The Search For Marvin Gardens Essay

Egon Schiele, Portrait of Gertrude Schiele, 1909.

In 1995, on a trip to Australia, the performance artist and writer Kathy Acker met McKenzie Wark, a new-media theorist. They had a weekend-long affair and then, on Acker’s return to San Francisco, engaged in a candid two-week e-mail correspondence—now published for the first time—in which gossip, cultural criticism, daily activities, queer theory, and personal problems are inextricably tangled. A searching discussion of Blanchot, Bataille, and totalitarianism is together with a back-and-forth about pissing and coming at the same time. Very quickly, the gendered sex talk—of butch, femme, and super-femme; straight girls and queer ones; gay guys, straight guys, and just “guys”—becomes confused: Who’s talking about whom? But it doesn’t matter. As Acker says, “Me, straight queer gay whatever and where do nut cakes like me fit in who like getting fistfucked whacked and told what to do?” Wark responds, “I like this idea of a refusal to be called other. As normal as the next human.” Acker died not two years later of breast cancer. This book is a wonderful reminder of her quick mind and remarkable intellect. How lucky Wark was to have gotten it all firsthand. “I forgot who I am,” he writes to Acker. “You reminded me of who I prefer to be.” —Nicole Rudick

“What I love about university libraries,” Susan Howe says in her interview with The Paris Review, “is that they always seem slightly off-limits, therefore forbidden. I feel I’ve been allowed in with my little identity card and now I’m going to be bad.” How bad? Dowsing for buried manuscripts is, she says, a kind of “civilly disobedient telepathy.” Howe’s new book, Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives, is an elegiac essay for the old archives of paper and ink, now being off-sited by digital technologies. The book pieces together Howe’s work on the papers of the eighteenth-century divine Jonathan Edwards with the third book of William Carlos Williams’s Paterson, about the burning of the library. I can’t think of another work that evokes the romance of research in the way this one does. It captures that moment when you find exactly the thing you didn’t know you were searching for. —Robyn Creswell

Keep an eye out for Elliot Ackerman’s first novel, Green on Blue, coming next month. Ackerman, who served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, caught my attention in recent weeks with essays in the New York Times Magazine (on skateboarding in Southbank) and The New Yorker (on a visit he paid to a military outpost on the front line of the war with ISIS), both of which betray the informed sensitivity of his observations. (If you dig deeper into ’net history, you’ll find his reflections on Fallujah.) Green on Blue, already on the Times’s Reading List of Modern War Stories, tells the story of a young boy coming of age in Afghanistan—the premise of which, alone, serves as an impressive act of empathy. —Stephen A. HiltnerRead More


Metaphorical Analysis of McPhee

    In John McPhee’s essay In Search for Marvin Gardens, there are numerous metaphorical references. For example, on page 79, McPhee compares a mound of pill drugs to "a banquet of fruit salad." This metaphor among others, help to makeastatement about society as a whole. How does McPhee use metaphors tocommentabout socitey as a whole? Through metaphoric critique, I shallattempt tolook at this question.

    Throughout the course of this paper, I will examine McPhee’s essay as a whole, in a general sense.Then I will isolate some of the key individual metaphors that McPhee usesto make the reader understand his point in writing the essay. In addition, I shall catagorize these metaphors with regards to the overall questionconcerning McPhee’s criticism of society. I will evaluate each of thesemetaphors, in an attempt to find an answer to the question. In doing so,I will centralize the metaphors that are to be considered. Finally, I shalldicuss the metaphors and come to a conclusion about how McPhee uses metaphorsto express his views of society.

    In general, McPhee’s essay is a comparison of the game of Monopoly to the reality of life. This can be seen very evidently by the parallelism in his essay. He a storyline about himself and his "opponent" playing a tournement of the Monopoly championships, and the details of the real world of Monopoly, Atlantic City, both at the height of its splendor, and in its current state of disrepair. Scatteredall through the description of the tournement and Atlantic City are metaphors to detail the course of events for that particular storyline.

    McPhee uses metaphors to compare the details of the storyline with his views of society, whether it be a "cratered" landscape (pg. 86) or packs of dogs (pg. 75, 81) toshow the barren landscape. Through the use of these metaphors, McPhee relatesto the reader, not only the details of a Monopoly tournement, but alsoin a bigger sense, a search for something. The objective of that searchis at times unclear, but wih the references to Monopoly property of "MarvinGardens", the ideaof a goal, a vision for the future. This goal that McPheesees is not onlya savior for his boardgame, but also a symbolic referenceto where societyshould be headed.

    "I need Marvin Gardens. My only hope is Marvin Gardens" (pg. 88) With this statement, McPhee expresses the exact strategy for how he can best his opponent in Monopoly. But metphoricly, he also shows the urgency to remedy a situation which has lingered throughout the essay. The continuous descriptions of the disrepair of Atlantic City, the once incredible world which game its setting the Monopoly, are McPhee’s way of showing the reader how he sees society. As a textbook example ofmetapor, he takes what he wishes the reader to understand, in this case,his opinion of the current state of society, and shows it to the readerusing a vehicle to which the reader can easily relate. The vehicle forMcPhee’s societal opinion is the desolate city of Atlantic City, and thefantasy world of Monopoly.

    The continued use of metaphors explains McPhee’s view of society. While he uses manydescriptivemetaphors, such as the pile of pills, the craters of swimmingpools, orthe block of shattered glass, the comparisons that will help usto betterunderstand his critique of society. These metaphors are, for example,thereferences to the packs of dogs, which help to show the devastated conditionof Atlantic City. This is McPhee’s way of telling the reader how heseessociety, in a state of devastation. Similar to Atlantic City, societywasn’talways in this same state, but the capitalistic nature of peoplehas ledto a decline.

    In the narrator’s Monopoly tournement, he needs to find Marvin Gardens to win the game. The search leads him to inquire of a bronze statue the location of his goal.However, this gives no success. The statue only points in a direction.McPhee relates this to the diretion in which society needs to turn. Whilethe bronze statue only points, he can only offer advice. The goal, theMarvin Gardens of society, must be found by everyobne on their own.

    As the essay progresses, McPhee tells of a woman who’s "feet spill out [of her worn sneakers]" whogives the reply to the narrator "I sure don’t know [whrere Marvin Gardensis]. I’ve heard of it somewhere, but I just can’t saywhere." In continuingthe theme of a search for improvement, he is tellingthe reader that mostpeople can’t tell you where you can find MarvinGardens. It is a personalsearch, for the individual.

    McPhee even goes as far as to state "A lot of people have a hard time finding this place,(pg. 89) aknowledging he fact that it’s not easy for everyone to get where they’re going. Marvin Gardens is something for which everyone muststrive,and work to reach.

    Thorugh all of the metaphoric comparisons, McPhee states his views of society. The searchfor Marvin Gardens is his way of describing the search for the bettermentof society. McPhee gives a social critique through the use of metaphoriccomparison, whether it be a mound of drug pills, or a wandering pack ofdogs.

    Scott Williams

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