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Rachel-K
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Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

Hi all,

 

Here are a few questions to get us started. Please use any of these as a jumping off point for our discussions. Please only remember (and it can be difficult!) not to post spoilers for later sections of the book! Thanks! 

 

In Sag Harbor's first chapter, we are introduced to Benji, as he moves between his two worlds:  Can you describe these worlds and what they are like for Benji?

 

Is Emily Dorfman, who has "scaffolding" for limbs and "extra vertebrae" in her neck, the real beginning of Benji's journey into manhood?

 

Is "just be yourself" really terrible advice for an adolescent, as Benji thinks he has discovered? Is he "himself" at Sag Harbor?

 

Is coming out to Sag Harbor "setting the reset" button? What is Benji's plan to reinvent himself?

 

Benji seems constantly to be measuring himself by some cultural standards he doesn't quite match up to, in all of his worlds. Is this just the nature of adolescence?

 

On page 13, Benji quotes DuBois statement of double-consciousness (which he will not come across until years after his early adolescence):

 

"It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in an amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,--"

 

In what ways does Benji seem to live with this double-consciousness?

 

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x-tempo
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity


rkubie wrote:

 

 

On page 13, Benji quotes DuBois statement of double-consciousness (which he will not come across until years after his early adolescence):

 

"It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in an amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,--"

 

In what ways does Benji seem to live with this double-consciousness?

 

 

Hi Rachel, Well, W.E.B. Du Bois may have been one of the great political thinkers of the twentieth century, however, the idea of "double consciousness" as stated in Chapter 1 of "The Souls of Black Folk," is much more complex than it appears. It's not simply "self-consciousness," I think it describes a kind of "split personality" that disallows consciousness of self. The essay also refers to "race" in terms of "blood" and "soul" and Negroes as a "seventh son" after "the Teuton and Mongolian," and one also has to consider Du Bois's purpose in writing the book.  

 

But since it's quoted in a comical context in the novel ("the guy who wrote that was eating fried fish behind the house," followed by a switching back and forth of the radio dial between KISS Lite FM and WLIB), I wouldn't make too much of it :smileyhappy: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  


 

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Vermontcozy
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

Ghetto versus upper middle class New York..Going out on a limb,but having knowledge of that entire world,the one thought that comes to mind is Never disappointing his Parents...Where he lives in Ny 107th st is middle/upper class Black America..altho a short distance away is The so called Ghetto,he rarely is exposed(I think) to that way of life...His everyday life is what he has known ,private schools,both parents successful,he goes to Sag Harbor and his exposure is broader..he wants to fit in everywhere and has developed a way to do this,..putting aside the Race issue for a moment..doesn't everyone want to fit in at that age,no matter what the circumstances..its a bit more difficult for Benji,but he has it down pat for now...Thats what I think...VTC Would appreciate feedback
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kren250
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

Benji's two worlds are very different: the elite prep-school world, where he's a bit of an outsider. At Sag Harbor, he's accepted more freely for who he is. Sag Harbor also makes it possible for Benji to re-invent himself a bit.

 

I don't think Emily Dorfman is the begining of Benji's journey into manhood, but rather the point where Benji realizes he will be a man someday;-).

 

To a teen, "just be yourself" can seem like terrible advice, although now that I'm an adult I wish I had followed it. I don't think Benji is himself at Sag Harbor. Part of the allure of Sag Harbor for him is that he can sort of pretend to be someone else.

 

For Benji, coming to Sag Harbor is setting the reset button. I think his plan is act like he's more experienced and popular than he may be in the prep school world.

 

Yes, I think it is the nature of adolescence. At least it was for me. Although for Benji it was even more difficult by the fact that he was one of the few African Americans in his prep school.

 

Benji seems to live with his double consciousness by acting one way with his Sag Harbor friends, and another with the preppie elite school kids.

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Rachel-K
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

Hi Steve! Glad to see you starting us off.

 

I'd like to think the comic effect of these particulars (the Carpenters, AM talk radio, fried fish) belie some of the seriousness of what this new generation of successful African Americans has to deal with in terms of recognizing themselves in a larger cultural context.

 

I also wonder if part of developing contemporary consciousness (for all of us) is developing a sense of irony about self-identification?

 

Certainly the DuBois essay was written at a very different time. But Sag, for many of the young teens going out, is the only predictable time in their lives that they get to self-identify with other African American kids. 

 

I guess my suspicion is that the author is using a light touch with more serious matters, and that the developing consciousness of these kids, that even the "retreat" that Sag offers, does relate in some way to the American identity that DuBois is wrestling with in his essay? 

 

Thanks for your thoughts.

