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Notes Towards Day 18 (Thursday, Nov. 7): "Urban Friction"

mlord's picture

I. coursekeeping
hand out flyers for First Person Arts Festival
also flyers for English 125: Writing Workshop
return marked papers (@ end)

II. 11:25-12:05--start in selection-specific writing groups. We asked you to

* make a collage/mosaic/short essay out of a selection of the sentences we generated on Tuesday,
* using ONLY the sentences your section-mates provided, in the form they have written them;
(thereby forcing you to experiment with using other p.o.v.s).
This was your second draft for the paper assignment upcoming this weekend:
"close-reading Eastern State Penitentiary"--many of them were very poetic/allusive.
I liked them!

We then asked you to print off the paragraphs written
by the other members of your writing group,
and to mark ["text render"] what they have done:
** circle what interests you,
** box what puzzles you/what you are curious about,
** underline the introduction of each new lens, and
** write a word in the margin identifying the p.o.v. it expresses.

You're going to get now into your small writing groups,
to help one another towards the next web event,
due this weekend, on "close reading Eastern State"--
attending as carefully to it as you did to NW, when you quoted and gave page #s.

What we'll be looking for this weekend is essays that have a p.o.v.
[a little more about this...]
For example, to get yourself to the perspective of the Quakers who envisioned Eastern State, it's crucial that you  put yourself at a sharp angle to your own experience: the Quaker reformers had HOPES, imagined a GIFT, conceived of a TRANSFORMATION, saw themselves as HUMANE...they were REPLACING INHUMANITY WITH a vision they thought was GENTLE, GENEROUS, GOOD. It was a HUGE effort, considered for decades. To write from that p.o.v. would be to imagine/understand a little the bigness of the plan. A close reading of the prison from a Quaker p.o.v. might trace how righteous people made an expensive, thoughtful, spiritually-motivated GIFT to the unfortunate...which was a DISASTER. It could be a story of how the best that we could hope came to almost the very worst that we could do. And you have to have really held that DESIRE FOR GOOD in your head before you can appreciate that. The Quaker p.o.v. certainly had some diversity in it--how the gift was imagined, whether it was considered a gift or a duty or whatever--but it would offer a simple and very clarifying orientation to begin such a paper.

You can read the prison as an economist, as an architect, as a prisoner, as a contemporary prison reformer. The point of view of all of these people is complicated/it won't to be unitary.
It's a particular angle of vision that might let in a lot--including contradictory information....

As Eudora Welty explained, in On Writing (via Brain Pickings): Point of view is ... a product of personal experience and time; it is burnished with feelings and sensibilities, charged from moment to moment with the sun-points of imagination. It is an instrument – one of intensification ... it is temperamental.… The writer always seeing double, two pictures at once in his frame, his and the world’s... and he works best in a state of constant and subtle and unfooled reference between the two....One of the most important things the young writer comes to see for himself is that point of view is an instrument, not an end in itself, that is useful as a glass, and not as a mirror to reflect a dear and pensive face. Conscientiously used, point of view will discover, explore, see through – it may sometimes divine and prophesy. Misused, it turns opaque almost at once and gets in the way of the [writing].... It is a practical assignment, then, a self-assignment: to achieve, by a cultivated sensitivity for observing life, a capacity for receiving its impressions, a lonely, unremitting, unaided, unaidable vision, and transferring this vision without distortion to it onto the pages ... For the [writer] to be unwilling to move, mentally or spiritually or physically, out of the familiar is a sign that spiritual timidity or poverty or decay has come upon him; for what is familiar will then have turned into all that is tyrannical.

SO: get in your groups, and talk about these things with reference to your own papers:
what is the most interesting point in each draft "mosaic,"
the "crack" when an essay seems possible/where an idea emerges?

How might the writer develop that idea?
What additional reading will they need to do so?
What lens/p.o.v. will be most helpful here--

one that's not "opaque," but rather lets the writer move out of what's familiar/known/tyrannical...?

III. 12:05-12:15 return to large group:
check in about your writing this looking possible?
Does each of you have some stepping stones:
what you intend to say in your paper?
what you will claim happens in the prison, and why?
--and a clear sense of what lens you will use to say these things?

III. 12:15-12:45--exploring another possible p.o.v:
Jonah Lehrer's "Urban Friction."
Can we map what he is doing? (i.e.: what p.o.v's does he use? where do his lenses change?)
How is the experience of reading him different than reading your/each others' papers?

