31.8.10

Photo: Library of Babel

Photo of the interior of New York University's Bobst Library - taken from a few floors up.
Being inside the Bobst Library on New York University's campus can feel a little like vertigo - especially if you are looking down.
Bobst Library, NYU
People say walking the upper floors of the Bobst Library  the main college library at New York University surrounding Washington Square Park  grants a feeling of vertigo. It's true. Also, I get a feeling I am inside the infinite library written about Jorge Borges's short story "The Library of Babel".

30.8.10

Film Clip Analysis: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Library Scene


image credit: © 1989 Lucasfilm
"X marks the spot!"
So, I was at Pier 1 in Brooklyn for their summer night outdoor showing of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. You know, the one with Sean Connery as Daddy Jones and Harrison Ford as Junior? This 1989 installment has its perks: we get to meet the knight who guards the vestibule of the holy grail (kind of like the Wandering Jew, but not) and we get to see the beautiful walled city of Petra in current-day Jordan. Well, amidst the hijinks and Holy Grail seriousness, not at all like Monty Python, there is a brief moment of library silliness that I should add to my post entitled, Libraries and Librarians in Film.



The scene spoofs two hallowed librarian stereotypes: silence and stamping books - as if that is all librarians do all day: shush people and stamp books.

The film pays clever homage to this trope by having Indy clobber his way through a tile in a library in Venice, Italy (X marks the spot) that will eventually take him through a sewer tunnel, and eventually (way-in-the-future-eventually) to the holy grail.

image credit: © 1989 Lucasfilm
Careful not to disturb the silence of the library, Indy takes a library guardrail and pile drives the thing into the floor quick enough not to be noticed! Not very believable, right? The comic relief, though, and the link to our sustained suspension of disbelief is while simultaneously, in clever cut-to-shot, the librarian is quietly stamping books. Every time Indy drives a hit into the marble Venetian tile, the clamoring thud is synchronized with the librarian's rubber book stamping. It's a hilarious sound gag.

After a few deafening blows, the librarian retires the stamp for a new one. Obviously, he illogically thinks his rubber stamp carries a huge sound effect. How is that for post hoc propter hoc

Sometimes a cause of X is not always Y. And X does not always mark the spot.

Memento: When I Was a Benedictine Postulant

A page from my scrapbook that dates from circa 2002
My Life Circa 2002
Taken from a page of my scrapbook dated circa 2002 — I had just entered the monastery of Saint Joseph Abbey as a postulant. I was about twenty-two years old (freshly graduated from college). I had started my scrapbook as a seminary college student. The page in this scrapbook marks a special time in my life. It was a time where I had an enormous amount of free time (ironically, since I was living in a monastery). A postulant is someone who has requested to be a novice in a monastery. It is the waiting period between "moving in" and being officially sworn in as a new member of the community.
In the Summer I Joined the Novitiate
After a few weeks of postulancy, the novitiate begins. That lasts for a year, after which the novice petitions the community to take the first set of monastic vows. During this time, the community of monks which I belonged to had voted on a new Abbot. His name was Justin.
An Explanation of the Pages Of My Scrapbook
On the left side of the book is the card that I had saved from Abbot Justin's installation as abbot of the community. I had written in the space below the holy card, "Justin Gerald Brown's Abbatial Blessing". On the facing page is a card that I had kept when I was a postulant. My name (as it is now) was "Greig". On the top is a postcard of a boy sitting amongst a hilly field accompanied by two pigs. My memory is hazy but I think I had picked up this postcard when I had been a student at the American College of Louvain in Belgium  I guess I placed it in the scrapbook as a memento.

29.8.10

Photo: Singer Sewing Machines on Broadway

I was shopping on Broadway in Manhattan and I spotted an old-style Singer Sewing Machine in the window.
I was walking on Broadway and look at what I saw in the window.

28.8.10

Picture: Looking Through the Door of a Subway Car Window on the Pelham Bay Local

I took a photograph of a subway car door's window and posted it here on my website. Check it out and read other fabulous stuff by Greig Roselli.
Greig Roselli Has a Fascination with the New York Subway
If you read this blog, you may notice that I have a certain fascination with the New York City subway. Riding the trains, one gets a glimpse into various bisections of the city that it is nearly impossible to witness in any other setting. New York City is a very segregated town — in the sense that the "haves" do not mix with the "have nots." On the subway, people are forced to commute together — so it is possible to see a stuffed shirt punching away on a laptop sitting next to a rag-a-tag homeless man asking for spare change. It is both disturbing and beautiful, both topsy-turvy and the norm. No one really expects much on a subway ride — but I swear it is the best place for writer types and artists to get a punch of inspiration. I'll just ride the subway for fun, often just staying on the train several stops after my home station — just to finish writing. That's what I'm doing now. The Six train has pulled into the Pelham Bay Park station — so it is time to go back downtown. See ya.

24.8.10

Essay: How to be Generative Without Having Kids

Learn how my Uncle gave me his set of matchbox cars to me when I was young and how this influenced my understanding of passing something down from one generation to the next.
image credit: Tilt-Shift Photography
   When I was a boy my uncle gave me his complete set of diecast matchbox cars.
   There is a photograph of me as a toddler hanging on to our family coffee table, grinning in the flashlight of the camera’s aim, illuminated – darkening the background where you can see strewn on the carpet a multitudinous display of diecast cars. Not only did my uncle give me his entire set of matchbox cars but he and my aunt would take me on Saturdays to the flea market to scout out hidden diecast cars buried underneath piles and piles of junk. I was especially in love with the Matchbox brand, which started out in England as the Lesney company in the 1940s as a cheap way to sell toys to children during the war. I had Hot Wheels too. And I liked Corgi's models. But, my heart, in the end, was stuck on Matchbox.
    Visiting the flea market was a big deal. My aunt sold fashion for porcelain dolls. When she and my uncle frequented the flea market stalls, they were looking for deals on doll fashions. My aunt instructed me on the first day I tagged along to help them pick out fabrics. "Don't touch anything," she told me. She put her arms behind her back and turned around to show me, saying, "this is how you walk. Hold on to your arm so you can catch it if it tries to grab something on the shelf." She was right. The flea market stalls were filled with items that screamed "tangible!" The musty smelling curtains and chain-smoking clerks, ogling collectors handling precious prints of Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe's and 1950s Hugh Hefner Playboys were for me, a boy's wonderland. I obeyed my aunt, though, and tried not to touch. Besides, I had no interest in handling thin veined china or opaque Depression-era glass. I wanted the toys. While my aunt and uncle felt and measured lacy fabrics, I would look for cigar boxes and glass cases filled with diecast cars, hoping to find the prized Matchbox models that would add to my collection.

23.8.10

A Lighthouse Stamp Illuminates the American College

The American College in Leuven, Belgium is a residence for American seminary students studying for the priesthood for United States dioceses. The facility is operated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. I lived here in my early twenties when I studied Continental Philosophy at the Hoger Instituut voor Wijesbegeerte, the faculty of Philosophy at the Katholieke Universeiteit Leuven.

22.8.10

Movie Review: Salt

In this post, I review the new Angelina Jolie movie Salt.
image credit: NYT
Despite insane physical hijinks, Salt (2010) is a pretty damn good spy thriller. Jolie is Evelyn Salt, a Russian mole, and CIA agent. She is married to an arachnologist, which means he studies spiders for a living, played by August Diehl. Her cover's been blown. She's been accused of being a Russian spy by a Russian defector who shows up just when she's gearing up for an anniversary feast with her hubby. The defector (Daniel Olbrychski) claims she'll assassinate the Russian president. It's a big ole mess. Who is Salt? At least, that's what the tagline asks. The director Phillip Noyce keeps us guessing and Kurt Wimmer's screenplay is taut and satisfactory. The jumbled mess keeps us interested. The story grabs your attention from the start and does not let go.

Is It a Good Idea to Do the Traditional Date?

Rule #1: don't read weird shit on a first date.
Wow. Times have changed.
A recent New York Times article quoted an 1860 personals ad, of a man in want of a wife:
“The advertiser, a successful young business man of good education, polite manners and agreeable address, having recently amassed a fortune and safely invested the same, wishes to meet with a young lady or widow."
A woman in want of a husband read:
“A young lady, rather good looking, and of good address, desires the acquaintance of a gentleman of wealth (none other need apply), with a view to matrimony.”
Wow. Very direct. No co-habitation. No confusion about which gender holds the bank account and which gender wants the bank account. And no confusion about gender either.

And that was for straight people.

In 1860 gay men were not posting personals in the New York Times. Maybe they were getting hot and heavy on the battlefield, but I am sure the documentation for that is somewhere buried deep in the Civil War record books. I'm not sure what they were doing, but read this article from BNAP and email me.

