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In a chapter entitled 'In Search of Imaginos' in her book 'Year of the Monkey', Patti Smith describes herself walking down Atlantic Avenue (presumably in Brooklyn, NY).

She writes:

[I] walked up the metal ramp, took my seat on the Jefferson Airplane. The plane, not the band, but when I looked out, I realized I was in a van, not a plane, which was thoroughly confusing. The driver turned on the radio, a baseball game interrupted by radio calls in another language, somewhat musical, maybe Albanian. He took a different route than I requested and ignored any questions. ... We were gridlocked on a bridge, only it was not a usual bridge and seemed to be slightly swaying. I was more than tempted to get out and cross on foot.

Previously, she has picked up a coat (presumably for sale, but that she hasn't paid for), found a rubber band in the pocket, following which she fastens her hair in a pony tail. Whether she uses the rubber band to do that is unclear.

Culturally, I'm unfamiliar with the references although I'm aware that Jefferson Airplane was a 60s rock band, and a bridge might either be a guitar bridge or a reference to either Brooklyn bridge or Manhattan bridge.

The chapter not only references Sandy Pearlman's Imaginos in the title, but has an epigraph from one of his works.

Does Patti get on a plane, into a van, or a taxi? Is she deliberately evoking a hyper-real dream-state in her writing here? Or should we take her literally? Maybe both? Maybe neither? How do you see this?

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  • So is it a factual question about what Smith actually did, or a literary question requiring the analysis of Smith's writing to judge the intended meaning of a literary text? It isn't a question that can be answered without historical and literary knowledge.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 10:38
  • For comparison, if you saw the passage "I was walking on the moon", that may or may not be a metaphor depending on whether the author was an astronaut, and whether the genre is science fiction or drug memoir.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 10:42

2 Answers 2

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As you note, there was a rock band called "Jefferson Airplane". This paragraph starts out sounding like it's a cultural allusion, a reference to the rock band. But then when she says "the plane, not the band", it sounds like she's trying to say that this is a literal airplane that is named after the band. Is there such a plane? I have no idea. It's a very confusing paragraph. It sounds like a description of a dream or a drug-induced hallucination.

So to directly answer your question: It is certainly not realism. She keeps changing the "reality" so it's not clear what is real and what is her fantasy.

It's not really metaphor or analogy, as she is not comparing things. Maybe parts of it are metaphor but it's hard to say.

The reference to Jefferson Airplane is a cultural allusion. The rest I'd call a fugue maybe, but that's a psychological and not a literary term. I don't know of a literary term for "something that sounds like a hallucination and that makes no coherent sense but is intended to convey some feeling". I'll readily yield to someone who knows a name for that.

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I think it's safe to say that the answer is not a simple one; rather, it can encompass multiple tropes and narrative devices. Smith has created an enigmatic atmosphere here that allows readers to infer their own meanings while also being afforded flexibility in what they interpret as literal or metaphorical. As such, her description incorporates elements of realism, metaphor, and analogy, among many others, all combining together into something unique yet meaningful within the context of magical realism writing.


Smith blends reality and fiction by referencing images connected with Jefferson Aircraft—specifically, taking off in an airplane—while also being inside a vehicle that is not a plane (a van). The combination creates a surreal impression, suggesting that we should interpret her explicit words figuratively or symbolically rather than literally. To further highlight this point, she recounts how they are stuck on a bridge that looks to be shaking, implying that there may potentially be supernatural powers at play. All of these aspects create a mystical ambiance reminiscent of magical realism classics such as 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez and House of Spirits by Isabel Allende. Smith's use of magical realism in this passage captures the dream-like quality often experienced during moments of profound insight.

To answer the question directly, Smith's description could be classified as surrealism, a type of art or literature in which disparate and dream-like elements form the basis for an exploration of imagination. In this case, she uses her vivid imagery to confront issues such as time, identity, and mortality. Therefore, what Patti is doing here can't really be reduced to one particular trope; it belongs more broadly within the magical realism genre.

Into this we can also consider the implications of Smith's reference to Jefferson Airplane. This well-known band had a sound and energy associated with rebellion, exploration, and transformation—all themes that are present in her writing here. Thus, it could be argued that there is intentional symbolism threaded throughout this passage, which allows readers to interpret certain elements as either literal or metaphorical depending on their own interpretations.

As for what they ride in, there is debate on this. Some argue that Patti rides the Jefferson Airplane in a metaphorically-understood sense by using it as symbolic of her own soaring ambitions and ambitions to fly away from reality; while others suggest she literally gets into something else once at Atlantic Avenue because vans are not airplanes. Ultimately, Smith leaves us with enough room for interpretation so we can make up our minds about what happens before or during their ride down Atlantic Avenue—did they get on an airplane? A van? Something different altogether?

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