Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Paper Roses, Paper Moons, Paper Towns

Free Paper City

A few more thoughts concerning
Paper Towns by John Green
"Here's what's not beautiful about it: from here, you can't see the rust or the cracked paint or whatever, but you can tell what the place really is. You can see how fake it all is. It's not even hard enough to be made out of plastic. It's a paper town. I mean, look at it, Q: look at all those cul-de-sacs, those streets that turn in on themselves, all the houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm. All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too. I've lived here for eighteen years and I have never once in my life come across anyone who cares about anything that matters." (57 - 58, emphasis added)
I think Green should have pointed out here that "demented with the mania of owning things" comes straight from Walt Whitman.

I'm not sure about his conflated use of the term paper town, which he explains at some length . . .
Copyright traps have featured in mapmaking for centuries. Cartographers create fictional landmarks, streets, and municipalities and place them obscurely into their maps. If the fictional entry is found on another cartographer’s map, it becomes clear a map has been plagiarized. Copyright traps are also sometimes known as key traps, paper streets, and paper towns . . . . Although few cartographic corporations acknowledge their existence, copy-right traps remain a common feature even in contemporary maps. (235 - 236, see also 306)
. . . despite the fact that he is using it, in his title and throughout the novel, to mean something completely other than that.

I see what he's doing here; I just find it difficult to appreciate the self - serving inconsistency with which he shifts the meaning from that of a cartographic anomaly, to the shallowness of a "Paper Moon" in a cardboard sky, or the superficiality of Maria Osmond's "Paper Roses." Only imitation: "She kind of hates Orlando; she called it a paper town. Like, you know, everything so fake and flimsy. I think she just wanted a vacation from that" (108, see also 194, 227). Okay, it makes sense; it's just not how he started out.

And then there are the planned but unbuilt or unfinished sudivisions that dot the landscape surrounding Orlando (Gerry and I also saw them in Ireland the last time we were there): "Looks like Madison Estates isn't going to get built . . . A pseudovision! You will go to the pseudovisions and you will never come back" (152). Green lumps these pseudovisions into his "Paper Town" metaphor, although they signify an entirely different phenomenon -- an intended project that never materialized -- not an imaginary red herring to fool map-readers.

Also worth remembering:

1. Fear:

As soon as the car stopped, my nose and mouth were flooded with the rancid smell of death. I had to swallow back a rush of puke that rose up into the raw soreness of the back of my throat. . . .

There is no evidence that anyone has been here in a long time except for the smell, that sickly sour stench designed to keep the living from the dead. . . .

Standing before this building, I learn something about fear. I learn that it is not the idle fantasies of someone who maybe wants something important to happen to him, even if the important thing is horrible. It is not the disgust of seeing a dead stranger, and not the breathlessness of hearing a shotgun pumped outside of Becca Arrington's house. This cannot be addressed by breathing exercises. This fear bears no analogy to any fear I knew before. This is the basest of all possible emotions, the feeling that was with us before we existed, before this building existed, before the earth existed. This is the fear that made fish crawl out onto dry land and evolve lungs, the fear that teaches us to run, the fear that makes us bury our dead.

The smell leaves me seized by desperate panic ― panic not like my lungs are out of air, but like the atmosphere itself is out of air. I think maybe the reason I have spent most of my life being afraid is that I have been trying to prepare myself, to train my body for the real fear when it comes. But I am not prepared.
(139 - 141)

2. Lastness:

And all day long, it was hard not to walk around thinking about the lastness of it all: The last time I stand in a circle outside the band room in the shade of this oak tree that has protected generations of band geeks. The last time I eat pizza in the cafeteria with Ben. The last time I sit in this school scrawling an essay with a cramped hand into a blue book. The last time I glance up at the clock. . . .

And on the last day, the bad days become so difficult to recall, because one way or another, she had made a life here, just as I had. The town was paper, but the memories were not. All the things I’d done here, all the love and pity and compassion and violence and spite, kept welling up inside me . . . like my lungs were drowning in this perverse nostalgia. . . .

All along, I kept thinking, 'I will never do this again, I will never be here again, this will never be my locker again, Radar and I will never write notes in calculus again, I will never see Margo across the hall again.' This was the first time in my life that so many things would never happen again. . . .

As I walked past the band room, I could hear through the walls the muffled sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance.” I kept walking. It was hot outside, but not as hot as usual. It was bearable. 'There are sidewalks most of the way home,' I thought. So I kept walking.
(227 - 228, emphasis added))

3. And to conclude:

I don't know how I look, but I know how I feel: Young. Goofy. Infinite. (254)

It is easy to forget how full the world is of people, full to bursting, and each of them imaginable and consistently misimagined. I feel like this is an important idea, one of those ideas that your brain must wrap itself around slowly . . . (257)

Free Paper City ~ by Joel