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vivico1
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

I have only read a little of the book so far but I was wondering just how much of a double consciousness Benji is really facing on Sag Harbor about the middle/upper class black vs the ghetto. After all, aren't these other boys really in the same boat he is if they are even there? I don't think there are any real ghetto kids there, I don't think they could afford to be. The part of changing the music from the Carpenters to something else, or liking both or trying to act tougher than you are, I think is just the normal course of any kid coming into their teen years and trying to figure out who they are. I think in that sense, all teens are of two mindsets and a lot of battles go on inside as those hormones rage and they want to look this way or that to the world. Maybe this duality becomes much more later on but right now, to me, I am just reading the angst of any teenager trying to figure out what and who the heck they are while the world looks on and hopes they come out the other side ok lol.

 

 

As for telling kids to be themselves. We all tell kids that, we want them to be but when your a teen, half the time you don't know what that is (because of the above statement) and also you are so afraid that if you are yourself, what if the other kids don't like it? You can be branded for the rest of school,maybe life! He has run into this already. For some teens, its hard to be yourself and fit in to the group you think you like or need to be in too. Talk about the years of growing pains! Glad I am passed that lol.

Vivian
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booksJT
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

Benjis's two worlds are different, one is upper class where he is an outsider and the other is where is accepted for who he is. Emily Dorfman had very little to do with Benji becoming a man.  He just realized one day that he would  become one own his own when he is ready. I think  just be yourself seems terrible to tell a teenager,especially since that is not who they want to be. I think Benji tried to be someone else when he was at Sag Harbor during the summer.

 

When Benji goes to Sag Harbor for him it is resetting the button. When he is there he pretends to be more knowlegeable then his peers.

 

For Benji being constantly measured by your cultural differences  was difficult. He was one of the few African Americans to get into prep school at that time. 

 

Benji tries to live with his double consciouness by acting differently towards his peers in school and in Sag Harbor. In school he has  to try and get along with his peers and ignore the comments about his background. In Sag Harbor he pretends to be hip and know all to hang out the kids there. 

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Vermontcozy
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

Hi..When I referred to the Ghetto,I meant that not far from his home in NYC,107thSt..the neighborhood is quite different,stuff that any parent wouldn't want their children involved in.In a way he is segrated from all that ,and on Sag Harbor,altho he is far more exposed to his Black Culture,he has to deal with the other parts of The Hamptons,that were primarily White,to my knowledge(I haven't been out that way for 6-7 years,)much has changed...Looking forward to discussing his book with him,aren't we all?
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Rachel-K
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

Kren250,

 

Thanks for the corrections on Emily. I just love that roller rink passage.

 

And Vtc,

 

I agree that the Sag kids have some real "don't disappoint" training, switching into polite speech and posture at a moment's notice! Maybe this swath of unsupervised time together feels so expansive because of that?

 

I also misread your earlier use of "ghetto." Certainly, these kids are imitating pop personalities and are full of (out-of-adult-earshot) rebellion. They're all kids with beach houses,  professional parents, and respectable sets of dress clothes. But they do seem to practice all of their personality possibilities with each other, don't they?

 

How distanced is Benji from less privilege? I'm not sure I got the same impression of how closed his experience is. What do you think from what he says about his ordinary life in NY? Do Benji and Reggie have "hover parents?"

 

Rachel

 

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emmagrace
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

I describe Benji's two worlds as follows: At home, in the city, Benji feels like an outsider. He is the only african american student at his private school. When people see Benji around his neighborhood, the assume that his parents must be special/important because why else would this child be here and dressed the way he is. If he were a caucasion child the people of the community would never second guess him. In Sag Harbor Benji feels that he fits in much better. He seems more comfortable/confident in himself. I think that these two worlds that he lives in is the basis for Benji living with double consciousness. So far in the reading, I have gathered that Benji's identity is divided because of who he has to be in the city and his school and who he feels like he should be in Sag Harbor.

 

I do not feel that Emily is the real beginning of Benji's journey into manhood. I think his experience with her makes him aware that he is getting closer to becoming a man.

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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

 

Benji's two worlds are different. In the prep school environment, he feels like an outsider on the surface; however, I think he is himself and 'accepted'. At Sag Harbor, he is still an outsider - he is a pretender. Typical teenage angst as to how to behave in order to feel

accepted/welcome in ones' current environment. Being oneself at that age is difficult. Does

one 'know' who they are or is one still trying to figure that out. I think that Ben does know who he is and that is the persona outside of Sag Harbor. He just does not like some of the consequences - treatment of others towards himself - and wants to believe that he can change that during his respite awaya at Sag Harbor.

