Not Your Average Board Game

<em>Boxes</em> (2015) by Mercer Malakoff

Photograph by Mercer Malakoff

“If you love something let it go. If it doesn’t come back, boo-hoo write an essay” (Devore, “New York City Doesn’t Love You”). And if you are attached to that thing, and do not really want to let it go, or want it to come back, play the game Freud describes in Beyond the Pleasure Principle: “Fort Da.” John Devore does both. Devore’s essay, “New York City Doesn’t Love You,” is his proclamation of his painful love-hate relationship and experience with the city. Devore’s essay is like a game—specifically, “Fort Da.” “Fort Da” describes a game Freud observes that a boy has invented with his toys. First, the boy throws the toys under the bed or into the corner; then, according to Freud, he says “fort” (which means go away). Freud focuses on a specific toy—the boy’s wooden spool—to demonstrate the concept of the game: he throws the spool, lets it disappear, says “fort,” and then reels it back in, exclaiming “da” (which means there) (Beyond the Pleasure Principle). In playing this game, the boy relives the experience of his mother going away and coming back—an experience similar to the one Devore conveys in his essay. Published on the social media platform Tumblr in 2014, Devore’s essay reads like it was written by a bitter, spurned family member who cannot help but wish for a reconciliation. The writer is in pain. Devore is a child, and his essay is simply as childish as playing with dolls. Behind Devore’s foul mouth, angry tone, and abrasive questions sits a writer looking for the feeling of pleasure from a place he once called home. When analyzed through Freud, it is apparent that Devore’s essay itself brings him pleasure and closure, much like the boy’s game in “Fort Da.” Furthermore, viewing “New York Doesn’t Love You” through the eyes of Freud’s “Fort Da” reveals a flaw with Devore’s perspective—the reality is that an individual cannot truly have a mutual relationship with the modern day city. The modern city, though dynamic and engaging, has no feelings. It neither loves nor hates you. The relationship (or imagined relationship) is really about the way a person lives in his or her environment and the way he or she imagines himself or herself in the world.

John Devore has a deep psychological relationship with (and attachment to) New York. His frustration is clear, and he wants others to understand it. The only way Devore can cope with this is to write. Devore does not immediately address his relationship with New York; he buries it by using his anger with the city to vent and warn the reader about what the city is capable of. New York is the mother that Devore denies is there: “Why would you think you are in a relationship with New York? It’s not a boyfriend or a parent. New York will never give you its approval because New York City is too busy being New York City to care about you.” Ironically, though, a parent-like affection is exactly what Devore seeks from New York. He angrily lashes out at New York because he feels abandoned and hurt. Like the boy in “Fort Da” flinging away his toys, Devore flings away New York: “That your rent is a tumor in the guts of your bank account. Complain that you deserve a raise, that the N train never, ever, ever runs when you need it to run (and that’s probably personal,) and that New York is a giant meatgrinder extruding tons of chewed up dreams.” In fact, the essay initially appears to be a hate letter to the city of New York, one that resembles Freud’s description of a child throwing a tantrum: “it is known of other children also that they can give vent to similar hostile feelings by throwing objects away in place of people” (Beyond the Pleasure Principle). But while today’s generation is full of writers and social media users who use a variety of platforms to simply vent—the “fort” part of the game—Devore’s essay stands out because it actually gets to the “Da.”

Although for a majority of the essay Devore focuses on the negatives of New York, Devore eventually exclaims his love: “I love New York. My love is strong. My love is psycho.” When Devore stops listing the city’s numerous cons to address instead his love, the turn reveals something like the “greater pleasure unquestionably attached” to the object in the child’s game Freud describes (Beyond the Pleasure Principle). That is the “da.” It takes the pain of playing “fort” for Devore to finally admit he loves the city and play “da.” Writing the essay is Devore’s way of gaining pleasure because, although he totally bashes New York, he still loves and connects with the city.

While there is pleasure from the “da” in “Fort Da,” the game also imitates the unpleasant aspect of a relationship—separation. Why would anyone want to relive an experience that caused pain? In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud questions why the boy playing “Fort Da” would play a game that imitates a painful experience. He concludes that “the departure must be played as the necessary prelude to the joyful return, and that in this latter lay the true purpose of the game.” The purpose of Devore’s game is to return to his relationship with the city. He clearly desires the grit and energy of New York. The essay exemplifies his lust for the city, creating a sense of pleasure for him in writing itself. But most importantly, the essay gives him power. Power to cope. Power to be free. Power like the child playing the game over and over again, controlling the circumstances of the return. Just as the child Freud talks about focuses on his game, and “this effort might be ascribed to the impulse to obtain mastery of a situation (the ‘power’ instinct),” the essay is Devore’s way of reminiscing about the place he loves and taking control over his relationship with it.

The relationship between an author and the subject of the text is important to understand when searching for the text’s meaning and reasoning. Devore’s essay is published on Tumblr, where his audience from all over the world can read his “Fort Da” game. Although many will likely interpret the work as a bitter letter to New York, it is evident that the letter truly is crafted out of love. “Are you okay? Is New York getting to you? Are things not going according to plan? Stop whining. For fuck’s sake” and just play the game of “Fort Da” (Devore, “New York City Doesn’t Love You”). And mark these words: Devore and New York will be reunited.

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Translated by C. J. M. Hubback. International Psycho-Analytical, 1922; Bartleby.com: Great Books Online, 2010. www.bartleby.com/276/ Accessed 15 October 2016.

JohnDevore. “Are you okay? Is New York getting to you? Are things not going…” Don Jevore, 16 March 2014, 1:34 AM,
http://johndevore.tumblr.com/post/79732261559/new-york-city-doesnt-love-you Accessed 15 October 2016.