Monday, March 24, 2014

Chapter 4: Ellendale

"Varun. Metaphors. Beautiful things aren't they?"
"The poets are our optometrists."
"Will you please grant me membership to the library of your thoughts? Oh what unread philosophical conquests await the avid student in those unforgivingly thick volumes? What melancholic poetry sits gathering dust in those bending shelves? What terrible realities lay veiled in the guise of fiction? What divine Mathematics hides in those cavernous depths where men before me were loathe to tread? What Theology sits reserved exclusively for the cathedral of your soul?"
"If poets are our optometrists, you are my cataract Vladimir."
"Be cruel all you want. But I am in love Varun! In thick, viscous, adhesive love!"
"I hope for your sake and to a greater extent mine that this doesn't go unrequited."
"Varun, you should behold this angel's touch on numbers. I feel like a virgin around her when she derives. She calculates frugally, simplifies daringly and abstracts mercilessly. What may seem like the empty imitations of some creepy Dirac-Fan-Club president, to judgmental fools, when she invents symbols to encapsulate her various thoughts, but to the trained and patient eye, what awaits is a colossal statue whose everything upward of the waist remains in the clouds; Berniniesque balls hanging and all. Certainly her ability with symbol manipulation must mean she has an eye for symbolism in literature! And you know perhaps better than I do, that such a mind is incapable of boredom. Theoretically. Her mind must be a whirlwind of the most sublime, the most enraptured thoughts Varun. I can feel it! I can hear the harp in her head! She is the unity slash singularity slash proverbial one!"
"Holy Jovian Vortices Vladimir! Have you told her this? Minus the Bernini balls part?"
"No. I will disclose all this in an appropriate sonnet."
"Sonnet. You make me wonder sometimes if you're hopeful or dopeful."
"Light me another Varun. I want to share something with you."
"Anything as long as you spare me the eye surgery."
"I said something to a student today and he responded by helping himself to a generous portion of umbrage."
"What did you say?"
"I asked him to work hard."
"He broke into song about how life had dealt him a tough set of cards and how his self-made republican father had always demanded the unadultrated best and how being an undergraduate here is really hard with all the unfairly analytical subjects that expose all kinds of voids in an undergrad - intellectual and, perhaps ergo, emotional - which they aren't really equipped to handle given a preponderance of lousy teachers in high school and a current roster of apathetic slash zombified professors accompanied by subpar yet headstrong sidekick TAs and so on and so on."
"And you responded to all this with some "work hard" aphorism which is always prone to be perceived, here in the United States of Never Wrong and Exceptional  Tweens as insensitive, snobbish and coming from you, Soviet?"
"I call such events sub-zero slip-ups."
"You make me feel like that girl from Inception whose only purpose in the movie was to keep the audience in the loop by asking the most obvious questions."
"The fuck is a sub-zero slip-up?"
"Remember the first Mortal Combat movie? Combat with a K?"
"There is a memorable fight scene. Liu Kang Vs Sub-Zero. Liu Kang is this Chinese Kung-fu fighter defending the realm of Earth while Sub-Zero is one of the mercenaries of Shao Khan, this insanely strong inter-cosmic tyrant who likes fighting all the time; never dies but simply exiles himself upon defeat."
"I know Vladimir. I spent retarded amounts of time and dollars on plastic gamepads and pixelated blood."
"So in this scene, Liu Kang tries delivering some Shaolin love where the moon don't shine but Sub-Zero is light-footed like a ballerina and evades all the incoming blows. Remember also that Sub-Zero can turn things into ice by simply touching them while Liu Kang needs to be sufficiently enraged to shoot a modest albeit difficult to reckon with ball of fire."
"Seriously Vlad. Puberty through college, I was unhealthily infatuated with female video game characters, making me want to beat them up with every male soldier, cyborg, samurai, sorcerer, psycopath, sadist and savant. I couldn't process real life the way a normal teen would. I know all of Mortal Combat. Combat with a K."
"That means you will certainly recall that after a couple minutes of cries, grunts and evasions, Sub-Zero distances himself from our befuddled Buddhist and gets into a kind of squat, commencing to channel the forces of comic book nature in an effort to create a hemispherically expanding field of ultra low Temperature, threatening to turn our oriental hero into a polar zero. Kitana who Liu Kang has some PG rated hots for, walks in at this point and cryptically instructs him to "use the element that brings life", reducing the fight to a second grader's riddle."
"I remember all this with scarily vivid clarity. Isn't there a conveniently placed bucket of water some place?"
"Yes! Which Mr. Chow-Mein grabs and starts rotating about an axis perpendicular to his side profile, with a centrifugal force that keeps the water from spilling out. And while Sub-Zero is still summoning, rather greedily, more and more energy to create a large hemisphere of some fiercely low entropy around him, Liu hurls the bucket at him, which the water leaves and enters the aforementioned hemispherical field turning into a spear. The spear accelerates towards the hemisphere's center, where Sub-Zero spends his last few microseconds stupidly gaping at the inevitable. The Beast from the East emerges victorious, the scene giving the viewer some sort of Buddhist-wisdom-trumps-typical-American-bigger-is-better-stupidity vibe. "
"What is the relevance Vladimir! What is the metaphor?!"
"The metaphor reveals itself when you pay attention to the way we human beings converse: We are constantly creating such force fields around ourselves in some desperate attempt to fortify against the unknown. Force-fields that change sometimes the very structure of incoming matter to reassure us of our positions and to obliterate or at best, dilute the words of our interlocutors."
"When I say something with the most Gandhian intent, it could be perceived as violent by those of us with very sensitive force-fields. Conversely, when I utter the kind of bigotry you'd expect from a red-neck, it could be perceived as a joyful expression of camaraderie! It is a different matter to peel apart the origins of our force-fields. They may come from surrounding culture slash educational traditions slash instinctive prejudices. But the point is that we must disarm ourselves from time to time so we can appraise something for what it is and not what it ought to seem like for if not, like Sub-zero, it will prove to be our undoing. The world maybe so badly misunderstood thanks to our automatic personal force-fields, that we can never get to the bottom of anything. The Truth will simply laugh at us, her mirth sounding so faint and distant, it becomes indistinguishable from noise."
"Are you saying that you should have been more sensitive to your student's position while at the same time he should have been more sensitive to yours? Did both of you Sub-Zero slip?"
"Precisely Varun! We must try and meet half-way and arrive at the truth together."
"You are full of fantasy today."
"Am I?"
"Yes you are. You are in thick, viscous, adhesive, eewy, guey love. For it is only when one is in love that he slash she must necessarily surrender his slash her singular view of the world and instead adopt the point of view of two."
"You melt me Varun."
"Eew. Pull yourself together man."
"I can't. I'm Melting..."


Seeker of Truth said...

Euclid alone saw beauty bare . Vladimir tries. Trying maybe a good thing.

Seeker of Truth said...

On a serious note, here's a question pertaining to real-life TA-ing. Would better outcomes than those that result from saying "You should work harder!" be possible if one were instead to say, "This topic might demand more work than some others we have seen earlier." or "In the previous batch, students said they had to work twice as hard for this."? Framing in terms of the behavior of people considered equals, rather than the counsel of an 'outsider' TA, might have effects similar to other instances of peer-influenced behavior .