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natschall's blog

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I love Philadelphia.

I love Philadelphia. That’s it. That’s all I have to say.

I know that I should explain that further, that “love” is a stand-in word for not expressing myself more fully. But really, “I love Philadelphia” is the only thing I can think every time I go into the city. It gives me such a sense of home, of connection, that nowhere else I’ve ever been has been able to give me.

In my first essay on this topic, my relationship to cities, I said that I judge cities based on how those around me feel. But after taking this course, I think it goes a little deeper than that.

I like cities when I feel like I can truly let go in them. Of course, this feeling does come from being around those who are comfortable in the city, but it most of all comes from deep play. If I witness others experiencing deep play and letting go of their inhibitions in the city, I’ll also feel like I can do that.

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Does the lens we look at a painting through change when it is in new surroundings?

I think that the surroundings of a painting can certainly change the lens it is looked through. Think, for example, of what you would value a painting at if you saw it in a dumpster outside versus if you saw it hanging in the Louvre. But, looking specifically at the Barnes Foundation after visiting, I found myself doubting whether the surroundings had really changed as much as people were complaining about in The Art of the Steal.

Barnes would have you believe that being in the city changed the paintings a lot, and that this is why he wanted the Foundation to stay where it was originally founded. But if the immediate surroundings of the painting are the same, such as they are now in the Barnes (the walls are kept the same, with everything exactly where it was--even the rooms are the exact dimensions as they were when the Foundation was in Merion), is being in a different city really a new lens? Or is it the same lens, but with maybe slightly different background thoughts going in?

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For my final trip into the city, I was thinking of doing two main things: first, going to a Quaker meeting in the morning, then wandering from there to the Masonic Temple and exploring inside. I believe that both of these would encourage me to deep play and to stop thinking things through too critically, really to open myself up to serendipity. The rest of my trip until we meet up at Anne's I'm hoping to leave almost entirely up to serendipity, and to just let the city take me where it will while I explore.

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I don't think I really look at my experience at the Barnes differently after watching the movie and reading the article. I already knew it had been moved, but I was happy that it was, or at least indifferent on the conflict over moving it, because I know I probably wouldn't have gotten the same chance to visit it as I did. I think it's good that the Foundation is more open to the public, but I also think it was fine before it was public. Similarly, the class discussion did not really change my view on the painting I analyzed. I'd like to look at it again, just to see if I notice anything else, but I do not think I would really have a dramatic change of heart regarding my opinion or reading of it.

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Seurat's Models

To me, one of the most intriguing paintings in the Barnes Foundation was Seurat’s Models. I was told, in AP Euro, to always first look for geometric patterns within the artwork when examining art. So, I did that, and came away with: the three models in the painting form a triangle. But that’s all. The rest of what I took away was much more conceptual and based mostly on ideas rather than strict form.

The pose of the middle model, legs spread wide, feet planted firmly on the floor, and hands clasped in front, suggests, to me, self confidence. She looks very openly at the viewer- “Yes, I’m here, what of it?” With her head tilted a little to the side and steadfast gaze, it’s almost like she’s daring you to ask her what she’s doing there. The other two models are turned away. Their body language does not suggest shyness, but they’re not as open as the middle model is. Also, we can’t see their eyes, whereas the eyes of the middle model seem to follow you no matter where you stand in front of the painting.

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Deep Play in Border Crossings

I feel like I experienced deep play while watching 17 Border Crossings. How I defined deep play for my essay on Sunday--losing track of time and letting things take you where they will--was exactly what I felt during the play. Although it was long (or must have been, with 17 different border crossings to get through), I feel like I blinked and it was over. But I also got a lot out of it. I came away thinking a lot of things, none of which I can really put into words, but which basically centered around the idea of leaving the country and trying to escape the life you have.

