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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b542GxhzYiw

Waiting for Godot” is one of Samuel Beckett’s most well-known plays.Throughout the course of the play, two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait for someone named Godot. As the play goes on, it becomes clear that Vladimir and Estragon are waiting with no end in sight; they don’t know when they were supposed to meet Godot, whether he is coming, or even what day it is. They are stuck in a perpetual limbo – waiting for someone who won’t come but unable to leave. In the play, Samuel Beckett becomes the namesake of Flaquita’s son, and his influence can be seen in the absurdist play Samuel Beckett Salsipuedes writes.

David Foster Wallace, considered by some critics to be the greatest writer of the last few decades, on the distinction between low art and high art. As he writes in his syllabus for a class that examines everything from Mary Higgins Clark to Stephen King, it is possible to “locate some rather sophisticated techniques and/or themes lurking below the surface of novels that, on a quick read on an airplane or beach, look like nothing but entertainment, all surface.” This is in contrast with the narrator of The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle who derides the existence of low art, particularly formula novels or “vapid, mildly entertaining novels, which likely contribute to the ever-increasing dumbing down of this big puppy of a country” ( Vega 167).

Many of the novels that we have read for this class blurred the line between author and narrator, narrator and character. In The People of Paper, for example, Saturn transformed from the unknown heterodigetic narrator into a character participating in the action of the story. In Cobra, through authorial interjections in the narrative, the narrator as the author explicitly addressed his readers. The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle features both. At first, the authorial interjections, or the parts where the narrator’s first person perspective creeped into the story, were few and far between. In my opinion, the turning point occurred when the characters called Vega and addressed him, not as characters, but as actors playing the roles of Maruquita and Omaha. From then on, the narrator’s interjections became frequent, to the point where his recursive and tangential thoughts about the book and the plot and the characters distracted from the actual narrative.

Vega plays fast and loose with historical accuracy in The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle. Similar to the alternative history of Rita Hayworth in The People of Paper, he speculates on the marital relationship between Martha and George Washington, claiming that our first president, like Omaha Bigelow, was cursed with a small bohango. He contends that the history of the United States would have been quite different if only George Washington had the opportunity to consult with a bruja. On the other hand, Omaha discovers the identity of his father; he is the son of ex-President Bill Clinton, and in some far off reality, his mother is the First Lady and he is the President’s son.

I don’t entirely understand the interjections of historical inaccuracies and tangents in both novels. Do the authors blur the line between history and fiction in order to stress the divide between magic and realism? Or, do the authors intertwine the personal histories of famous (white) Americans with the stories of immigrants to examine the difference between an American and an immigrant? Because, as Vega stresses again and again, there is an artificially constructed difference between an “American novel” and a “Puerto Rican novel.”

Loisaida Redux

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u83nVvzHlh8

My favorite aspect of this video is how it focuses on graffiti across the neighborhood. Graffiti is unsanctioned art, art on the margins, low art through and through. It is widely associated with poverty, crime, gangs, and violence, but increasingly, it is used as an art form that subverts of understanding of what art is. Graffiti is explicitly political – the Lady Liberty peers out from between two brick buildings and a man wearing sunglasses and a tough look exhorts you to know your rights. If you want to be romantic about it, you can say that graffiti gives a creative outlet, a canvas, and city-wide exposure to voices that would otherwise be lost.

Left without commentary:

Life was so friggin genetically complex, thought Flaquita. She swore that she’d never do another bohango enlargement ceremony for a gringo whiteboy. On the other hand, if had been able to help George Washington and given him a large bohango, maybe the country might have developed differently. Americans loved to point to Puerto Ricans and talk about their machismo, but they couldn’t look at their own male posturing. You could understand a colonized country with a geography that measured a hundred by thirty five miles wanting to inflate its importance, but the United States was teh third-largest country in the world behind Russia and Canada. The United States was fifty-one times larger than Puerto Rico and apparently a hundred times more insecure. (Vega 106)

Static Characters

The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle is populated with stereotypical characters. From Maruquita, who lives in the projects and wants to give birth to a cute Gringorican baby, to Omaha, a Midwest transplant to New York and an aging punk rocker, to Winnifred Buckley, the quintessential WASP with wealthy, well-connected parents, most of the characters rarely develop beyond their initial descriptions. Jahn refers to characters such as these as flat or static characters; a flat character is a “one-dimensional figure [that]… does not develop in the course of the action and can often be reduced to a type or even a caricature” (N 7.7). Vega includes not only stereotypes that we are all familiar with, such as those concerning immigrants or people of color, but also literary stereotypes. Thus, Omaha is a psychoanalyst’s dream, full of repressed Oedipal desire for his mother. Moreover, the characters often discuss and deride the Garcia Marquez-esque magic realism in their lives.

