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DSaff
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"Two Worlds"

This quote caught my attention as I read this first section, and it goes well with the DuBois quote about double-consciousness.

 

"Is it any wonder my dreams were troubled? Ease and disquiet weaved in and out of reception, chasing each other down, two signals too weak to be heard for more than a few moments." pg. 15

 

Benji seems to desperately want to make things work in both worlds. He has friends at his prep school and attends bar/bat mitzvahs knowing he may be the only non-white in the room. But, that brings acceptance and friendship in a world that seems so far away from that of Sag Harbor. A world in which he has to exist for at least nine months out of the year. In Sag Harbor, he wants to be part of the group, part of what seems to be his "real" world. There is a real desire to learn the new handshake and terms, and to respect and learn more about his culture. There are moments when I think Benji wants the two worlds to fuse so that his mind will quiet. But, as the quote above says, he is filled with both ease and disquiet for periods too short to grab ahold of. I don't know how this situation will be resolved because I haven't read farther in the book yet, but believe that it must somehow. At some point Ben must be able to look himself in the mirror proudly, not through the eyes of others, but truly with his own.

 

DonnaS =) " Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own." Charles Scribner
"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." Chinese Proverb
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kujo
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

My favorite passage in regard to the "double-consciousness" aspect is that of the black kid at a bar mitsvah. I remember very well the days when my parents made me invite every single kid in my class to my birthday party in order to avoid leaving anyone out, and it seems to me that there's an underlying implication that this is similar to what happens to Benji.

 

"...I was only there because I had met these assorted Abes and Sarahs and Dannys in a Manhattan private school, after all - but there was something instructive about being the only black kid at a bar mitsvah." 

 

At this time, parent in New York City are most likely incredibly concerned about political correctness, and though the children don't really seem to take much notice, it's almost like a symbol of the progressive nature of the parents.

 

Benji goes on to acknowledge that he is aware of the racial tension:

 

"...it trains the kid in question to determine when people in the corner of his eye are talking about him and when they are not..." 

 

 While he actually does go to the bar mitzvah and is being social and enjoying it, he's still aware that people ARE talking, and something IS different. He knows that the only reason he's there is because his parents had enough money to send him to a private school. 

 

I can't wait to see how race plays into the rest of the novel.

 

I actually just finished The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner for class, and I can't help but relate Benji in Sag Harbor to Benjy Compson because of the name. 

 

Benjy Compson as a mentally retarded white person in the antebellum South has a more intimate existence among the black servants (the Gibsons) of the Compson house than he does with his own family. 

 

This idea plus Benji Cooper in a largely white private school seems to create some sort of middle-ground in terms of class. At the time that Benji Cooper is in elementary school, African Americans as equals is still a relatively new concept in America, and sociologically they are still treated as inferiors. 

 

In effect, being black in America at this time is somehow an absurd parallel of retardation that people are born with. It's something that immediately sets a person back in the minds of others and affects who one is able to interact with in a way.

 

I'm sorry if that is poorly worded or confusing. It's the first time I've tried to flesh out that idea.  

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miller1323
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

I too really enjoyed the first chapter.  So far the concept of "two-ness" is setting to be one issue that Benji is struggling with.  The most obvious being he's a twin and he’s struggling to distinguish himself as his own person.  He also is navigating the between adolescence and man hood.  Finally he's also managing both his home life in Manhattan (which he compares to being thrown down a well) and his life in Sag Harbor where he obviously feels more comfortable.  I’m looking forward to see how he deals, because Benji's really a kick so far. His big plan to usher himself into adulthood is to ditch his nickname, for the more mature "Ben." And his rationale is beyond great:  “Benji was the name of a handholder, not a finger**bleep**er or avid squeezer of breasts, or whatever tyro sexual-type act I would engage in once I found a willing subject.  One step at a time, and a step away from Benji was a good one.”  If that didn’t make you smile, I don’t want to know you. 

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bookloverjb85
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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.

