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Living With Strangers Essay

1445 words - 6 pages

We’ve all encountered it. The hustling and bustling, the streets and avenues filled with the cacophonous symphonies, and the city nearly busting at the seams with people. You stand there on the sidewalk filled with awe and taking it all in while your sides are being assaulted by the passers-by and their elbows. Sometimes it seems quite hopeless to make someone notice you and send a smile your way, because while you acknowledge people they don’t acknowledge you. They’ve all grown accustomed to the oblivion that comes with big city life, or rather the feigned state of oblivion.
We may all get drawn to it thanks to numerous movies and TV series romanticising it, but in fact adjusting to the ...view middle of the document...

The ‘pretend-it-isn’t-happening’-law widely applies to so-called weirdoes who make a scene – mostly it’s on purpose, because they couldn’t care less or are seeking the attention of others, but sometimes it’s by chance. But it is mostly on purpose.
Siri Hustvedt lists a few scenarios where she describes the oddity of these misplaced situations in the daily life of the urbanites. First she tells us about her Iranian friend who sees a woman who’s wearing nothing but a “flimsy bathrobe”. “My friend had been staring at the woman throughout the scene but was a little ashamed when he understood that he was alone. Nobody else had given the woman a first glance, much less a second.” (l.28-30). With this example Siri Hustvedt is trying to give the reader an impression of how it may seem to newcomers that things like this is lost on hardened urbanites like the New Yorkers. Furthermore she lists two more examples in order to drive the point home. The one thing that the three examples/scenarios have in common is that each of the individuals in question exhibits outrageous behaviour. The third example she gives us is about her and her husband who decide to sit down on a bench, and at the end of said bench there’s man who according to Siri Hustvedt “gave off an aura of silent hostility”. The situation ends with the hostile man spitting in Siri Hustvedt’s direction. Siri Hustvedt tells us that her husband would have felt compelled to act if there had been more saliva on Siri Hustvedt’s pant leg. “And acting, as everyone in the city knows, can be dangerous. It is usually better to treat the unpredictable among us as ghosts, wandering phantoms who play out their lonely narratives for an audience that appears to be deaf, dumb, and blind.” (p. 2, l.49-52)
“For the last year and a half, my fifteen-year-old daughter has been refining the frozen, blank expression that accompanies the Pretend Law (…) Walkman securely over her ears, she feigns deafness when the inevitable stray character comes along and tries a pickup” (p. 2, l.76-81). Living in this day and age it has become much more easier to block out any background noise and isolate yourself in your own little bubble while people are invading your personal space on the subway or bus in the rush hour. Siri Hustvedt tells us about her own experience with her daughter. She explains her daughter’s tactics and they have become a widespread practice. Since 2002 when Siri Hustvedt had her essay published in The New York Times we have many ways of shutting out our surroundings. Fancy mobile phones with mp3-players and internet have made things much easier for ‘the ignorers’ and ‘the ignorees’ have to think of new ways to do something out of line and scandalous.
Siri Hustvedt tells us about an experience that her daughter Sophie had while riding on the subway. “(…) “a white guy in his thirties” who started at her so shamelessly that she felt uncomfortable.” (p. 3, l....

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