Write a post about the way Open City resonates with and/or challenges Michel de Certeau’s theory of ‘practicing’ the city. Write a 600 word post and be as specific as possible about the way you see the text/material conversing with de Certeau’s theory. Be sure to cite one quote or reference a particular example in your post. What questions or problems emerge when we put Cole’s novel in conversation with de Certeau’s ideas about the city and the everyday people who move in and through urban spaces?
The attachments are readings you need to look through
Once you’ve made your post, read over your colleagues’ posts and respond to at least one.
Classmate’s posts (choose one to respond):
New York City is a place where individuals from all over the world see America through their own lens. For these individuals, the American Dream represents a pursuit of meaning, usually by the means of financial stability. Teju Cole’s Open City and Ralph Ellison’s Harlem Is Nowhere paint a picture of the American dream through the perspective of the less fortunate, the detached, and the obscure. While Open City provides the reader with economic and societal context throughout NYC, Harlem Is Nowhere focuses on the struggle and detachment of one neighborhood. While Cole emphasizes perspective as a framework for meaningful pursuit, Ellison suggests that meaning brews from the “inner struggle” of those who seek it.
Cole’s Open City portrays NYC as a melting pot of different cultures, all contributing their unique perspectives in resembling the American dream. By compelling the reader to look through the lens of Julius, a Nigerian immigrant, Cole integrates perspective as the text’s dominant force. Julius described each neighborhood of NYC as being “made of a different substance, each seemed to have a different air pressure, a different psychic weight: the bright lights and shuttered shops, the housing projects and luxury hotels, the fire escapes and city parks” (Cole). Each neighborhood has its own foreign culture and collectively serves as an integral piece of the American dream. By specifically referring to “the housing projects and luxury hotels” as being “made of a different substance”, Cole highlights the economic disparities between neighborhoods and the cultures, mindsets, and attitudes that shape such disparities.
In Harlem Is Nowhere, “to live in Harlem is to dwell in the very bowels of the city; it is to pass a labyrinthine existence among streets that explode monotonously skyward with the spires and crosses of churches and clutter underfoot with garbage and decay” (Ellison). Being forced “to pass through a labyrinthine existence”, Black individuals in Harlem were shoved into a bewildering maze that hindered prosperity and meaning, where economic and social discrimination stood as blockades. Ellison metaphorically implies that meaning is a pursuit by which individuals internally overcome the struggles placed before them. Black individuals needed to overcome the struggles of discrimination in finding their life’s meaning. Although both texts signify the pursuit of meaning in life, perspective is a key element in Cole’s text, while struggle plays an integral role in Ellison’s.
Open City and Harlem Is Nowhere portray the struggles of those in search of meaning, in a place that limits clarity to some. Those who can’t see past the bewildering stupor are unlikely to escape the detached culture they live in. Both texts highlight the detachment of certain people and neighborhoods from the American dream, as well as balance the conversation between perspective and struggle in finding one’s meaning.
“Many Americans assume that European Muslims are covered from head to toe if they are women, or that they were a full beard if they are men, and that they are only interested in protesting perceived insults to Islam. The man on the street – do you understand this expression? – the ordinary American probable does not imagine that Muslims in Europe sit in cafes drinking beer, smoking, and discussing political philosophy. In the same way, American blacks are like any other Americans; they are like any other people.” (Cole 119).
I chose to discuss this quote because it brings to light the main themes in Open City and does a good job in portraying the way this novel explores the concepts of race in society. In this book, Julius often embarks on long walks through the city, as we all know, and when he does this, he finds tons of joy. This is because he is effectively exiting reality and walking into the unknown when he goes on his walks – he does not know what he may find or who he may meet, but he just knows that from observing, he will learn a lot. All he has with him is his point of view, and the hope that some ideas he encounters, whether from other people or from society itself, may challenge this point of view or reiterate it in some way. One of these examples if from above, where Julius shares his beliefs on race in his city of New York, and learns about the way others view race in their European city of Brussels, from a different perspective (the perspective of those marginalized). This leads me, as the reader, to the belief that any idea is challengeable and malleable and can always become a better form of itself, visible through the quote, in which Julius demonstrates to his Moroccan-Belgian friends the concept of marginalization and improper perceptions of race.
On the other hand, Nella Larsen’s Passing didn’t seem to give off the same message. There, instead, it seemed that challenging a concept and using it for growth played second fiddle to this idea of comfort: the idea that situations should just be viewed in a manner that is the most convenient and comfortable for those involved. This is evident in Clare’s marriage, where she accepts her husband’s outrageous racism and chooses to marry him, instead of marrying someone who will accept all races or have an advanced view on society. Similarly, when Irene believes Bryan to be cheating on her with Clare, she chooses not to challenge the concept, in her own head or with her spouse, and simply chooses to erase it from her brain for the purpose of simplicity and convenience. Thus, these two stories seem to give us conflicting views on society and the ways in which society can progress and be accepting of others.
The main problem emerging from putting these two texts in the same conversation arises from time frame. passing takes place almost 100 years earlier, and thus society was very different at that time, leading rise to the differences in the two novels. However, the main themes remain regardless, and these differences in a way, go to show how society and these northern cities may have changed over the course of those 90 ish years.