Wednesday, February 17, 2010

interpretive reading

The greatest puzzle posed by the writing on a door on the staircase down to the basement in Murray Hall is whether or not these two imperatives are to be read in conjunction with one another, or not. For if one posits some logical connection, then a pattern of cause and effect - most likely allegorical cause and effect - is set up. "Watch your step" - the demand always to be cautious, to look before one leaps, swallow before one speaks, to keep an eye open for pitfalls (and I don't just mean worn treads on Murray's stairs), to be alert to the fact that the world is a dangerous place, to mind one's back, to be careful to whom one's talking about whom - yes, indeed, if one lives in such a world of hyper self-protection, one might well go crazy - or at the very best, lose all sense of one's identity. But if there is no deliberate link, then the officialese of the command that has been stenciled in bold lettering loses something of its force: it seems rigid, artificial - by contrast, the deliberate casual felt tip, the vernacular script adds a sense of authenticity to the smaller, more modest inscription. An aura of intelligence and education is lent, moreover, by the Greekness of the capital E (and then undermined, of course, by the dot on the capital "I," which I somehow long ago internalized as being a sign of illiteracy).

Or alternatively, "Lose Your Mind" could just be a warning as to what will happen if you go down to the bowels of Murray (though losing one's self, literally, in its maze, is even more likely) - an admonition against what education might do to you. For - and to prove it, I've just been typing out this deliberate gibberish without pause - one might learn a super-proficiency in close reading - but one needs to learn to think what to do with it, other than - as here - hope to entertain. To a great extent, that's going to be the huge challenge for those of us in the months and years ahead: demonstrate why what we do is useful, and not just fun, or self-indulgent, and seemingly pointless.

1 comment:

  1. I saw this today and I had very similar thoughts. It was a funny discovery brightening my morning in the deep labyrinth that is the Murray basement.