Can I Build off Your Point?
AFFIRMATIVE By Isaiah Bennet
Oh god yes, Desmond, you sugar-tongued devil, you. Build on, my dear, though I fear the bloated corpse of my pitiful point may provide a poor foundation. There was never any need for you to ask. I have prayed for this day, for you to speak, to correct my boyish naiveté. I defer to you. I have no doubt that through the majesty of your dialectic, the truth will come out. Every word you speak ravishes me, pinpricking my skin syllable by syllable. I have heard it said that the truth can be uncomfortable, but when you speak I feel nothing but pleasure. But allow me to explain myself:
Since the earliest days of my youth, I have been enchanted by truth … I dreamed only of coming to Columbia University—this bastion of scholarly wonder—in the hope that I might learn among the best and brightest of America’s fifth most highly ranked undergraduate institution. I imagined that enshrined in these ancient halls and storied streets I would find the wisdom I sought. I expected the very concrete to glisten, the bright insights of our predecessors to be embedded like gemstones into the rock. But I was a fool. My aspirations, though noble, were wrongly directed. The mechanisms I had hoped would bring my dreams of wisdom to fruition have been revealed to be nothing but lies.
I am nothing more than an apprentice, an aspiring learner; I am prone to mistakes. Foolishly, I voyaged to this institution as a scholarly pupa, hoping that I would one day be metamorphosed into a voluptuous nymph of knowledge. But it is not the structures, stories, or staff of Columbia that can offer me true knowledge, Desmond; it is only you. Only you can bring about my evolution, complete my being, deliver me unto Nirvana.
Misled and mistreated, I was tricked down the bread-crumb trail of academia. I had thought that my efforts would be best spent laboring under the great minds of this institution, but I was wrong. But fate brought me to this Art Humanities class, Desmond. Fate brought me to you. Your beauteous words grant knowledge in shivering gasps. Your words are sparks, flying high through the sky, burning brightly over the heads of the ignorant masses, lighting the blackest of nights. And here, here in this Schermerhorn classroom, they have finally found me. They tiptoe into my mind, burning straight through the fallacy and failure in which I once held faith. Your words, they fill the darkest depths of my mind with truth universal.
How fitting i t is that today we study Titian. His adoring dedication to the boyish yet corruptible kurios is well honored in your presence. Perhaps your form provides some explanation for your wisdom; a beautiful mind befitting a beautiful man. It astounds me that a head so great can be matched by the finely crafted pedestal on which it stands. Your polyester-blend polo softly cradles your supple torso; its softness a fine contrast to the sharply defined abdominals that I can only imagine hide below. When you raised your hand just moments ago, your proverbial ‘adonis belt’ exposed itself to me, a scintillating and enticing invitation to further explore what is hidden: the man in the clothes, and the mind within the man.
But I have lost myself. Where were we? The answer to your question is yes. Take my point. It is yours. Correct me, and do with it—or me—as you may. Should I faint during your sagacious soliloquy, know that it was not for lack of interest, but rather the total failure of my inferior intellectual constitution. Speak on, you wonderful creature.
NEGATIVE By Alex Swanson
Hmm? Let me think about it. You know, as I was walking to this class, and as I cut across Butler lawn, a lone leaf fell my way and landed quite perfectly in the palm of my hand. I recalled that time back in Battersea Park—oh, how long it’s been since those aquatint days—when my mother fished from my hood a stray sycamore leaf that had gotten lost on its lapsarian voyage. “Stewart,” she said in her tulip-bud voice, “do you know what this means?” “No,” I said with boyish timidity. “It means,” she began, drawing me into her warm, maternal bosom, “that you are a very lucky boy; for whenever a leaf falls your way it is marking you for a day of great joy…”
…Such then was my thought, strolling to the end of Butler lawn, that this class was going to be honeysweet, that the next hour and fifty minutes were to be cheered by the light giggle of lady luck. You just fucked up that hope. With one meager attempt at augmenting your ten percent participation grade, you have spat on the cherished words of my dear mother, and shattered a whole life of happy fallen-leaf-to-good-memory connections. I hope you feel sanctified; I hope you feel you can now brag to your family friends next time they come over for roasted chicken and olive dip.
I once saw a bird perched atop an oaken branch. It was a beautiful sight: silken sunlight cascading down a saffroned back of radiant plumage. This moment is nothing like that! I start the class with a lovely point about Titian’s aged use of sfumato, about the fog and haziness of his scattered brush hairs, while you sit idle, perched behind a pointlessly expensive, marbled S’well bottle and peruse videos of ferrets munching funnel cake on your MacBook Air. Then, as I crescendo my comment with a deft reference to the upper left corner of Venus and Adonis, your ears perk up, no doubt stirred by the coming of an inconvenient Facebook ad. You adjust yourself, rearrange your glasses, pick up a pen, wave it around slowly; you ruffle some pages in your notebook, begin to look like you’re coming to a conclusion. And then you look at me, you gaze at me up and down, drinking in the candor of my well-rolled light-wash jeans, soaking up the architectural poise of my soliloquy. But no, it’s not to admire me (as I thought it might be); it’s to manipulate, to use my scholarly musings to your end, to dismantle my point, piece by prescient piece, and find a way to taint it with your half-finished shitstorm of a point. You’ll probably talk about how you like it because it has some “texture”—what the fuck does that even mean—you find enticing. Or maybe you’ll find a way to apply some postmodern, irrelevant reading to it which the professor will be obliged to entertain. Burn in hell. No one cares about you or your opinions—not even Franklin…
I miss that leaf, those gilded hours. I miss the prospect of a good day. I miss professionalism and courtesy. I miss mother…. So no, do not “build off my point.” I hate you and I hate that god-awful turn of phrase. Like you and like your proposed comment, it doesn’t make any sense.