified society that, unfair as it may be, validates Dylan (thus shedding him of the invisibility of his youth) and renders Others invisible through a more institutionalized and powerful racism than the streets ever possessed.

Group Four: Lethem and his narrative switch

Posted: August 5, 2010 by hstecklein in Uncategorized

I just wanted to post a couple of thoughts before class. Lots of people have been blogging about the narrative switch to Dylan’s first person narrative. I think that the narrative switch occurs for a few reasons. First, Dylan is no longer defining himself through someone else or through Dean Street. He ended his friendship, on many levels, with Mingus when he bought back the ring. He no longer shares the DOSE tag with Mingus or the sexual union that Dylan and Mingus experienced. He leaves Dean Street which he and Arthur tie to his mother. He is free from this place that defines him, or so he thinks. He is attempting to find his own identity without assimilating to Dylan or Rachel. What is also interesting about this section is that the ring eventually makes him invisible, which is ironic since he is now free from the shadow of Mingus, Rachel, and Dean Street.

It also connects with the point in a comic where the hero is revealed, and we learn about Clark Kent rather than Superman.  The depth of super heros are revealed in their adult life, not in their childhood.  While Dylan still uses the ring, he is no longer dressing as a super hero and does not use the ring’s power for good until the drug bust. The frames that Lethem writes like a comic book do not exist in the adult section of the novel. This leads me to one of two conclusions: the ring’s power IS REAL, or it is linked to Dylan’s drug use where it was linked to his imagination in childhood. I am more inclined now to believe that the ring’s powers are real. We also learn more about why Dylan severed his friendship with Mingus from an adult perspective that reflects on his childhood. He can look back at his decisions with a new perspective for the reader.

As a writer and an individual, Dylan is finding his own authentic voice. In the end, his authentic identity is traced back to Dean Street, but Dean Street is a place that he can no longer recognizes.  In the end, I think it all comes down to perspective.  The perspective of a child in the first section and the perspective of an adult in the second half of the novel.  I think this also explains the shift from flying to invisibility.  When flying, we are looking from up above with a full view but don’t necessarily know all the facts while invisibility puts us in the midst of everything.

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Fortress gives us SO much to think and talk about, but I keep circling back to the same curious issues.  First, narration. As I near the end of the novel, I’m struggling to understand why Lethem chose to switch narrators halfway through, using the third person so successfully in “Underberg”, then giving Dylan direct narration in “Prisonaires”. I came to love the narrator’s voice in Underberg, and grew so used to the rhythms and snappy pace that I actually found myself cringing at Dylan’s language. It feels awkward. I puzzled over this for fifty pages or so, then realized that perhaps my objection lay in the fact that, actually, the voices are incredibly similar, easily conflated. Take, for example, the parallel panels Abraham appears on, with Dylan as child, and then Dylan as adult, in the audience. The narrations are not terribly different:

“Brakhage was charismatic and orotund and evoked Orson Welles on television. Like Welles he suggested a greatness both distant from itself and fully at rest, in this case scarcely bothering to taste the air of adulation in the room” (138).

“Now the microphone was taken by Blumlein, whom Francesca had claimed as Abraham’s only friend on the panel. Being moderator, Blumlein took it upon himself to prize open the jaws of the clam- to find a way to force Abraham Edbus to acknowledge and address his admirers” (342).

Although Dylan, the narrator, does insert himself periodically, I never get the sense that anything he says wouldn’t have been articulated by the former, edgier, more authentic narrator. This may be unfair, but I like and “buy” Dylan less in the second half of the book. Another, kinder reading is that Lethem’s third person narrator is Gowanus, “the street”, and that Dylan absorbs (or appropriates) this perspective so entirely that it necessarily emerges in his adult voice.

Another issue: sex. More specifically, Lethem’s handling of sex, friendship, race, and power. It’s impossible to talk about any one theme without allowing for the others. Dylan and Mingus obviously present the most overt demonstration of their intertwining. The balance of power in their relationship is forever in question. On the one hand, Dylan’s whiteness makes him vulnerable, but it also makes him effortlessly a part of the dominant culture, even before he’s truly entered it. On the other hand, Mingus acts as protector and gives Dylan access to the culture of the streets. It seems that for a large part of their formative years, Dylan needs Mingus more than Mingus needs Dylan. But when they engage in mutually consented to, secret sexual acts, does the power equalize or shift into an even greater imbalance? [Consider this comment on what takes place that first afternoon in Mingus’s basement: “The world was unnamed, you wore disguises, were Inhumans. Mingus’s room was another Negative Zone, under water, under the house, detached form Dean Street and whirling away to another place” (205).] Or can we read these scenes as nothing more than hyper-sexualized teenage male libido finding release in a safe space?

It’s also important that Mingus is the product of a white woman/black man coupling, a dynamic awash in sex-race-power stereotypes. And that Dylan cultivates the reversal of that match-up later on, with Abby, cannot be ignored.

Also very interesting, though given only glancing mention, is Francesca’s own upbringing in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Dylan (and here’s another example of the remarkable indistinctiveness of the two narrations) describes Francesca by saying, “A woman who, despite her immigrant’s name, had lived all her life among the postwar generation of New York Jews, Francesca spoke in their manner and recognized them as one recognizes oneself” (338). I couldn’t help but notice that Godbey’s argument falls down here, unless Francesca could also be said to have appropriated a Jewish identity to authenticate herself.

The sexual and romantic relationships all deal in race (and power is a given). I’d love to know how others reacted to this aspect of the book.