Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Strangely Apt Misreadings

Do you ever find yourself misreading a sign, purely by accident? Yesterday on the way back from La Crosse I stopped off at a Kwik Trip for gas. And here's how, at first glance, I read the sign on the gas pump:
WARNING— It is unnatural and dangerous to dispense gasoline into disapproved containers.

Of course, on second glance, actually that read:
WARNING— It is illegal and dangerous to dispense gasoline into unapproved containers.

I like my misreading better. The novelist Walker Percy wrote an interesting essay on "metaphor as mistake." Someone mistold him that a certain bird was a "blue-dollar hawk." Percy was disappointed when he learned the bird was actually called a "blue-darter hawk": "blue-dollar" seemed so much more apt than "blue-darter."

In one of his better-known poems, Dylan Thomas wrote:
Altarwise by owl-light in the half-way house
The gentleman lay graveward with his furies;
Abaddon in the hangnail cracked from Adam,
And, from his fork, a dog among the fairies,
The atlas-eater with a jaw for news,
Bit out the mandrake with to-morrow's scream.

But what was Thomas saying? A poet has to hit the bullseye only a handful of times in his career, to be considered a great poet. But what sort of bullseye is it, that is characterized by what we would ordinarily call missing the target altogether? There is a certain kind of poetry (some people don't care for it, but I'm not one of them) which works, and succeeds, by trafficking heavily in "metaphor as mistake." What in the world is going on here?

Meanwhile, remember, It is unnatural and dangerous to dispense gasoline into disapproved containers.



Blogger Chris Reid said...

Sadly, when I read the title of this post, I immediately thought it was going to be about apt-get error logs or something. And even sadder yet, I was disappointed when it wasn't.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004 4:35:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

LOL! Maybe in my case, urpmi error logs??! Speaking of which, I have Mandrake 10.1 Official on order. When it arrives, and/or when I get past Thanksgiving, I'm gonna install it on my ThinkPad. You'll be able to read all about it, right here. Stay tuned. :)

Wednesday, November 17, 2004 5:42:00 PM  

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