It is a deliberate authorial choice to write either static or dynamic characters. For example, in Samuel Beckett Salsipuedes’ bad play, or the story within the story, the character’s fit certain cultural stereotypes, as well as literary archetypes. His mother speculates that those stereotypes might be a symbolic representation of anything from immigrant identities to the colonial relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico. That leads to question what Vega Yunque was attempting in the larger novel.

A visual representation of Omaha Bigelow’s Lower East Side, of leftover punks, disaffected youth, yuppies, hipsters, and NYU students:

Little Boots Pizzeria on Avenue A

Odessa

Excerpts from Yelp reviews:

Ari from Brooklyn says: Fuck yeah! I feel like its 1989 I’m here and I’m at a Greek friends house but not eating Greek food.

Jen from New York says: That’s right, RATS. These idiots leave their doors open from time to time and rats run in from Tompkins Square Park. Oh yes, they don’t discriminate apparently. Any color, creed, sexual orientation, religion, and CREATURE is allowed inside this hellhole.

Alexis from Brooklyn says: The bar is dark, shady, and full of strange characters. You can get away with weird stuff here. If that’s your scene, do it. Mostly I felt like I was in some sort of time warp to 1970s Russia and desperately wanted to leave.

And finally, Tompkins Square Park, a before and after (gentrification that is):

 

 

Free-Indirect Discourse

According to Jahn, narrative texts can be divided into the narrators’ discourse, which concerns the description of the “nonverbal events,” and the characters’ discourses, which relay the “verbal events/words” (Jahn N 8.1). Often texts avoid blurring the lines between the two, differentiating between the narrator’s and the characters’ discourses through the use of quotation, where the “character’s discourse [is] inset…within a narrator’s discourse or frame” (Jahn N 8.2).

In Edgardo Vega Yunque’s The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle, however, the characters’ speech often verges into that of the narrator’s, creating a blended narrative discourse. It is especially noticeable because the characters have such distinctive speech patterns. Maruquita, for example, speaks like a stereotypical “Nyurican homegirl;” her speech is a blend of Spanish, English, and slang, and she often mispronounces common words. Omaha, on the other hand, curses a lot and vacillates between speaking like an almost-graduate of NYU Tisch and a Lower East side punk.

The text employs free-indirect discourse, where the character’s words or thoughts are:

(a) ‘indirect’ in the sense that pronouns and tenses of the quoted discourse are aligned with the pronoun/tense structure of the current narrative situation, and (b) ‘free’ to the extent that the discourse quoted appears in the form of a non-subordinate clause. While free indirect discourse changes and shifts some of the words of the original utterance, it retains subjective constructions and expressions, question forms, exclamation marks, the quoted speaker’s emphasis, etc. (Jahn N 8.6)

The narration, therefore, flows easily from describing the characters’ actions to stating the character’s thoughts without a change in the narration style. The characters’ discourse is no longer inset; it becomes a part of the frame. I wonder if in most traditional texts a hierarchy exists between the narrator and the characters. The narrator is often omniscient, observing the action from a panoramic angle, while at the same time, slipping in and out of the characters’ minds with ease. Free-indirect discourse would challenge such a hierarchical structure.

Loisaida

In the book, Loisaida is described as a “gallant and quixotic cultural attempt to dominate the geography even though renting is not the same as owning” (Vega Yunque 1). It is a portion of Alphabet City with a predominantly Puerto Rican population, so much so that Avenue C is also known as Loisaida Avenue. From what I read on Wikipedia, it is a quintessential New York neighborhood; over the years, it was home to numerous immigrant groups,  ranging from the Germans, Irish, Italians, and Jews to the Hispanic immigrants of recent years.

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This poem, written by Puerto Rican activist, actor, and poet Bitman “Bimbo” Rivas, demonstrates the multicultural, multilingual qualities of the neighborhood. The poem switches easily between Spanish and English. A homage to the neighborhood, it does not shirk the grittier aspects of life in the projects (“drug-infested pocket parks”), while still proclaiming the speaker’s love for Loisaida.

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