Sunday, August 25, 2013

"This is Water"

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning, boys. How's the water?' And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes 'What the hell is water?'"
 David Foster Wallace, Commencement Address at Kenyon College, 2005

Welcome to An American Studies (see post below). Hopefully, the above question is one you will be asking (and attempting to answer) yourself throughout the year and beyond this class. As you embark upon writing for a new medium, the blog, it is your job to identify the "water" in which you live, be it the North Shore "bubble" or the United States at large. For example, look at the following photo:

"The First Adirondack Was Too Big" by John S. O'Connor

Ask yourself how this photo is emblematic of America at the micro or macro level. Like many photos you view, it has been modified from the original snapshot, and could be said to represent a look through the photographer's "window of self-expression", to borrow a phrase from photographer Eikoh Hosoe. So, even though the camera cannot technically depict what isn't there, Hosoe would argue that the photographer can still show us, through this visual medium, "what lies unseen in his memory."

Please join us in our exploration of distinctly American themes and feel free to contribute your own photographs on the Instagram using our hashtag, #anamericanstudies. When you tag the photo, it will automatically appear in the sidebar on this blog. And don't forget to leave your own thoughts below in the comments section of this post regarding the photograph.


Josh Sussman said...

I think the photo shows a utopic idea of America in the sense that the lawn chairs are all neatly lined up and the grass is green and mowed. However, I feel that the photographer was also trying to capture such perfection in the image to show that it is "too good to be true" and unrealistic.

Anonymous said...

I think this photograph is supposed to represent the ideal "American Dream". This idea came from the fact that the chairs are placed in a backyard with classic suburban homes and even a white picket fence in the background. Almost immediately when I looked at this photograph I could picture a family sitting in the lawn chairs. The image that comes to mind is that the father is in the largest, the mother is to the left of the father and the children are in the red chairs. The assumption that the father is in the largest chair shows America's patriarchal view towards the "perfect" family. Another notable observation is that all of the chairs are in the shade except one child's chair on the left. Perhaps this suggests that while three out of the four children will follow in their parents footsteps in the pursuit of the "American Dream" living a suburban lifestyle, one will branch out and find success through his own views and create a different future for himself.

Madeleine Tucker said...

I agree with Emily, and I will go along with the idea that the chairs represent somewhat of a family structure. It seems as if the larger and older looking chairs could represent the parents, old traditions and family values. The shiny, bright and new looking red chairs could represent the younger generations, full of energy and spirit. They could be bringing a new outlook on life as well as more advanced technology. The red could also be interpreted as a bad thing, maybe a sign of change or conflict. It could be a sign of a struggle rising on the utopian lawn, silently battling with old, conservative and seemingly unchanging ways.

Reilly Tangen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reilly Tangen said...

Much like a picture is open to interpretation, as is history. This picture (I’m unsure if I’m reading the post correctly) has been "modified from the original snapshot..." which gave way for my interpretation of how the photograph represents more the general study of history in addition to history of the American sort.
History can be modified. And it can be modified very easily. If I choose to, I can filter, conceal, and increase the brightness on any quote or event I want to. I am perfectly capable of making my own version of history.
That is what makes history both beautiful and dangerous and there is plenty of room for that in America with so many controversial ordeals occurring everyday.
As for the actual picture itself (sorry for the tangent), I see no sort of ideal family here. I see sturdy looking chairs on a stable piece of ground. That is the foundation of America. And I see a bit of variety in both size and color of the chairs. This is the ideology that America was intended to be built off of. The ability to lay on the same piece of grass as someone else. A sense of equality. However, that sun that is touching the chair on the left, setting it apart from the rest.... will eventually touch all of the chairs at some point.

Luke Iida said...

This picture gave me two completely different interpretations. At first, I immediately noticed the shade in which the chairs were residing in, shielding them from the sun and heat. We as Americans are shielded or ‘shaded’ from the outside world and all its conflicts by the government, represented by the immense overhanging tree which is out of are eyesight. Emily also pointed out that the light does not completely cover one of these chairs. In this case, that chair is the military. These soldiers leave the US and become exposed to the rest of the world, popping the ‘bubble’ that encloses many of us.
I also look at this picture from a different standpoint. The open, unoccupied chairs represent the philosophy of giving ‘power to the people’, an idea which defines the American government. The welcoming chairs offer us to step up and sit in these ‘seats of power’, which give the people control over their country, not just the Government.

Anonymous said...

I believe that this picture is more of a comment on ignorance and the idea that we become so used to things we forget to question why they are the way they are because we are so accustomed to them. In the book we read this concept was also shown in the publics unawareness that anti busing rallies were not solely based on racism but deeper issue that they did not understand

S. Bolos said...

These are some very creative interpretations! But ask yourself, how reasonable would someone else find these readings?

Note the caption and remind yourself of how much attention Masur gives to the words attached to Forman's photograph.

Has anyone done any research on the type of chair featured in Mr. O'Connor's photo? Any guesses as to where it was taken?

Madison MacRitchie said...

I thought about the caption of the photo, "The First Adirondack Was Too Big," because I remember that in "The Soiling of Old Glory," the titile of the picture had a lot of meaning. Masur spent a great deal of time discussing the meaning of the title and how using "Old Glory" to describe the flag really tied the picture back to the almost the origin of racism in our country, the civil war era. In Mr. O'Connor's picture I think that the "First Adriondack," is refering to the older brown chairs, becase they appear as if they have been in use for much longer. And saying that the first chairs were "too big," could be referring to the reason why the newer red chairs appeared on the lawn, and they seem to be ushering change, and shining brighter because they are the generation of chairs that will last into the future.. I agree with Emily that the chairs represent an American family, and with so many daunting issues, we as the younger generation hold the future in our hands because the older generation (the brown chairs) have served their time and look like they won't last much longer.

Josh Sussman said...

I do agree that the chairs may represent an ideal American family. However, after some research, I discovered that the Adirondack chairs in the photo are simple wooden chairs that are used mainly for outdoor use. I think the chairs are the focus of the image to show that although many Americans (especially those who live in the suburbs where I presume this image was taken) may seem disconnected and live in a "bubble," some still find the time to enjoy the simple things in life like lounging outside to talk. As for the photograph's title, I am still a bit confused on its meaning.

Ryan Haak said...

The different types of chairs represent the social norm for their respected time period. The larger chairs are dull and outdated, and adirondack chairs universally had that appearance from that generation. To me they represent the color barrier that was broken through during the civil rights movement and the stubborn idea that the caucasian man was dominant and nobody else had a chance to pursue their dreams. So what the hell is water? It's the notion that every man or woman has the civil right to defy the odds and be what they want to be, that's what we are surrounded by in this day and age, the age of opportunity. The red chairs are the "water," they are cheaper and colorful, and show the changes of people in recent decades and their accceptance of the fact that everybody can pursue the "American dream" regardless of their appearance.