Essay: Modernity and Migration

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[. . .] C. Fields movies and her grasping at Isaac, and grasping for what he seems unable and unwilling to give her. Comically, Isaac seems bent on keeping amazingly attractive and fascinating women at bay -- their puzzlement matches that of the audience, as everyone is left wondering what self-concept would propels Isaac toward such extreme ambivalence and uncertainty. "People can go to remarkable lengths to avert the catastrophe of their own success" (Phillips, 1994, n.p.).

This uncertainty is a hallmark of the late modern personality, right along with fragmentation and ambiguity. The social relations experienced by Isaac, Mary, Yale, Jill, Emily, and Tracy are disembedded and impinge on "the self-reflexive consciousness of the newly emergent multiple self" (Brown, 2002, p. 219).

Isaac isn't the only one who is ambivalent and uncertain of his identity. The mindset of the New Yorkers in Isaac's circle of acquaintances, friends, and lovers is centered on "the new pieties…that it is both more truthful and better not to know who you are, that it is preferable to slip, shift, or float than to know, stop, or stay" (Phillips, 1994). The way of relating that that Issac creates is more than just a twice-divorced man trying to keep his footing. He has created a lifestyle with the "characteristic conditions of perpetual motion as a mode of being" that is elegantly manifested in the scene where Tracy is in bed with Isaac in the new apartment. (Brown, 2002, p.196). Isaac hops in and out of bed, pacing and fretting over noises in the walls, noises in the overhead apartment, and brown water flowing from the tap. He can't rest in is new surroundings, he can't ask Tracy to sleep in the new inferior apartment, and he can't fulfill the vision he had of christening his first night in the new apartment with the bright, beautiful, and perfect Tracy. The fault of the situation -- and if there is any to be found, we can be certain Issac will find it -- falls squarely on his shoulders. Isaac's knee-jerk reaction is to not want what whatever is that caused or has the potential to cause him pain. Mary is "imprisoned, as it were, in an existential freedom of [her]…own making" (Brown, 2002, p. 219). The only thing that seems to set Mary free from the ambiguity and indecision in her deconstructed life is flirtation (Phillips, 1994). Ironically, Mary resists Yale's overtures to intensify their relationship as she doesn't want to be a home wrecker. Yale seems to know or at least anticipate Mary's position because he manages not to take any action that would represent commitment to Mary. They have established a precise and elegant dance -- one of them dances backward and then the other one does. Yale and Mary allow themselves "the fascination of what is unconvincing" (Phillips, 1994). The exchanges are all safe and predictable…until one day Yale decides that he wants to break it off and resume his commitment to Emily. "The fluency of 'idealization'…is replaced by the haltings of ambivalence. After all the excitement, there are the revelations of dismay. Frustration is the aura of the real" (Phillips, 1984, n.p.). Interestingly, Phillips is a psychoanalyst -- a Freudian psychoanalyst -- who explores the relation of literature to psychoanalysis. Phillips contends that psychoanalysis is a multi-authored autobiography shared by the psychoanalyst, the analysand, and any other selves that find life in the process of psychoanalysis. The subjects of the stories told in psychoanalysis are memory, loss, and love, and we tell these storied to our psychoanalyst, to ourselves, and to anyone who will listen to us tell what it is that we told our psychoanalyst. And the audience will remember that there are eight million stories in the Naked City -- this has been five of them.

The New York that Berman's (2007) family passed down to him was filled with anonymous, exploited, alienated people-"a real community, a place where the sadness of individual lives -- and there were plenty of them -- could be overcome by the glory and harmony of the whole (Berman, 2010).


Berman, M. (2007). Introduction: New York calling. In Marshall Berman and Brian Berger (Ed.), New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg. London, UK: Reaktion Books.

Hoberman, J. (2000, July 3). Defending Manhattan. The Village Voice.

Palmer, Myles (1980). Woody Allen. Glenside, PA: Proteus.

Phillips,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Modernity and Migration.  (2011, December 19).  Retrieved August 23, 2019, from

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"Modernity and Migration."  19 December 2011.  Web.  23 August 2019. <>.

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"Modernity and Migration."  December 19, 2011.  Accessed August 23, 2019.