Thursday, November 3, 2011

New York City

New York City. The big apple. The city that never sleeps. The city so nice, they named it twice. The melting pot of America.

For some reason or another, when I think about New York City, my heart races, my pulse speeds up, my palms begin to sweat, and I become very anxious. I imagine myself getting pushed around on the crowded sidewalks and stuffy subways and falling into the immense crowds. I see myself becoming more neurotic and obsessive about my self image and social status. I become unsure of myself and my individuality within a city full of exotic people with unique cultural backgrounds and ethnicities. With absolutely no sense of direction in my head, I find myself lost. Lost in the city and lost within myself.

New York was an inexhaustible space, a labyrinth of endless steps, and no matter how far he walked, no matter how well he came to know its neighborhoods and streets, it always left him with the feeling of being lost. Lost, not only in the city, but within himself as well. (Auster 4)

Ironically, I wrote that description of New York a long time ago, way before I read Paul Auster’s City of Glass. Here, he writes about the exact feelings I have towards New York City. Whether his personal experience or the protagonist’s experience is similar to mine, Auster’s concept of nature is directly in sync with mine. I can relate to Auster on a more personal level, which brings more depth and meaning to his writing.

Oppositely, Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, lacks a personal connection to experiences throughout my life and thus, her concept of nature is less useful to me than the alternative concept offered by Auster. Although the concept of nature plays a similar role in both novels– a role that shows nature’s ability to easily influence one’s mood and emotional state, the two novel’s concepts of nature greatly differ.

In Frankenstein, the sublime natural world connects to Romanticism and to uninhibited emotional experiences. Victor utilizes nature as an escape. Depressed and guilt ridden due to his monstrous creation, Victor heads to the serine mountains in order to clear his head and hopefully, free his mind. The concept of nature helps to console Victor and offers him an alternative environment to turn to. I can understand and sympathize with Victor wanting to escape his own reality. I know how nature can provide us with peace and serenity. However, the setting and time period of Frankenstein, create a larger gap between my personal experience and the text. Moreover, unlike Shelley, Auster’s play on words and intentional titles constantly trigger both memories and new revelations about what the nature of New York City means in the City of Glass and to me.

Motion was of the essence the act of putting one foot in front of the other and allowing himself to follow the drift of his own body. […] On his best walks, he was able to feel that he was nowhere. New York was the nowhere he had built around himself, and he realized that hr had no intention of ever leaving it again. (Auster 4)

How is it possible for a city that moves so quickly, make a man feel so alone and empty? New York City is a place that is the must-go-to, incredible, even sparkling destination in travel magazines and books. In City of Glass, the city’s glassy transparency recalled in the title becomes absolute. Glass sparkles, shines and in a sense, tricks you. You see this marvelous destination that remains as one of the top cities to visit in the world. You see luxury stores, Broadway plays, beautiful models and actors galore, but the loneliness entangled in the all of the extravagances is invisible.

Hard to imagine that an environment can impact or change someone to such an extent, but it does. In the City of Glass, Quinn changes with his surroundings and gradually loses his identity, until he literally vanishes. Living in the city speeds up Quinn’s loss of identity until he finds himself a changed man. He walks the main city avenues and then, as if pushed by an invisible hand, he spontaneously turns into the man he hoped to never become. He is an outcast. Auster’s concept of nature emphasizes the harsh reality of one’s surroundings.

New York City. The big apple. The city that never sleeps. The city so nice, they named it twice. The melting pot of America. The city of nothingness, loneliness and anxiety. Perhaps Auster uses New York City and the concept of nature as a metaphor to describe a continuing trend that exists in our present day society. Some people believe that New York City is the place where dreams come true. For other individuals, much like Quinn, the hustle and bustle of the city can cause them to lose sight of not only their hopes and dreams, but themselves.


  1. Jenny,

    I really liked your connection with glass can trick the eye. I think your argument could be more effective if you described more in depth about the stages of Quinn's "disappearance". Although there is a lot going on in the city that never sleeps, Quinn still feels like he is losing himself. The question as to why is he losing himself is something you can explain more in depth. Overall great comparison of Frankenstein with City of Glass.

  2. I find the way you connect your own earlier writing (although it would work better if you simply clarified when/why you wrote that) a great touch; it's a great example of how Auster excels at connecting to the culture as a whole, and particularly to the role of New York not only in America in general, but the America of his moment.

    Your handling of the concept of *New York* is very nice.

    But is this a concept of *nature*? It may very well be - but on the surface, at least, it would seem to be almost anti-nature, rather than nature: the ultimate, or *a* ultimate, human construct (the tower of Babel...). I think you can very well argue that nature=New York in this novel, but you can't just assume that - especially when nature (in particular, the sky) in the usual sense is also present.

    Similarly, your generalizations about Shelley and nature aren't exactly wrong, but they are easy and simple. One way in which they are easy and simple? Victor isn't the only one who thinks about nature - so does the monster, and the monster's relationship with nature is surely as interesting as Victor's...

    Great work on New York, but unfocused on Shelley and the prompt.