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COLUMN: Examining One's View of the World

Edge of Town

Metro Editor

Published: Thursday, February 13, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 13, 2014 01:02

My dad told me to be careful as I walked out to the edge of the rocks. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I was excited to be at the Garret Mountain Reservation—known to me only as “Garret Mountain” or “the place with the cliffs and the castle.”

Located in Passaic County in New Jersey, the reservation is home to Lambert Castle, which was constructed in 1891. My father would take me there so that I could climb on the reservation’s rocks surrounding Lambert Tower, a part of the reservation that had fallen into disrepair—from my high vantage point I could see Paterson, N.J. sprawled in front of me, and, if you looked hard enough, New York City in the distance. As a kid, this was my very limited view of the world—a small expanse of Jersey and the distant detail of the city.

The New Yorker played with the idea of having a limited view of the world on its March 29, 1976 cover by Saul Steinberg, called, “View of the World from 9th Avenue.” The cover provides a one-point, bird’s eye perspective of the city’s detailed streets, but then the cover becomes far less specific. A small blue ribbon—the Hudson—separates the city from a red band of color labelled, “Jersey.” The rest of the drawing incorporates a relatively undetailed depiction of the West and small blobs that make up the countries across the Pacific.

Designed to critique the narrow vision of the world possessed by New Yorkers, the cover has been imitated to describe other viewpoints, including Boston’s. I did not even know that such a version of this cover existed until I saw it on a professor’s office door (to that professor, thanks for the column idea for the week). Called “The Bostonian View of the World,” the small poster depicts the Custom House Tower front and center, with the John Hancock Tower to the left, as well as the Common and the State House. Like the original New YorkerCover, the rest of the cover depicts less detailed geography in the distance—the Charles River, Cambridge, San Francisco.

The cover’s theme, however, is highlighted by a small detail in the drawing. A sign on one of the city’s streets reads, “The Hub.” This sign speaks to the spirit of the original New Yorker cover—this city thinks it is at the center of the world.

While I doubt that this urban-centric attitude is as potent in Boston as it is in New York, any vein of this self-absorbed sentiment is worthy of critique. No city is the center of the world, and nor should it be. Each urban setting brings a unique cultural contribution that is not less than that of another. Furthermore, no city, no state, no country should be the center of one’s understanding or viewpoint.

For a short while when I was growing up, I thought New Jersey and New York City were the whole thing, only to learn that Boston has proven an equally fruitful and rewarding location for me to grow.

Perhaps I am too harsh. There is, of course, something to be said for a city’s pride and a basic national patriotism, but this should never come at the expense of greater awareness. I prefer a world in which the typical New York perspective is one of extended consciousness that inspires a different kind of cover for The New Yorker, a cover that would depict the city in all of its detailed beauty but would then go on to present the great western expanses with equal care and attention.

And I prefer a little boy who stands on the rocks of Garret Mountain with his father, sees the whole impressive expanse of Paterson and the distant New York City, but still knows that there is so much more.

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