 


I agree that this line was a little sad.  I believe that there comes a time in most young peoples' lives that they realize they are no longer attached to, or as close to, their sibling.  This was definitely the beginning of Reggie and Benji having separate lives.

--Jen--

"A house without books is like a room without windows."--Horace Mann
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bookloverjb85
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

I wanted to comment on telling a teenager to "be yourself", since a few other people have mentioned it.  This is a hard concept for most teenagers and some adults, too.  Most teenagers want to be accepted by their peers and therefore try to make others happy.  They do this by going with the flow or stating an opinion that may not be "true to themselves".  Either way they are not necessarily "being themselves" because they do not want to be outcast from the group.

booksJT wrote:

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.

 

--Jen--

"A house without books is like a room without windows."--Horace Mann
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bookloverjb85
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity


booksJT wrote:

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. 


I think that in both situations/settings Benji has difficulties and obstacles.  In school he is different from everyone else, and not just because he is the only black student, but because of his personality as well.  Then when he gets to Sag Harbor he has to learn new handshakes and ways to talk to his peers that are completely different then what he is used to the other nine months of the year.

--Jen--

"A house without books is like a room without windows."--Horace Mann
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thewanderingjew
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity


rkubie wrote:

I found Benji to be very sensitive, very aware of his surroundings. When he describes how he feels at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, saying he is comfortable being  the only black person in the room and speaks of being aware of being looked at, of noticing people who are probably wondering, what is he doing here, I thought how does one ever get used to that? 

At my daughter's graduation party, there were several people of color and one guest actually asked my daughter's friend, a young girl from Sri Lanka, to clean the table, assuming that she was working in my home. How does one get used to that kind of arrogance stupidity?

Another time, when I was young, in Saratoga Springs, NY, I was walking in a park with my cousin and two young men. Within moments we were accosted and chased by hoodlums and we had to run one way while they ran another just because they were black and we were white. We were terrified. In the end, we all got back safely, but how does one get used to that?

Benji faces that divisive world, with one foot in, but not quite, everyday in private school. He fits in scholastically, but does the world let him fit in as Benji? I think today, yes, but I am not sure it would have been so easy in the 80's. Benji has to be two people, one in Sag Harbor and one back home. He seems to be comfortable with his two worlds, but that remains to be seen as I get further into the book.

 

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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Rachel-K
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Re: "Two Worlds"

DonnaS,

 

That's a wonderful quote, thanks for bringing it into the discussion. I've also noted (and admire) that you call our narrator "Ben" as he wishes to be known!

 

And Kujo,

 

I loved The Sound and The Fury! I think that whole first section in Benjy's perspective is really extraordinarily beautiful. I can see the temptation because of the names being the same, and maybe a kind of outsider status, but the comparison between the two characters is troubling.

 

I'm guessing that you're seeing in this comparison the history of the US refusing to acknowledge Africans as intelligent human beings through slavery and beyond. But Faulkner's Benjy is actually mentally "deficient." US law (and the dominant white culture) argued that African Americans were. That Africans being kept in forced labor was actually a means of taking care of them and providing for them. A kindness rather than a horror. Am I following you at all, here?

 

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cocospals
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

I am really enjoying this book.  Some observations I made: I love the comment on page 7 where Benji remarks "Every bar or bat mitzvah should have at least one black kid with a yarmulke hovering on his afro..." It showed me that Benji could chuckle at his environment. His observations of Liza Finkelstein, the "tone" if you may that teenage girls use. I loved the fact that Mr. Finkelstein always seemed glad to have Benji around. Was it because he truly liked Benji or because Benji reinforced what Liza's parents stood for? I noticed that several times Benji makes reference to being black in a white world "Hanging out with NP was to start catching up on nine months of black slang and other sundry soulful artifacts I'd missed out on my 'predominately white' private school. Most of the year it was like I'd been blindfolded and thrown down a well, frankly"

 

The imagary that the author uses is fabulous. The reference to the black Chuck Taylor tennies that fade to grey (they always did) and how the toe caps yellow. I especially like the description of Sag Harbor, there were times I found myself drifting off and thinking about Forest Lake where I spent my childhood summers. 

Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there - John Wooden
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dmt14
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

I have only just begun to read this book but my first impressions are that Benji almost feels that he is a sell out. During the year he goes to this preppy white school where he is one of the few black kids. Then during the summer he has his fun where he can be real, hang with his friends, with no parental supervision during the week. As the second chapter goes on yes he encounters the girl with the extra verterbrea in her neck and also the fact that he has no money and he must get a job. He is sick of borrowing money from his brother which he even tries to get further away from his brother and become his own man. But which man will that be? His authenic man or the man working for the white man as the boys discuss what mother does for the white man.
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detailmuse
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity


CathyB wrote:

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. 


I'm inclined to agree that Ben is himself at school (but frets that it's not a "Black"-enough self?), and I so agree that he's a pretender in Sag Harbor ... where he also seems to not be Black enough! I really saw the misfit when he's out-socialized by his little brother -- when Reggie and NP go off together in their matching Filas.

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detailmuse
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

Rachel -- the Reply feature isn't activated for messages on the News/Schedule thread so I'll ask here: Can you make it clearer which threads are chapter-based by titling them something like, "CHAPTER: Notions of Roller-Rink Infinity"? Without the table of contents in hand it's hard to tell otherwise...

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dhaupt
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

[ Edited ]

Wow rkubie, way to get our brains engaged, these are some great questions and I wanted to wait to answer them until I read a little further along in the novel.

 

First I want to say I'm really enjoying something that I wouldn't have picked up on my own.

 

Benji's two worlds are alike and are different, in each of his two worlds he is still upper middle class, in a pretty normal two parent family, but that's where the similarity ends. In his school persona where he is a minority I don't think his attitude changes just his language and I get the impression that he gets along pretty well with his classmates. In his Sag Harbor persona he's just one of the guys doing the same things he's done since he was little, I don't know if his trying to break out of that persona was all his idea, it was helped by his parents who left them alone for most of the summer so he had to adapt to take care of himself in a lot of situations that probably hadn't come up before. He's getting older and understanding more about other people's situations and the circumstances of their not being able to "come out" etc.

 

I don't know that Emily is his beginning into manhood, but I think on that particular trip to the rink he realizes that his feelings about the female of the species is changing.

I don't think that telling a teen to be him or herself is bad advice, but it almost never gets taken, who at that age wants to be themselves they want to be part of something bigger especially when being ones self usually means being different and we all know what being different means when your that age.

 

Setting the reset button does mean coming to Sag Harbor in my humble opinion.

 

I found it really refreshing in Benji that he didn't follow the crowd when his school chums started pilfering and I liked that he listened to Sidney who was the voice of his conscience. And in his defense who of us at that awkward age ever lived up to who we thought we should be either in our own minds or put there be others.

 

The double conscience question is either too deep for me to understand or I'm looking at it too simply, because I see Benji as I see most of the human race, who of us still doesn't care about what other people think of us and make decisions based on that. 

Message Edited by dhaupt on 02-17-2009 10:44 AM
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canterbear
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

This is a very interesting section.

I re-read the Du Bois part a few times. The double consciousness made me think.

I think Benji was a bit head of his time..Just be yourself concept was not what most young kids of that time were thinking about.

 This book seems to be a spiritual journey as well.

 

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kpatton
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity


Carmenere_lady wrote:

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.


So much of your comment, echoed my thoughts.  I'm glad you brought up the statement of the empty hand.  It is clear that this is the summer when Benji is redefining himself as a person separate from Reggie.  Several times he refers to himself as a twin, but most of this summer he and his brother are separate.

 

It is also stated several times (I have yet to finish the book) in what I have read so far, how much Benji feels he doesn't fit in most of the time.  He would like to be the "cool" one.

 

Kathy 

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valorietucker
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

Benji is balanced between a white world and a black world.  At school, he is surrounded by whites.  At Sag Harbor, he gets to experience the world through black culture.  They are quite distinct cultures.  I thought it was really telling when he quoted the song by the Carpenters and then the song by the black artist.  The white song was about clouds and dreaming and happiness.  The black song had an understandably angry edge to it.  The worlds are seemingly at odds with one another, which makes Benji's place in them all the more precarious. 

