On not getting the joke

Item: as I recall the old article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, an autistic student failed a question on an exam because the question was based on a joke. The student reacted by asking a court to require every assignment written for him to be strictly fact-based, with no humor or other figurative use of language allowed.

Item: to date, my only contribution to the letters page of the TLS responded to a review by A. N. Wilson of a book about the controversial British politician Shirley Porter. Porter’s father was the founder of the giant retail chain Tesco, and, as Wilson observed, the “co” stands for Cohen. Having made that observation, Wilson then took it Python (“Wink wink nudge nudge know what I mean know what I mean?”) and generated a sentence which tried so hard to shriek “I hate Jews” and “I hate Israel” in the same breath that it exploded in a spit-spray of ungrammatical incoherence.

I pointed that out to the readers of the TLS. Back from the United Kingdom came a handwritten aerogram accusing me of antisemitism.

Item: an artist who articulates the connection between item 1 and item 2 is Eli Valley, creator of Stuart the Jewish Turtle. It’s true about Stuart, and it’s sad: we don’t very often talk to the people before us. All we hear and all we respond to, most of the time, is the autistic echo inside our own shells.

http://forward.com/articles/14860/stuart-the-jewish-turtle/

Item: in his glass box, to himself, Stuart the Jewish Turtle grumbled “Goddamn antisemites!” during the last months of the George W. Bush administration. Items 1 and 2 above are even older. (Reader, when was the last time you received an aerogram?) But now I’m going to be coy and vague about something that appeared on the Net just last night. Its blurred outline looks like this.

The author of a comic strip I’ve enjoyed for its irony announced, in his opening panel, that his strip had lost its syndication. The rest of the strip was ironic about people too unsophisticated to appreciate irony. I appreciated the strip and sent it approvingly along to a graduate student. But then, for the first time ever, I looked at the author’s blog.

The author turns out to be heavily involved in his small town’s politics. One of his blogposts about that reproduces a handwritten note politely asking him to try to keep his emotions under control in meetings, followed by a handwritten reply ordering the writer of the note never to speak to him again. In another blogpost, the author reproaches his fellow citizens for upsetting him so badly that he had a stroke which left him blind in one eye. And a third post, quite a long one, is the author’s agonized analysis of the love and hate he feels for Holden Caulfield.

Oh poor guy.

And I thought I was getting a sophisticated joke.

There’s probably a moral to this story, and it’s probably cautionary. But now I’m not sure I know what it might be.

 

 

Homophony, metaphor, and visualization: the problem of scale

In the comment stream following an article here about cyberbullying,

http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=bullies-turn-cyberspace-sour-13-05-11

someone writes, “Social media could be seen as a sort of petri dish for studying the methods and morays of such individuals.”

About which, two images.

From my former life, a petri dish full of bacterial colonies, with a human hand to show scale:

From my present life on a reef-girded island, a moray (photograph not by me):

And on behalf of language and its property of evoking visual imagery, a song of joy:

O tempora! My hovercraft (as M. Python once exclaimed) is full of eels!