Saturday, November 2, 2013

James Thurber: It takes away from the beauty of the flowers anyway

Humorist and cartoonist James Thurber, Dec. 8, 1894-Nov. 2, 1961. Very funny man. Famously bad eyesight. I appreciate the several levels of meaning in this bit of humor:

(Credit: Wiki Commons)
I passed all the other courses that I took at my University, but I could never pass botany. This was because all botany students had to spend several hours a week in a laboratory looking through a microscope at plant cells, and I could never see through a microscope. I never once saw a cell through a microscope. This used to enrage my instructor. He would wander around the laboratory pleased with the progress all the students were making in drawing the involved and, so I am told, interesting structure of flower cells, until he came to me. I would just be standing there. “I can’t see anything,” I would say. He would begin patiently enough, explaining how anybody can see through a microscope, but he would always end up in a fury, claiming that I could too see through a microscope but just pretended that I couldn’t. “It takes away from the beauty of flowers anyway,” I used to tell him. “We are not concerned with beauty in this course,” he would say. “We are concerned solely with what I may call the mechanics of flars.” “Well,” I’d say, “I can’t see anything.” “Try it just once again,” he’d say, and I would put my eye to the microscope and see nothing at all, except now and again a nebulous milky substance—a phenomenon of maladjustment. You were supposed to see a vivid, restless clockwork of sharply defined plant cells. “I see what looks like a lot of milk,” I would tell him. This, he claimed, was the result of my not having adjusted the microscope properly, so he would readjust it for me, or rather, for himself. And I would look again and see milk.

                                         --James Thurber, from My Life and Hard Times

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