 

Emily Dorfman is a point, not really important for being Emily Dorfman as much as she is for being the person there in that moment of Benji's awakening.  It was with her that Benji first felt like an adult, like a man with a distinct self.  No longer a child or a part of the twin clique he had with his younger brother Reggie.  

 

I have just started the book, so I don't know if Benji is himself at Sag Harbor.  I do know that "being yourself" has the potential to be terrible advice as a teenager.  Kids are unforgiving!  All of them are so absorbed in impressing one another or fitting in that any deviance from what is absolutely acceptable can be met with harsh criticism (Fangoria is also my favorite magazine).  Adults reflect on this time and laugh and shake their heads, but it's very difficult for a kid when all they want is to be accepted.  

 

Again, I have just started the book.  But I can assume that Sag Harbor is setting the reset button because it's time away.  Kids forget things easily.  He can go to Sag Harbor, modify who he is, and come back a different person.  Since so much time has passed between school sessions, people will forgive any previous awkwardness and accept him for who he is.

 

It is the nature of anyone confused about where they fit in.  Benji is lodged between two worlds, so it is not hard to see why he is having a tough time at it.  When you stretch yourself thin, you start to feel as if you are not giving enough of yourself away to anything.

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DSaff
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Re: "Two Worlds"

[ Edited ]

You're welcome. That quote hit me the first time I read it and I had to grab my highlighter and mark it. It seems to provide insight into what Ben is feeling and possibly fighting. I hope to understand more about him as I continue to read.


rkubie wrote:

DonnaS,

 

That's a wonderful quote, thanks for bringing it into the discussion. I've also noted (and admire) that you call our narrator "Ben" as he wishes to be known!

 

 


 

Message Edited by DSaff on 02-17-2009 07:39 PM
DonnaS =) " Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own." Charles Scribner
"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." Chinese Proverb
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Dances_through_Books
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Re: "Two Worlds"

I'm not sure that Ben is truly "himself" in either world.  He's a teenager, the age where we all are told by society to "be ourselves" and figure out who we are and what we want. (Not that these two questions aren't continually being edited and modified by ourselves throughout our lives).

Ben is "accepted" by his peers in both worlds.  In the book so far, I see Ben being accepted by the children, but not accepted by the adults, at least not without agenda.  I'm sure once we get further in the book this will change.

Emily Dorfman is not Ben's path to manhood, but her prescense does ignite a new feeling in Ben.

I think Ben is suriving his teen years quite well so far.

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OpenMindInsertBook
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

Benji lives in two separate worlds- he's often mistaken for the son of a diplomat in the city, but in Sag Harbor, he's just another face in the crowd, a crowd that looks like him. It's no wonder Sag Harbor feels more comfortable.

 

I think Benji is in that stage of adolescence where he's not completely sure who he is. It's normal and healthy, although he does seem to be caught between two worlds. "Just be yourself" is great advice, if you have a concrete notion of who you are, and I don't think most teenagers do. Teens are often searching for meaning, for a sense of purpose and a place to belong, and Benji is right at that place.

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Jennmarie68
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Re: Notions of Roller Rink Infinity

VTC,

 

     I do agree that Benji seems to have "fitting in" down pat for the most part. But I think one of our biggest clues that he's not "ghetto" or that he doesn't connect with that lifestyle comes into play with the introduction of NP.

 

     On page 29, just after we are introduced to NP Benji says that "Hanging out with NP was to start catching up on nine months of black slang and other sundry soulful artifacts." I think this shows that even though Benji does fit in with his black friends in Sag Harbor that it may simply be because he is black himself. Outside of Sag Harbor he is not infused with the knowledge of what's truly going on with the black community. I think NP plays a significant role in showing the differences between "normal" urban black youth and the limbo Benji lives in as a black youth in a predominantly white community. 

 

 

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt