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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Greenwich Village Today

Greenwhich Village Street

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace--A critical essay

Novels of Learning: a comparison of The Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace

It is not easy to simplify the reasons why a book tends to be studied a lot. Yet, if one were to streamline the reasons why The Catcher in the Rye is so often studied in the early years of high school, it would have to be because Holden is so easily recognizable. Readers intuitively know who Holden is and it therefore makes the analysis of the novel—which often involves a lot of questioning into Holden’s motives—that much more enjoyable. But when paired with another novel that has some striking similarities, that puts the notion of Genre into focus, one sees another reason why The Catcher in the Rye has such relevance to the high school age. 

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Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Great Gatsby and American Identity

The Great Gatsby is one of the most ironic titles in the American Cannon. Is he really great? Certainly not to the old-money characters of West Egg. This presents a dilemma with American Success (not to say, The American Dream which is a little too over-used for this particular novel). To what extent should our success be self-made, or grounded in lineage?

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Mad Men, but not Madness: on the literary and social relevance of this show (Part I Don Draper)

I’ve seen responses to this show ranging from the-best-thing-ever type worship, to is-there-something-I’m-missing disregard. While my own feelings tend to the former, what I’m doing here is considering just some of the literary implications of this show, starting with the main character, Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm.

That Don Draper captures us is due, at least in part, to the great archetypal admixture that he embodies. In other words, he resembles some of the coolest aspects of some of the coolest characters in western literature. Here, I’ll briefly consider two: Moses and Odysseus.

Freud on Moses: Freud suggests* that the second family, the one where the hero's story actually takes place, is the real family. The birth family is a fictitious family. This is an archetypal story construct that is at play in AMC’s Mad Men. Don Draper’s mysterious past hints at a potential social conflict, but the hints are slight. Draper is not part of a society founded on social register. That he is self-made may possibly be more impressive to his friends and family than the implication that he is from a well-to-do family. Therefore, like Moses, Draper appears from seemingly out of nowhere.

Draper in many ways echoes Odysseus. In episode 11 of season 2 (“The Jet Set”), Don languishes in a California dream with guest character Joy. In his lotus-eating haze, he indulges in an affair, leaving co-worker Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) high and dry. His eventual return to his job is accompanied with an immovable sense of confidence. Draper has a certain exemption from most of the discomforts of the other characters. In this way, he is like Odysseus tied to the bow, listening to the song of the sirens, while everyone else stands around with wax in their ears.


* Joseph Campbell, in Occidental Mythology, when speaking of Freud's theory regarding Moses (Campbell, 128).

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Review of Speed the Plow, February 17, 2009 performance

Success is at the heart of this play: Bobby Gould (William H. Macy) is saturated with it, by it, and the need for it; Charlie Fox (Raúl Esparza), like the animal that his name symbolizes, is hungry for success; Karen (Elisabeth Moss) seems to want it, but in a different way than Fox does, or so it seems.

The character Bobby Gould does not want people “promoting him.” He is sick of it in one moment, mildly irritated by it in the next. What does this mean, “promoting him?” Does it mean that people are promoting him to others, or promoting something to him? Or, maybe some odd combination of both. This ambiguous use of the verb is not just meant to sketch Gould as a Hollywood-type who turns everyday sayings into insider-lingo, it is also meant to be, well, ambiguous.

Moss has played this character Karen before—in the West Wing—in Mad Men: the quiet girl whose strongest virtue is in being underestimated. Don’t get me wrong, she plays this character the best way it can be played; she plays all of them the best way they can be played. I have yet to see the part written for Elisabeth Moss that will let her do what she really has the potential to do. In writing Karen (admittedly this was in the 1980’s), Mamet wrote a cross between Bradbury’s Clarisse from Fahrenheit 451 and The Bible’s Eve. Karen is a blameworthy temptress with a dreamer edge and a penchant for Shrink-like honesty.

Moss plays her character like a wolf in china-doll’s clothing (that means good). Macy is awesome as Gould. He gives us just enough sympathy to feel torn as he screws over his pal Fox in Act III. Aside from the fact that Fox is a livelier character, Esparza's comedic physicality is flawless—I didn’t hear one fake laugh from the audience.

In essence, see this play if you have the chance because it does what a Broadway play ought to do: entertain you and give you something to talk about on the drive home, to contemplate the next day, to compare to the life you know. However, as a play, I think that the characters were not created equally, and I do think this is a flaw in the play-writing. Fox is a way more interesting character than the other two; Gould has too many caricature-esq lines. Karen goes from quiet and obedient to believably and surprisingly expressive uttering in Act III, “We have a fucking meeting to go to!” But, the aforementioned line is her biggest fault. That Gould is willing to see Fox’s point simply because of Karen’s social faux pas is just too textbook. I do, however, think Moss would act well in a more domestic role, one where her character gets to curse at people more often.

Speed the Plow is a David Mamet play and is currently at The Barrymore Theater
This is the Wikipedia entry on the play

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Old New York

New York's streets (LOC)
This is a photo from the library of congress. It is part of Flickr's commons section.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

NYC Gates


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