Anyway. I digress.
Today things are not so simple. We live in tough economic times but people want their contacts to be sexy, not frugal. Whether you are gay, straight, queer, bi, transgendered, or curious, dating is a messy game. At least in 1860 you knew what you were getting into: eventual matrimony. In 2010, it's anyone's guess what our motives really are. First of all, you have to stop to think, who really dates anymore anyway? When you just want a date, the whole scene can be a bit tricky. Who pays what? Do you hold the door open? What is the modicum of respect required? Do you kiss on a first date? Do you make out? Do you go all the way? How specific are you supposed to be? How vague?

Is it all about getting into each other's pants?
While men may think only with their nether regions, women think with their nether regions too. Getting into each other's pants is somewhere on the horizon, but the rules of engagement are not always so clear. If you're a single parent, you tend to be blackballed more than if you were married. Plenty of guys go on dating sites and eliminate 99 percent of the dating pool. I knew a guy who was in his 50s and he would only date blond-hair blue-eyed intelligent women in the 18-30 range. Guys tend to look down on girls "who put out" but do not expect girls to judge their promiscuous desires. Gay guys are branded as promiscuous (or are they?), skipping the dating scene altogether, and heading for the bedroom. Or the broom closet. But this is all changing, it seems. More guys are getting into the dating scene. I'm not sure if it is a victory of the far right, but sexual liberation and "free love" seem to be losing out, and monogamy and paying for the meal seem to be cashing in.

While Justin Templet over at the Maroon wrote an amusing piece on the possible benefits of shacking up on the first date, most people, gay and straight, tend to consider sex on a first date as a good ride, but a death knell to a future relationship.

Fuck revolution. And getting stoned. It seems we may be going back to the 1860s after all.

What's a guy to do? I was born in the wrong century, I guess. Or decade.

So, I decided to post a personal ad the other day and try this whole dating thing to see what it was really all about. I didn't even know gay men COULD date. I thought all we did was sit around and watch True Blood. Or the Big C. Or watch that damn Liza Minelli concert re-run on Showtime.

I geared up my writing chops and fired out a résumé of sorts:
A gentleman with aspirations for collegiate studies (but no employment) seeks like-minded chap to eat an ice cream in Times Square and check out that new Angelina Jolie flick.

20.8.10

Billy Elliot, Anatomy of a Scene: "You Can't Take That Out on a Junior Ticket"

In this blog post, I take apart one scene from the Stephen Daldry film Billy Elliot.

Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com
Stones of Erasmus
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     Stephen Daldry directed Billy Elliot (2000), written by Lee Hall, now a Broadway Musical, about a young boy's persistent desire to be a dancer despite the disapproval of his overbearing, but in-the-end loving father (Gary Lewis). Sped on by his indomitable, but cranky teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters) Billy deals with the death of his mother and the stark reality of living in an oppressed coal mining town in England circa 1984.
     The film is set during the coal miner's strike when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sought to cripple the colliery unions that were seen as a roadblock to a conservative economic strategy. The film is filled with stark images of life with police barricades and protest riots. However, the film chooses not to depict Billy's life as completely bleak. The scenes are shot in bright tones which seems to protest against the otherwise somber historical background of the coal miner riots.

17.8.10

Gone Flat Land: Why XML Seems Promising

A nerdy post on library science and the future of library cataloging.
image credit: "Tempus Fugit" by abbeyprivate
This essay was written as a requirement for an introduction to cataloging course. An entry like this is not typical stones of erasmus fare, but I post it for all my library and cataloging buddies out there. I warn you, though, I made a C+ in Cataloging. I took the course as an online component. While I like the Reference and Information Services course I took online (which garnered me an A+) I found the Cataloging course online more challenging. My satisfactory grade is most likely attributable to my difficulty keeping up with deadlines, but I also found the assignments hard to conceptualize. Most catalogers use a cataloging application (e.g., Connexion) on a PC to create MARC records or to copy catalog. But, for this class, we had to use a generic MS word document to fill in the fields which I found to be terribly awkward. So, a word from the experienced: if you take an online class in cataloging make sure you have access to a good MARC program.
Anyway, here is my report on XML from a C+ point of view. Enjoy:

16.8.10

"Voice II" Mailed to Keizersberg With a Nod to the Times Picayune

Credits:
Keizersberg is a small Benedictine monastery in Leuven, Belgium; also home to students who go to the Catholic University. And Stella Artois. The mural of the Omega Christ on the bottom right was painted by Dom Gregory DeWit, a Dutch monk and muralist. The mural can be found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey. Voice II is by the American Artist George Tooker. The newspaper clipping is from the Travel section of The Times-Picayune. A librarian meets her philosophy pal at the steps of the stad huis in Leuven.