 

Emily Dorfman can lay no claims on the beginning of Ben's journey into manhood. I agree with others that she is just the vehivcle for his realization that he will be a man one day.

 

 
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Carmenere_lady
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

What a great chapter to start off this book.  IMO all the references made to pop culture brings the reader back to their childhood or at the least some point in their past when those things had relevance.  Boy, did it bring back the anxiety my grade school skating parties brought on.

 

Benji's line on pg 11 sums up Roller Rink Infinity for me.  "Next year we went to our separate high schools, and Emily might as well have been broken down into antimatter because we never saw each other again.  Frankly, I took our moment of closeness for granted......"  How true that is with many a crush I had in  school.

 

Even though Rachel didn't bring it up I have to add that I was saddend  by this line, p11, "And then my other hand occurred to me.  It was empty. I wasn't pulling Reggie .....he wasn't drifting behind me...I was alone with someone else. "  Thus the closeness that Reggie and Benji share begins to wane and so things must be as it is apart of growing up.

 

Just like Madonna, all kids seems to try to reinvent themselves at the beginning of every school year.  I never had much success at it and Benji.........er ....Benjamin doesn't seem to have much luck at it either.

Lynda

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Bonnie824
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

This chapter brought back early adolescent nostalgia for me for sure. I remember those sweatly handed skates with boys to those same (mostly oldie it seems) songs. The racial differences didn't seem to be an issue there though. Maybe because they were rich/upper class kids?
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deaver
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

I'm probably too late for this but I just wanted to comment briefly on the skate between Ellen and Ben.  I think it marked his beginning into manhood in a metophoric sense.  In the sense that we all ease into maturity as a natural process the way he became more naturally at ease with Ellen.  And let's not forget the empty hand and what that so obviously tells us.

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Vermontcozy
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

To rkubie  Bens trial and tribulations...he can be any boy his age from a similar background,the "don't disappoint',we instilled in my Daughter(24,collage grad)it crosses all the color lines.She is a lttle edgy,which is her personality..she grew into that herself..i have enormous respect for youg adults who find their own way(even though it all changes all the time,no matter what age.I am certain that she did stuff that I never knew about,or acted a certain way...its just part of growing.And the alone time with their friends,is normal testing the waters,we all did that.They seem healthy enough to me.Its a different set of values for them and lets say a kid from not such a great background...he knows all about everything,the minue he leeaves his house..Its NY..open,free...His social scene is far different than the above child,and to br honest,it could be a bit scarey if he was suddenly thrust ino Public High School in Ny...I was and can still be a "hover" parent..so I know ,they always think we are watching...Ordinary to him,because thats all he has known..it will change..I spent time out that way and never realized the distinction.....vtc
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libralady
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

Benji's two worlds are the one where he is "used to being the only black kid in the room" and the one where he is surrounded by family and friends who are just like him.  I think as Benji gets older, it becomes harder for him to move between the two worlds with ease; especially with the emerging separation from the attachment he and Reggie shared when they were younger.  I think he sees the summers at Sag Habor as a reprieve from the world of private school and the image he portrays there, however he knows that September will come and he must once again return to that world. 
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PinkBaby
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

well first of all before i comment on this first chapter. i want to say first of all that it is a pretty good book so far.:smileyhappy:as for the  first chapter benji seems to be a more outgoing teenager than i ever was.he goes with his friends and haves fun most of the time. i didnt have any friends.
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity


Carmenere_lady wrote:

 

 Even though Rachel didn't bring it up I have to add that I was saddend  by this line, p11, "And then my other hand occurred to me.  It was empty. I wasn't pulling Reggie .....he wasn't drifting behind me...I was alone with someone else. "  Thus the closeness that Reggie and Benji share begins to wane and so things must be as it is apart of growing up.

 


This was my feeling exactly when I read this passage.  Separately from family and siblings can be a difficult time in the teen years.  The teen wants to move on but is leaving real comfort behind.

 

SandyS

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libralady
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

[ Edited ]

Is Emily Dorfman, who has "scaffolding" for limbs and "extra vertebrae" in her neck, the real beginning of Benji's journey into manhood?

 

 

I think she is.  By his own admission, he had never thought of her as a "sexual object".  I think he started to realize while skating and holding her hand, that he would not think of girls the same way again.  I see this as the opening of the door to his journey into manhood.

Message Edited by libralady on 02-16-2009 06:38 PM
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

I believe that his exposure to the different worlds he is exposed to,will give him quite an advantage as he grows into his own.My daughters(24) generation is color blind,and so is the generation before hers,is it Gen-x? Does anyone feel that way?
Kindness,I've discovered,is everything in life...Issac Bashevis Singer