Emmet’s Blog

Thoughts on Birds in Open City (April 12)

Posting here about a thought on Open City that I’d love to talk more about: the importance of birds in the novel.

One of my thoughts is that birds work as a powerful symbol because they are both unbounded by physical and terrestrial barriers but also (especially in the case of migratory birds) grounded to specific homelands or nesting sites. In the same way that Julius crosses boundaries throughout the novel but continues to return home (in his memories) to his childhood far from NYC and Brussels, birds find themselves free to travel yet bound, in some ways, to their place of birth.

Birds also provide the final image of the book. Interestingly, it’s the Statue of Liberty (NYC’s most famous memorial) that brings death to the birds that appear throughout the piece. Maybe Cole, through Julius, is commenting on the danger in memorializing that which cannot be grounded. This would require an assumption that the birds symbolize many of the people who flit between cities and landscapes simply because their lives have demanded it of them. I don’t think that’s too much of a stretch, but I could be wrong. Regardless, the fact that it’s a monument to cross-Atlantic relationships that brings the unwitting (and misled) birds to their deaths must mean something.

Anyone have thoughts on this specific moment, or on birds in the book in general?


Whitman and Mary Oliver (April 19)

Reading Whitman and Bishop over the last two weeks has made me think a great deal of Mary Oliver’s poetry. Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese,” in particular, struck me as a poem whose concern with the body as a space for a close relationship with nature resembles Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” Here’s the text of “Wild Geese”:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

The first line strikes me as deeply connected to Whitman. Whitman writes about reality and his observations of the world with much less judgement than many others we’ve read in the course so far, and his philosophy of observation lends itself to a worldview in which no one must be anything other than the essence of themselves. “You do not have to be good” implies that you can be anything.

Whitman also connects the authentic self to a close relationship with nature much like Oliver does. The former understands both the wilderness and the everyday natural world to be an essential part of flourishing, and in “Wild Geese” Oliver suggests the same. The person – “You” – she addresses in the poem can find solace in the rhythms of the world around her because the human is also in the family of all things.

I’m not sure exactly why this connection occurred to me, but I think some of it has got to do with the fact that both Whitman and Oliver write about the American landscape as a natural and concomitant force with the American identity. Whereas Oliver focuses less explicitly on America, she does offer a space for collective identity to form through identification with the beauty around us; this is an element of Whitman that rings particularly true in “Leaves of Grass.”


Moving forward on First Lines this summer (May 5)

I’m using this post as a way to think through the next steps on my final project, which is a collaborative group game called First Lines. The game is fully playable right now (in fact I’ve played a number of times both during the testing stages and now that I’ve finalized the form), but like I mentioned in my Final Reflection, there are some steps that I will take this summer to bring the game to a place where I can copyright it and perhaps move forward with production and distribution on a small scale.

The first and most important element of the game that I must consider in this process is the graphic design. As it stands, the game’s graphic design employs cursive script and solid colored cardstock. I like the box’s lid; it is simple and elegant, an aesthetic that I believe will appeal to players interested in a game whose structure is simple yet whose theme is more complex. A good friend of mine, Dante DeGrazia, works a lot on illustration and design and I think that his work, which explores themes of loosely distorted reality, will be able to design a number of good graphics for the backs of the cards. I envision these cards as abstractions of the words on each respective card. In other words, if the “Character” card is one with Cormac McCarthey, then the illustration on the back of the card might involve a bloodred sunset that fades into the image of a distorted road leading to nowhere. As I move forward with Dante, it will be important to give him artistic leeway to produce the designs as he envisions them.

The next step will be to find funding for the initial production of the first 50 copies of the game once Dante and I have finalized the graphic design. Right now, my plan is to ask for $5 donations on a crowdfunding website like GoFundMe. I imagine that I will have enough family and friends willing to donate that I can raise $200. With the initial $200, combined with $300 of my own personal funds, I will be able to order the first 30-50 copies of the final game on Board Game Maker.com. I’ll distribute these copies among friends and ask them to play with other game players they know well. And I will bring a copy in to Pipe Dream Toys in Winona and ask the owner to sponsor an investment in copies that he can sell in his store.

These are the two concrete steps that I can take this summer to move forward on this project which has excited me for all of the semester. I’m excited to see how they turn out!

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