15.8.10

Salo: A Film You Really Don't Need To See


Learn about the Pasolini film Salò. It's another film I add to my list of films I cannot stomach to watch completely. 
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini (1975)
I know it's kind of presumptuous of me to suggest a person not see a film, but I think Salò is the only film I would ever give the warning, "you may not want the images in this film to scar you for the rest of your life." If you're okay with people eating feces and very graphic torture/sex scenes, then you'll have no problem. It's not so much that the violence is so intense, but rather, it's Pasolini's underlining message. 
The film documents horrific events masterminded by members of Italy's fascist elite during the Second World War. An oligarchic assembly chooses from the most beautiful youth in the surrounding towns rural areas to systematically torture and destroy. The message is blunt. Given enough prestige and power, people will live out their cruelest nihilistic fantasies if given the opportunity.

14.8.10

The Pig People: A Short Short Story

image credit: sacrevoir
Note: the following short story is an excerpt from the novel Interstate 90 by Greig Roselli:  

    Standing akimbo on the seawall, Francis dives into the Tchefuncte River.
    I take a last drag from my cigarette. I put out the butt, pushing it into the soft ground. Watching the embers fade into the coffee stained earth, I look down at my grainy hands. Then. I look up.
   Wait. Francis. He has not come up yet. No one speaks. Only the sound of breathing. It feels as if time has been swallowed.
    Boys. Scatter. Then wait.
    “1, 2, 3 —” I say.
    Finally, Francis breaks the surface of the water.
    He screams, horrified.
    “I hit something. There's something in the water.”
    He scrambles up the seawall, his raw skin scraping against the rough embankment. Francis picks up his tee shirt and brings it close to his body. “Look.” Francis points again, his hair Medusa-like, his face slightly rigor mortis. I am the only one who notices.
    “I saw it.”
    “Saw what?”
    “I swam to the bottom.”
    “There’s something alive down there.”
    “Dude, it ain’t the pig people, so just shut up the fuck up,” Malcolm says.
    “I didn’t say what it was, Malcolm.”
    “Well, you sure as hell always go on about shit you never seen and shit you scared of.”
    “Leave him alone,” I say.
    “Oh, you're his boyfriend, now?”
    “No.”
    Timmy, one of the boys, gets up, and rudely points. While the other boys laugh, something big bubbles to the surface of the water. We all hear the unfamiliar disturbance in the water. A boat in the middle of the river causes a wake as it speeds by on the way to the marina. Everyone looks.
    The corpse of a young calf has floated to the top of the water. It had risen up from the depths. Bloated. The eyes of the creature stare up at us. Yellow, pasty eyes. Passed along by a farmer from down river to here, near the mouth. Thrown in for the alligators. Even though the carcass has eyes, I cannot see into its soul. Even though I try.
    “Gross. What is it?”
    “It’s a bloated cow. Look. I can poke it with my stick and it farts.” Standing on the seawall, Malcolm continues to jab at the carcass with a tree limb.
    "Stop it," I say.
    "No. It's just a dead cow."
    “Shut up Malcolm.”
    We get our clothes.
    “It’s an omen,” Francis says.
    “What’s that?” asks a kid I don’t know.
    “It means bad stuff’s gonna happen, shithead,” says Malcolm.
    Malcolm pushes his glasses violently into his forehead. Someone says, “I know. Look at it. It came from the bottom of the river. A kid caught a nurse shark here, in this same spot.”
    “But, rivers aren’t supposed to have cows and sharks swimming around in ‘em,” Timmy says.
    Francis stands up. He puts his arm on my shoulder and asks for a cigarette. I light him my last skinny cig. He takes a drag and coughs enough to show he's not a smoker. Normally the other kids would have laughed, but they wait to hear him talk. Jackson stands on the embankment and tells us the dead corpse is brushing against the sea wall.
    “Let’s get out of here, guys.”
    “Friggin' cow polluting the river.”
    Timmy brushes passes me. “You guys staying here?”
    “Yeah, we’ll catch up with you later.”
    I listen to Francis as he gets dressed.
    He turns to me all solemn like. “I saw its eyes, man. It was alive down there. It’s what the pig people eat. “They live under interstate highways. In some cities, they’re called the ‘pig people.’ People say they're cannibals with their noses upturned, like a pig. My dad tells me he’s going to give me to the pig people when I talk shit. He threw me out on the side of the road, where the old highway ninety is and showed me the pig people. Pushed me to the grill in the concrete where you can see their yellow eyes, dude. In the culverts, and shit. They live in the ditches, where they’re going to build the interstate.”
    Francis turns to face me. The other boys have ridden away. We both sit up.
    We're quite for a long while.
    “Hey,” I say. “I’ll jump. Here hold this.” I take off my jeans and hand Francis my glasses.
    "Lane, you're crazy! There's a fucking heifer in the fucking river."
    I jump anyway. The water is warm. I open my eyes underneath the waves and the vision is brown stems, dirt, the veritable detritus of river water, but no aquatic pig people. I pump my hands outward and swim back to the surface. I am afraid I am going to wade back into the corpse of the dead cow, afraid the pig people will pull me under. The river is known for its nasty current but people still swim here.
