meloni bologna

September 8th, 2010

Olds and Technology

Posted by meloni in Uncategorized

Sharon Olds’ poem Summer Solstice, New York City may not ostensibly deal with technology as a theme, but it certainly seems to make an overall statement about technology and the human condition. In fact, Olds’ poem communicates the idea that technology pervades society, indeed to the point of sustaining life. Moreover, the poem implies that technology, from its inception, has sustained life from the earliest points of civilization to the present day. However, Olds’ poem also subtly contends that technology alone cannot be held responsible for the continuance, in either the past or future, of life on earth, but rather that there is a very distinct human need for other human connection and interaction.

Technological references pertaining to the sustainment of life are scattered throughout Olds’ poem. Perhaps the most telling image is contained in the line, “Then the huge machinery of the earth began to work for his life” (6), overtly connecting preservation of human life with the machinery of technology.  Additionally, references to other life saving technologies are made, including the policeman’s “…bullet-proof vest, a / black shell around his own life, / life of his children’s father…” (8-10), implying the significant role that the bullet-proof vest plays in the policeman’s ability to perform his job safely and ensure his return to his family, his own important human connection. Even the suicidal man has technology prepared to save him, in the form of a “hairy net with its implacable grid… / unfolded near the curb and spread out and / stretched as the sheet is prepared to receive at a birth” (20-2). Ironically, it is not this piece of technology that is prepared to renew this man’s life (in an almost symbolic rebirth aided by technology – as so much of birth is in present day) that succeeds in saving him, but rather it is the policemen who are ultimately able to accomplish this goal. For all the good that technology can accomplish it is not enough to save this mans life. The man is in need of a human connection and caring, the depth and importance of which is described in the  in last lines of the poem:

…I thought they were going to

beat him up, as a mother whose child has been

lost will scream at the child when it’s found, they

took him by the arms and held him up and

leaned him against the wall of the chimney and the

tall cop lit a cigarette

in his own mouth, and gave it to him, and

then they all lit cigarettes, and the

red, flowing ends burned like the

tiny campfires we lit at night

back at the beginning of the world. (30-40)

Olds’ paints this picture of human connection, comparing the policemens’ concern for the suicidal man to that of a mother’s for her own child. The compassionate gesture of lighting a cigarette for the hysterical man is something that is so uniquely human, no technology could accomplish the same feat of creating a moment that so completely connects one to others, as is symbolized by the cigarette going from the policeman’s mouth to the man’s own. It is this connection, this capacity for human feeling, that is symbolized in the glowing ends of the cigarettes, and proves to have withstood and grown with time just as technology had blossomed from the first campfires of the world.

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