What might Lehrer say about what you are saying?
What might the p.o.v. that is writing your paper say about Lehrer's argument?
How do you understand the relation between the city and the prison?
That is,
how do you understand the relationship between the phenomenon Lehrer describes--
the increased productivity that results from urban crowding--and the phenomenon
the Quakers aimed to create: the reflective penitence that results from isolation?
What is the relationship between creativity and penitence, between innovation and reformation?

IV. Homework
You have a 3 pp. web event, close reading Eastern State, due on midnight @ Sunday.
By classtime, read and print off the essays written by the members of your latest writing group.
Bring these w/ you to class, along with your other reading assignment:
Chapter One in Diane Ackerman's 1999 book, Deep Play.
Anne's Reading Notes from "Urban Friction":
"By its nature, the metropolis provides what otherwise could be given only by traveling: namely, the strange" (p. 175).

Jane Jacobs saw the city "as a vessel of empty spaces in which people interacted with other people...the surplus of human capital...produced valuable innovations....a constant churn of ideas as strangers learned from one another....what happens in these densely populated spaces: 'knowledge spillovers'" (pp. 181-2).

"The sheer disorder of the metropolis maximizes the amount of spillover. Because cities force us to mingle with people of different 'social distances'....we end up being exposed to a much wider range of worldviews....these urban interactions...actualy come with impressive payoffs" (pp. 182-3).

"urban areas and the human cortex rely on extremely similar structural patterns to maximize the flow of information and traffic through the system....they have to efficiently maintain a high level of connectedness" (p. 183, n. 3).

"a few exquisitely simple equations...are the laws that autommatically emerge whenever people 'agglomerate'.... the constants that describe every city....this data...quantifies the value of urban spaces....when people come together they become much more productive per capita. They exchange more ideas and generate more innovation" (pp. 186-7).

"'superlinear scaling' is a fancy way of describing the increased output of people living in big cities....The steep slope emerges from the positive-feedback loop of urban life--a growing city makes everyone in that city more productive....cities are the single morst important invention in human istory....they enabled our economic potential and unleashed our ingenuity...."Cities are this inexhaustible source of cities get bigger, everything starts accelerating" (p.188).

"The most creative cities are simply the ones with the most collisions....Boston firms took secrecy very seriously....These companies strictly enforced noncompete clauses and nondisclosure agreements....this made them far less innovative...the talent couldn't interact--each firm was a private island. The end result was a stifling of innovation" (p. 190, pp. 194-5).

"casual exchanges...errant conversations..are an essential engine of innovation....The tiny scale of Israel is extremely important...everybody knows everybody...Israel is the second-densest country int he developed world...ideas circulate at an incredibly fast pace; the knowledge spillovers are nonstop "(p. 196, p. 201).

"We all naturally self-segregate, choosing to spend time with people who are just like ourselves. (Sociologists refer to this failing as the self-similarity principle)....a small subset of business people...had social networks that were expansive and diverse, full of suprising interactions and 'informational entropy' (the presence of disorder--think of a crowded sidewalk)....businesspeople with entropic networks full of weak ties were three times more innovative than people with small networks of close friends" (pp. 202-3).

"The Internet needs to do a better job of increasing serendipity...the metropolis...constantly introduces us to the unexpected and curious.....knowledge leaks from everywhere....we need to design websites that act like our most innovative cities....we must engage with strangers and ssrange ideas. The Internet has such creative potential; it's so ripe with weirdness and originality, so full of people eager to share their work and ideas" (p. 208).

"the creativity of the metropolis is inseparable from its freedom, from the natural chaos of a densely populated Zip Code....Instead of imitating the freewheeling city, businesses minimize the very interactions that lead to new ideas. They erect walls and establish hierarchies. They keep people from relaxing and having insights. They stifle convesations, discourage dissent, and suffocate social networks (pp. 208-9--DOES THIS SOUND LIKE UNIVERSITIES?!?).

"cities are unruly places, largely immune to the desire of politicians and planners...that's what keeps them so vibrant.They're just these insane masses of people bumping into each's that spontaneous mixing, all those unpreditable encounters, that keeps the city alive" (pp. 210-211).

"This is the purpose of cities. The crowded spaces force us to converse with strangers we'd otherwise ignore. The process isn't always pleasant--there's a reason people move to the suburbs" (p. 211).