    “Hey, Lane, swim back, it’s getting dark,” Francis yells.
    I swim back to the steps. “That felt good. I hate putting on jeans when I’m wet.”
    “What you humming?”
    “Cats in the Cradle.” Francis sings as if he is alone in the shower. “Cats and the cradle and the silver spoon; Little boy blue and the man on the moon; When you’re coming home Dad I don’t know when; We’ll get together then son, you’ll now we’ll have a good time then.”
    “Why do you like that song?”
    “I dunno know.  Just do.”
    “You always turn it up when it comes on.”
    “I know.”
    “It’s kinda sad.”
    “Yeah.”
    “It is a good song,”
    “That’s where I saw them.” Francis points. He sings a made up tune.
    “In her concrete bosom the pig people sleep.
    the pig people live and eat.
    the pig people, the loup garoux, the boogey man,
    the monster in the closet, the fear out to get ya, man.
    boom, hear that?  y’all.
    yeah, bitch, she’s keen on your hide,
    her nose upturned like a pig snake, like a pig,
    like a celluloid freak from the comic pages of your friendly horror page;
    an immaculate mother, slouching toward bethlehem --
    legend? Nah.”
    “Dude, stop saying that. Where do you make up this shit? There’s no such thing as pig people.” I unzip my fly and turn so Francis cannot see me. I urinate a steady stream over a column of pre-stress concrete. This area by the river is filled with old pylons the state put aside in case of an emergency. “You probably saw the lights of cars or something.” I feel like I am telling the truth. The interstate overpass is constructed of two separate bridges, one larger than the other. The cars on the smaller overpass flicker as they pass by, obstructed by the pre-stress concrete columns that tend to hold everything in place. At dark, it does look like lighting bugs flickering by, or eyes, depending on how scared you are. “Look, I can see why you would think that, especially if a train comes; the lights and stuff come through.” The sound of traffic is deafening. From where we stand, swamp surrounds us. The old highway is two and half miles north, where my mom’s store is and where my house is. In a few weeks they’re going to block off this road and construction workers are going to build an extension to the interstate, to connect us to the outside world. I laugh.
    We roam the streets because I feel like avoiding Janie. I regret jumping in the river and I am out of cigarettes. The close of day depresses me. I figure I might as well walk with Francis but I am afraid of walking underneath the overpass, near where Francis says the pig people live, even in the daylight. The interstate is where they live; through the holes in the hollowed sections you can see the slits of their eyes, turned diagonal and green, did he say? Franics and I walk back with our bikes. My bike is bright green, with a streak of black across its aluminum frame; it has five speeds that I can control from the handlebars, and an orange reflector on the back, a pedal-operated light on the hand rest that glows with fierce intensity through the night. I won the bike at the Refinery fair last year. Francis and I don’t talk much as we walk. The roadway is forest and swamp along the stretch of road that leads to the pier. The interstate overpass that leads to the city is up ahead.
    There are two bridges in Pre-stress, side by side where the interstate cuts through the swamp, (the Tchefuncte river a faint treacle of music) trailed by the railroad, intersected by the Bonnet Carré spillway, where one hump lies, a measly device made from pre-stressed concrete, hardly a limp over the bog, standing next to the integrated interstate, carrying its burden, finesse — (cutting, slicing, bifurcating, dividing) we don’t even notice the smaller bridge until we come down the ramp to meet it and Sidney expounds on the merits of democracy, (Francis takes US history) and I mention that you only have to whisper to this little brother, listing to the side, an experiment in contrast and from here, at the bayou’s edge, the watery pass, drenched with sweat, blood filled frogs, dragonflies, rotten fish bait on the side of the service road; you can notice the smudge of water, at this more introspective level, the whirr of transit on the interstate above, seemingly distant, the one, two, three car salute on the smaller bridge, thumping along — the transition of life, squirming, unconscious, almost, impervious, almost, to the apparent arrogance of the interstate above, looming almost, carrying its burden of trucks and eighteen wheelers, little foxes and patrols, sharing secrets — see, you can go a quarter of a mile, cross over Maurepas Pass, and come back over the yellowing trestle, and then go back again onto the Eisenhower Interstate Interchange, in an agreeable neverending circuit; back again, back to the bogs, and the suspended water minnows, a secret every time even though there are some secrets that can never be told, for they are too much to hold, too much of a burden, if I can call it that; these are the secrets that I save for later.  We both feel complete, satisfied almost, even if a little relieved, and in the quiet space of an afternoon, the stench of that morning’s fishing still in the air, after throwing pebbles at the wasp husks underneath the interchange, the water the color of chicory, brown as the coffee I drink from the Tchefuncte; I take a fake nap on the concrete trestle, our secrets, for now, floating in the dragon flies flying through the air and I think I am so lucky, the luckiest guy in the world.

