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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

Reflections on New York (1): To Brooklyn Bridge

Saturday, October 10, 2015

I was lucky enough to spend a week in New York recently. Here is one of a series of passing reflections on what I felt and found.

I finally came to appreciate Hart Crane's poem, "To Brooklyn Bridge." We teach this on one of my OU courses, but I find it quite challenging, a dense poem that erratically and fleetingly shifts from one sense impression to the next. It begins:
How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty—

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
—Till elevators drop us from our day...
The first stanza is innocuous enough, but by the second things start to become more confused. How can our eyes be as apparitional as sails? It's not until we read on that we might figure that it's not eyes themselves that are like sails, but the 'page of figures' that they look at, cooped up in some financier's office.

I'm not going to pretend that I 'get' this poem as a whole just yet - things get even more grammatically complex as each stanza evolves in this manner. However, one thing I do now 'get' are the descriptions of the bridge itself, the addressee of this ode. Here for instance is the eighth stanza:
O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover’s cry,
Standing on the middle of the bridge, I suddenly appreciate that 'harp and altar' reference. The wires are indeed harp like, curving to the top of each stanchion.

The road surface, perfectly horizontal, lies flat across the bay, just like an altar. I have of course seen plenty of photos of Brooklyn Bridge before, but it's only once standing there, the lines and surfaces and structural integrity of the whole enveloping me, that the image suddenly works.

Then there's this:
O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.
The curve is evident enough, there in the shape of the wires. Again, I have seen this in photographs before now. However, in still images the lines of perspective are narrowed and the sweep of the whole cannot be encompassed into a screen or 6 x 4 print. It's only when physically there that the panoramic scale of Crane's lines and the relationship they convey between the river and the bridge makes more sense, and the neologism of the curveship seems more justified. It is indeed like a ship, bearing down on Manhattan, its prow that pointed arch between which the skyscrapers loom larger as one walks across.

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Posted by Alistair at 7:03 am


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