Thursday, March 16, 2006


An old friend disappeared for more than ten years,then resurfaced, thinner and quieter and utterly sapped of her former vitality. She winces when spoken to and wears foam earplugs on the street. I asked her where she had been.
She told me that she had lost her mind, as a result of her graduate studies in literature, which she has permanently abandoned. Her doctoral dissertation was to have been on the 'saturation hypothesis', a theory of her own devising which held that every word in a work of literature, far from having one or two most likely meanings, meant everything that any reader could make of it, and that each supposed meaning was of equal value to all others. This theory, she said, dovetailed with other current literary theories that gave more power to critics and less to writers, who tended to write with finite intentions.
However, the intensity of her study had caused her, unconsciously, to apply her theory to all words, even (and perhaps especially) those she encountered outside the realm of literature: indeed, road signs, personal conversations, song lyrics and even her own thoughts were fair game. The word swelled with meaning, and the more meaning she identified, the more she became convinced existed outside her immediate perception. Soon she had come to believe in plots against her and the presence of otherworldly interlopers in her life, and she checked in to a mental hospital for treatment.
J.R. Lennon, "Koan", Pieces for the left hand, 187-88.


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