13.8.10

Poem for a Phlebomotist's Office

Read this poem when you get your blood taken
Hey, it's just
blood being drawn,
dahlin' - no cry!

So, no sweat, boo -

What else you gonna do?

Sit back, relax, let
the trained phlebotomist do
her act! - 1, 2, 3

then you're done, hon! YAY!

At least it ain't no vaccine!

So get your snack on later and be serene

Wasn't it a "walk in the park?"! 





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12.8.10

Childhood Memory: When I Got My First Bicycle

In this post, I recount my memory of my first bike using a prose style of poem-writing.
My Schwinn was bright green, with a streak of black across its aluminum frame; it had five speeds that I could control from the handlebars, and an orange reflector on the back, a pedal-operated light on the handrest that would glow with fierce intensity through the night.
"Bike Agrowing"

11.8.10

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man


In this post, I write a comparison essay outlining differences in "cave allegory" imagery in Plato's Republic and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.
Two Books in Conversation
In an ancient conversation two-thousand five hundred years ago between friends, now called The Republic, recorded by the Greek philosopher Plato, Socrates discusses the problem of whether human beings are capable of educating true lovers of wisdom and the possibility of living within a just society. In the course of the dialogue, there is a section in the seventh part, after a discussion on the degrees of knowledge, when Socrates and his friend Glaucon speak analogously of life is like a cave, a dark shadow of the real world. Socrates imagines the cave as “an underground cave-like dwelling place” (514 A).
“The Allegory of the Cave”
As Socrates discusses the cave-dwelling to his friend, He conceives of people living in a cave, with their “legs and necks fettered from childhood,” so that they remain in the same spot, able to look forward only, and prevented by the fetters from turning their heads” (514 B). They do not realize that behind them is a fire. Between them and the fire are fake animals and statues, reproductions in stone or wood carried by men that are cast in shadow form on the wall by the fire “like a screen at a puppet show in front of the performers who show their puppets above it” (514 B). They imagine one prisoner being freed from this cave-like existence and finding light in the real world. When the one prisoner adjusts to the light in “the real world” and sees that it is beautiful he retreats back into the cave to free his friends, to enlighten them. But they rebel against him, comfortable in their lethargy and the convenient darkness, so they kill him. This story is popularly known as “Plato’s Cave” or the “Allegory of the Cave.” It has become a hallmark image of Western Philosophy and the ineluctable pursuit for the quest for truth.
Invisible Man
In 1952, a story was written about an unnamed, young, naive black man. The imagery of shadow and invisibility, imprisonment and freedom also mark this story as it did the ancient Greek allegory. After receiving a prize for a speech he gave to his high school somewhere in the South, the unnamed protagonist and a group of black students are invited to an underground meeting with the prominent white men of the town. After witnessing a shameful striptease by a young white girl with a tattoo of the American flag on her belly, the black boys are crowded into an open rink and forced to box in a battle royal. Afterward, the white men beckon the story’s protagonist to the crowded, bloody center to deliver his prize speech. When he proceeds to mention “social equality,” a forbidden phrase, the tension in the room is tightened, as if they would kill him if he advanced any further notion of racial equality. Thus the story of the Invisible Man begins. He goes to college up North. He joins a group of communist sympathizers called the Brotherhood. He is duped and used by both. After he has been jerked by the educational and political systems -- systems in general -- he retreats into the cave, for enlightenment. He finds shelter in a basement of an all-white apartment building in New York City, his cave. He goes into the cave, as he says, “The point now is that I found a home -- or a home in the ground, as you will” (5).