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Deep Play in the Labyrinth

The summer before my junior year of high school, I went to a weeklong nationwide conference for United Methodist youth groups. There is one thing from that week that stands out in my memory over all else. The second day of the conference, there was a workshop called “Walking the Labyrinth”. I thought this sounded pretty cool, so I got a couple friends together and we went to check it out. It gave the lowdown on what labyrinths were made for, what they were meant to do, and what we should try to focus on while walking through it (which was basically anything that was troubling us). At the time, there was not a whole lot troubling me, so I walked through with nothing specific in mind. But I kept getting worryingly turned around. The point of a labyrinth is that you’re always going a new direction, and not necessarily one that seems to lead to the center. But because of all the other people also walking it, right next to me, I would see them on their own path and think I was walking the wrong way or had somehow stepped off my own path and onto another, and that I wasn’t going to end up going to the middle at all. What if I never reached the center?! I was getting more and more upset until I realized that I had, indeed, been walking on the right path all along and I stepped into the center. I sat down for a while, as we were told to do, to reflect on my experience. I closed my eyes and thought. When I reopened them, I was surrounded by an entirely new group of people.

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Eastern State

Eastern State Penitentiary was created by the Quakers in order to make the prisoners better people. The Quakers believed that, if treated in the correct way, the prisoners would reflect on themselves, see that they were wrong, and repent for their sins.This did not happen. Prisoners began rebelling almost as soon as the prison opened.

Eastern State, from the outside, seemed orderly and exactly like a prison that others should (and did) try to imitate. On the inside, however, Eastern State was edging towards chaos, with not many things going correctly. In Eastern State, it was never quite clear who ruled the prison, the guards or the prisoners. This grey-area dynamic made it close to impossible to keep the prisoners under control. Indeed, some of the guards did not even try to make it clear that they were in charge, and did things like play chess with the prisoners while they were supposed to be walking the halls.

Prisoners were never meant to be punished; the Quaker reformers thought that isolation was enough to make the prisoners feel remorse for what they had done. But the guards did resort to physical or emotional punishment when prisoners acted up.

Eastern State tried to strip prisoners of any individuality they may have retained. There was meant to be no one to talk to besides a minister who would come to the cells to try to reform or convert the prisoners.

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Eastern State Draft

Eastern State may have been founded on a good idea- not writing prisoners off as worthless unchangeable criminals but trying to help them be better people- but the methods did not work and were inhumane. The idea of reforming prisoners rather than just looking them up was revolutionary and enlightening, even though it tended not to work in the practices Eastern State used. ESP was a place that stripped people of what made them human, and prevented people from performing acts that keep people sane. It could almost be seen as a method of torture, where instead of helping people as the founders had hoped, it took away every liberty a person has.

The original design of Eastern state forced people to really look into themselves and their actions, alone in a cell with nothing to do but explore your own mind allows a person to form a new perspective on themself. 5 years of no contact with the outside world, apart from that obnoxious preacher and the occasional guard. Constant, unending boredom, or the constant threat of discovery and punishments if attempts to alleviate that boredom were discovered. Eastern State is truly unlike the other prisons today, prisoners must face perhaps the strongest punishment of our time, solitude. Eastern State was a lonely, maddeningly quiet and boring cell, and unproductive waste of his time. The solitary confinement was not going to make him a better person, it would just drive him mad. He had to be uncooperative to give himself something to do.

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Common Sense Relationships (co-written with Pia Wong)

We all have ideal stories for book characters. When we see a character struggling, common sense takes over and forces the reader to think about how their story should be happening. Zadie Smith’s NW refuses to allow the reader have this perfect story, and instead defies the flawlessness of common sense for all characters.

From a common sense point of view, Felix would be perfectly happy in his relationship and sure that it’s right for him, without having to check that he loves Grace because he doesn’t like sex with other women anymore. In a perfect world, he would separate himself from anything to do with Annie, his ex-girlfriend with whom he still has sex and meaningful conversations with.

It isn’t that Felix is not happy with Grace, just that he’s not as happy as he could be. She is not his true love, but she is good enough that he can feel content and safe spending the rest of his life with her. Especially after going back to Annie and double checking that Grace is, indeed, seemingly better for his sake.

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