E.E. Cummings once said,
I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.
Lucky for us if we choose to do so, we have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the beauty of nature all day, everyday. In my opinion, we take advantage of this privilege. Endless blue sky, gleaming sunlight, constantly changing seasons, foliage, landmarks – all of these incredible facets of nature lay at our fingertips. Instead of breathing fresh air, seeing new sights and experiencing unknown wonders of the world, we choose to stay home, sit on the couch, and watch absurd reality television shows. Is this generalization stereotypical and cliché? Yes, but also a choice that is painfully and upsettingly true? Yes.
With industrialization, modernization, and urbanization, our concept of nature is unbelievably skewed and drastically changes throughout time. Now, everyone is hypnotized by the newest technologies and fads, rather than seeing natural phenomena. Over time, our concept of nature moved from farmlands to urban cities. Now, we can watch nature’s gift on the television or through glass windows instead of seeing it first hand.
There is a real difference between a real flower and a glass look-alike. That difference begins with the recognition that one is a product of nature. […] In reflecting on the richly various and largely nameless features we find in natural settings, we rightly draw on associations, familiarities, analogies, etc., that we have learned in other settings […] In drawing on these resources, we need not impose the terms of one world on the other; rather, we make the most of our developed sensibilities to make the most of nature and of the other worlds we occupy as well. (Carlson)
Over time, our concept of nature moved from God’s creation of the earth to a kind of anti-nature or ultimate human construct. We are apart of both a natural and artificial world. Thus, with multiple perceptions of the world, we form our own definitions, images, and ultimately, concepts of nature.
With his descriptions of the Tower of Babel and New York City, Paul Auster excels at defining an “anti-nature,” which society as a whole, accepts as their natural environment. In The City of Glass, Auster’s connection between the American culture and New York can lead one to believe that New York City is an “anti-nature” that acts as a natural environment throughout this graphic novel.
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 my unique individuality within a city full of exotic people. 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. A girl from the suburbs sees the big city a lot differently than a New York native does. I step outside of my world and into a new one, thus I experience the unknown. I can see how someone can love New York and I can see the contrary as well. I can see myself being immersed and adapting into city life or being swallowed whole. With these feelings 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. Although he is not the only character who posses a unique relationship with nature, 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.
Auster sees a strong resemblance between New York City and the Tower of Babel. Auster tells a story that maps the territory between the Tower of Babel, the biblical tale of how language was first broken and confusion sown among the ranks of humanity, and Cervantes's Don Quixote, the novel many consider the cornerstone of western fiction. In Auster's imagination, the territory in question looks an awful lot like New York City. The artist even goes so far as to employ a depiction of the Tower of Babel sitting atop an enormous “I Love NY” apple, slowly becoming a model of the city skyline. Here, Alter shows the consequential change in the concept of nature from the Tower of Babel to present day New York. The last building God created turned into an ultimate human construct. One you cannot escape or deny being a part of.
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 also themselves.