“In Paris, there are only two ages…youth and decay.”
The idea of place is something that I have always strived to give importance to in my own work. Place can become its own character within a work if given proper space to breathe on the page, and can enhance whichever aspect of a story the writer desires. Basically, Place is a versatile badass. In Edmund White’s The Flâneur, a word I dutifully looked up so as to not look like an idiot, we get an exaggeration of place as a character in Paris. We get so many details about the city, but more specifically, about the city in terms of how is affects/draws/exists for those who wander its streets. White writes that “The variety of Paris is matched by the energy, the voraciousness and passion of its population.” I think that’s what this piece does best, using the city, the setting, to represent the people.
It is that idea of representation that I want to take away from this piece. My thesis project is set primarily in Cleveland, and the environment of the Rustbelt plays a big part in characterization. I think that using the variety of places to characterize the city as White does, can be an effective and efficient way to represent the population, and its eclectic nature. It also provides context for the state of characters with, perhaps, someone having to say gee it’s too bad that my towns rundown and it messed up my life. I’m not sure if I’ve succeeded, or if this is even quite what The Flâneur is getting at, but this is how I’ve tried to incorporate similar-ish ideas into my work:
Past scattered empty storefronts—some closed, some deserted—Vivian glimpsed a familiar scene as she continued toward the heart of downtown. In a narrow walkway between buildings, beside a hole-in-the-wall bar, a man fastened his pants and then reached into his pocket for a folded up bill. He walked away with a look far more satisfied than that of the girl he left standing against the wall. Vivian kept walking.
She kept walking until she reached Carrousel Park, which at midnight was devoid of children’s voices and cheerful organ music. In an area that had seen revitalization and demise more times than anyone could keep track of, the carousel stood as a bright spot for over two decades. Outside, the building remained free of graffiti, clean and polished. Inside the wood-and-glass walls, the menagerie was always at attention, ready to act as a two-minute getaway driver. At the main entrance, she walked between the two sculpted guardian horses. Three police cruisers raced down Park Avenue, the sound of the sirens struggling to keep up with the pursuit.
I feel like I should address Kazin piece, although my feelings for it are quite similar to the White piece. The biggest difference I feel between the two is that A Walker in the City carries a more personal feel to it, where it often seems more about his connection to the place as opposed to the place’s connection to the people. As I write this, I realized that this is actually much closer to my own ideas about place than The Flâneur. Passages like: ”When I was a child I thought we lived at the end of the world. It was the eternity of the subway ride into the city that first gave me this idea. It took a long time getting to “New York”; it seemed longer getting back” highlight the way that locations and landmarks, or in this case a subway ride, can enhance a character.
Ultimately, I think the most important thing I got, in terms of craft and moving forward as a writer, from these pieces was something I think I kind of knew, but was maybe not so confident about: the importance of place in narrative. Moving forward, I want to revisit some of the areas where I’ve attempted to create that sort of feeling and use the forms and ideas from this packet to enhance those moments, and then carry that forward into future work.