It is a cave of light, for he has strung the walls and floor with bright filament light bulbs. It is an act of passive aggression, though. It is his punch in the face to the outside, hegemonic white order. The protagonist imagines the above landlords wondering how so much electricity is being expended. And while the light is being sucked from Monopolated Power and Light, our hero listens to Louis Armstrong and rhapsodies into a metaphysical reverie to match the best of philosophical discourses.

Thinking Both Stories Together

Both stories, while obviously different, are parallel stories that think together issues of justice, education and as well gesture toward some answer to the question of what is truth and justice. It is not presumed that either story somehow miraculously interprets the other in some kind of fantastical hermeneutical wonderworld. But rather, the reason to think “Plato’s Cave” with Invisible Man is to ponder a bit about the central question(s) each text poses. So, what I will attempt to do in this paper is to discuss parallels of thought and imagery in both texts and the ways they both play and collide and converge images with going down into a “cave” and coming back into the “light.” In this way, hopefully, the exploration will provide a lens to discover plenteous fruits in both stories. We will look at the battle royal scene in Chapter One (which can be seen as an entire piece in of itself, separate from the novel, especially since it is highly anthologized and taught as a “short story” and also we will look at the sections in the novel that describe the narrator beneath a high tower residential apartment building in New York City.


9.8.10

Vintage Staten Island Ferry




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New York City Backpacking Collage




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7.8.10

The 215th Street IRT Elevated Subway Station in New York City

An Excerpt from my book of essays Things I Probably Shouldn't Have Said (And Other Faux Pas): 
Exploring the stations along the IRT Broadway line in the Northern tip of Manhattan and the Bronx, Greig Roselli's mind wanders.
The station entrance to the 215th street IRT elevated subway station in New York City.
Entrance to the 215th Street Elevated IRT Station in New York
     The Harlem River swallows five Manhattan city blocks. The streets are numbered up to 220th on the mainland of Manhattan, but in Marble Hill, across the Broadway Bridge, the numbers begin at 225th street, as if the river itself is a five block wide gape. I like to think of it that way, anyway; on a map, the river looks like a bluish slab of concrete anyway; or maybe there was a 222nd street in Manhattan - if there was, I wonder what it was like? Did they have bodegas and subway stations? As for 221st, 223rd, and 224th, they are gone too - kinda repositioned into some region of the Bronx or even Queens, but here in Inwood, peering over the expanse, the blocks have vanished. Maybe the civic designers marked the streets this way to note the transient nature of the island's geography. Streets that are marked now may not exist in the future, the shift of the river, or global warming climate changes, change the nature of the landscape. New York City will not be the same geographically in 2100, as it is today. Lower Manhattan, according to an exhibit, Rising Currents, currently on display at MoMA this summer, will be akin to Venice, sans the gondolas.
    My mind is on permanence and transience, as I wander the northern part of Inwood.
    The local 1 train veers off of Broadway and follows 10th avenue in Inwood.
    The els are menacingly loud. New Yorkers travel these rumbling god-trains; their appearance is a swift apparition of noise and wind. A South Ferry Bound train rumbles above of me as I walk along the tenth avenue to get a clandestine peek at the Transit Authority train yards that lie to the East of Inwood. Condominium towers lie in the Distant Bronx. From here, you can see how thin the northern tip of Manhattan island really is.
Subway Train Yard in Manhattan
  A buxom blonde woman guards the train yard gate. She catches me snapping pictures. I am surprised how politely she asks me to stop. "Sir, you can't take pictures of the trains. It's illegal." I am - for a moment - afraid a more buxom employee will appear from behind the grill and confiscate my camera, so I tuck it neatly into my pants pocket and walk on, disappointed that I cannot continue to peer into the sinuous rills of the train yard. Sometimes when I am among the tracks of mass transit, I become giddy. I am not the only one. Just last night, I was riding the Pelham Bay local towards my Queens-bound transfer on the R train. A man and his son were sitting near me and I was amused by the son, who was obviously visiting New York, because in the midst of their conversation he cries, "I love the subway." He got up from his seat and started to almost skip down the train aisle, but his father grabbed him and told him to sit down. He was greatly amused by the mechanics of the journey, repeating the words of the conductor to his father, and lovingly looking out the window into the subterranean blackness of the underground.
    The train system is infinitely fascinating (which is why I write about it). I am interested in the intersection of people and movement. The way the system moves people around; how we move around in the system; how we interact and how we are engaged. Some of us are docile travelers, hardly noticing the whir that surrounds us, but others are like the boy on the Pelham Bay local, gesticulating with the gesture of energy along with the movement of the train. He understood the mystery of the system, how it is like a cipher, something mysterious, yet so full in the midst of millions of people. The subway city as a cipher is akin to the ancient image of the labyrinth, with its routes and tunnels overlapping and turning, but never getting anywhere, only presenting choice decisions along the way.

