Monday, December 9, 2013

Urban images from Arcadia

Arcadia cover
Arcadia is a recent novel by Lauren Groff (Voice, 2012). It is the story of Ridley "Bit" Stone, raised on a 1970s commune in upstate New York, and his life afterwards. It's an interesting psychological study, and her writing is justly praised for its lyrical qualities. Here are two short passages that bear on the urban project.

As an adult Bit gets a graduate degree and takes a job teaching photography at a university. Late one night, he walks through New York City, and stops at a diner:
He imagines snapping his fingers, making all the people in the diner stand, at once, and become their better selves. The woman with the cragged oak-bark face throws off her hood and shakes her hair and her age drops off of her like bandages. The man with a monk's tonsure, muttering to himself, leaps onto a table and strikes music from the air. Out of the bowels of the kitchen the weary cooks, small brown people, cartwheel and break-dance, spinning like upended beetles on the ground and their faces crack into glee and they are suddenly lovely to look at, and the dozen customers start up all at once into loud song, voice broken and beautiful. The song rises and infiltrates the city and wakes the inhabitants, one by one, from their own dark dreams, and all across the island, people sit up in bed and listen to it lap around them, an ocean of kindness, filling them, making them forget all the evil leaching out of the world for a very long moment, making them forget everything but the song. (p. 203)
Later he confronts his father, who is trying to build a new version of paradise in a Western wilderness area.
Abe, he says, it wasn't the country that was so beautiful about the whole Arcadian experiment, don't you see? It was the people, the interconnection, everyone relying on everyone else, the closeness. The villages are all dying now, small-town America is dying, and the only place where the same feeling exists now is here, in the city, millions of people all breathing the same air. This, here, now, is more utopia than utopia, more than your pretty little house out in the middle of the forest with only woodchucks for neighbors. Can't you see? All of we kids are here, almost all of the kids from Arcadia, are here in the city. We've gone urban because we're all looking for what we lost. This is the only place that approximates it. The closeness. The connection. Do you understand? It doesn't exist anymore anywhere else.  (p. 208)

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