Would you like to read more? Fetch Greig Roselli's book of essays, Things I Shouldn't Have Said (And Other Faux Pas) for more good writing, dammit.  




Image Source: © 2010 Greig Roselli

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6.8.10

Marble Hill - 225 Street Station


The Marble Hill Station is in Manhattan even though it is not geographically attached to Manhattan island, even though at one time it was. The path of the river changed. The Harlem river used to be further north, and like a slinking undertow, it descended further south where it rests now; I can see the river below me and feel its strength (although technically it is not really a river at all, but that's another story).

The streets here swirl around an invisible center like a Medieval town circles the church in the main square. The streets here, except Broadway (of course), avoid breaking through to the Bronx. The streets are circular, going back and forth into each other like a snake eating its tail. Buildings are placed in concentric circles. The Harlem River serves as a reminder that one is standing at the furthest northern terminus of Manhattan - and by virtue of this gerrymandered divide, the denizens here are Manhattanites.

From Van Cortlandt Park to here, chalet after chalet, the el seems to repeat itself, never getting anywhere, itself its own circle. Here in Marble Hill, the geography seems to beckon to Manhattan. Things are more compacted. The bodegas scrunch up against the bridge entrance as if to yearn for any stragglers who may have forgotten a sub or cola somewhere along the way. The Harlem swirl is close enough to smell. The heat is intense today. I'm craving a cherry limeade from Sonic. I settle for a cool beverage at Guzman Food Center, served in a brown paper bag with a straw. Several kids race across Broadway to the cool interior of the Target across the street. The air smells tepid. A transit employee stands near the 225th street northeast entrance; perhaps he is a station manager. He looks calm and collected. The rhythm of the train a quotidian sense of order.

I am excited to walk across the Broadway Bridge into Inwood. Bridges loom ominous for me. It is said a bridge is a symbol of transition. I'm fearful if a bridge should collapse, I have somehow missed out on a unique opportunity. A bridge that is collapsing as I'm walking away? What does that mean? I am in the process of decoding a dream as if I have been here before; this bridge reminds me eerily of the bridge over the Industrial Canal in New Orleans on Claiborne Avenue, which is also a vertical lift bridge.

I decide to walk across the bridge to get the sense of vertigo I feel from standing close to the railing edge. The ships traverse the canal below pregnant with their wares. An elderly white couple walk ahead of me, in deep conversation. Bicyclists, as is the norm here in NYC, careen past. They always seem to be in much more of a hurry than I ever am. I prefer to walk. Peering down from the navy blue ironworks, I see Marble Hill Metro North Station. The Metro North system takes off in long sinuous strides to where the subways cannot go: to Riverdale, and the far reaches of the Connecticut burbs. The Harlem River seems contagious, brewing with rocks and tumult. I wonder aloud, talking as if I am attached to a Bluetooth headset, but am not, to how Marble Hill became a satellite neighborhood to Manhattan.


The monotony of the elevated trains is intense. I try to conjure up in my mind how Manhattan may have been like with the old els that traversed the avenues in the last half of the twentieth century. This city erases its memory effortlessly. But, here, in the rocky regions of Manhattan, the past somehow lingers more. Maybe it is the els. Or maybe it is the hint of geography. The Second Avenue El is long gone and hardly a vestige of it still exists, but the els here will probably remain for a long time; a super-city rather than a supra-city like the rest of the MTA system. It feels like Purgatory a bit. The circling madness of Marble Hills itself makes me a little nuts; I chuckle as if I am Dante escorted by Virgil, escaping the hell of the underground to find respite in Manhattan's only vestibule of souls. The el terminates at Fort George, though, and we are back in the bath of hell again. I like to think it is more like what Michael W. Brooks said about the subway system, neither hell or heaven exclusively, but both "sordid and transcendent" (207).



Would you like to read more? Fetch Greig Roselli's book of essays, Things I Shouldn't Have Said (And Other Faux Pas) for more good writing, dammit.