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The Scarlet & Black

Four thousand trips to the JRC with a stack of books

I did a bit of math, dear reader.

The average Grinnell body will walk or dance its way to the JRC roughly four thousand times before leaving this place. (Did Saint Cyril walk as much?) My proposition: this trek is remolded as we remold ourselves and our bodies, and thus might serve as some piece of a synecdoche of what this place is for.

Here is an image: For the first five hundred or so walks to the JRC, we were often bent over by the weight of books. In our messenger bags, thick “contextless” journal articles provided three sentence familiarities with weighty names (the kind of names which cause slight bodily reactions when they fall from the mouth of the speaker). Books were time thieves. Textbooks dragged down shoulders—and perhaps those same shoulders twitched with discomfort at the face of oncoming strangers, as if the bodies of others somehow caused our bodies to shrink or shift, as if the approach of others necessitated an evaluation of oneself. (I’ve been thinking by myself: do others exist?) And perhaps our same bodies still clutched to some pre-molded prediction or expectation of what college would entail, dreaming of previous dreams. (Mercutio might know a thing or two about dreaming up false expectations.) And perhaps all this happens before you are aware that a walk is actually happening.
Five or six hundred trips to the JRC float by. What changes?

One: the weight of the books on your shoulders has lessened, or changed. This pursuit of justifying or understanding the weight of those books is, in one sense, an endeavor for the duration of this column, so I’ll be satisfied if I don’t answer Thrasymachus fully right now. But perhaps it should be said outright: is the compulsive completion of every reading assignment for the sake of some guilt complex truly more important than the internalization and analysis of those claims or words we are struck by, halted by, pierced by—those words which Prof. Andrews (and Rilke) would say, “must change our lives?” Books must not be time-thieves.

Two: Republic begins outside; those passing interactions are an opportunity for the presence of another to be felt and responded to; even the most exploding and crammed heads are forced—yes forced!—to make room for the presence of others. Thank a person once, or twice, for holding the door of Noyce; we must just be there, see the person, feel their weight on a soul or by means of combined synaptic transmissions, and respond in a way that reveals our liveliness, our presence. This is an endeavor for a lifetime. When I pass you in the loggia, I’ll try not to pretend to be fascinated by the texture of my gloves. I’ll at least try to smile. (If you think I smile because I’d love some sex, or a game of curdled milk, then that’s a separate problem.) Besides: if you uplift my body with your smile, does that pleasure truly belong to an entirely separate, subsumed category of pleasure than that of a late night undertaking?

Three: Idealized love killed Mr. Montague. If Grinnell is not “college,” then this should whisper a few things (if of course we pause our pursuit of the JRC to listen.) Where did our previous ideas of college come from, and how did they arrive? Thus need we act to make Grinnell more like “college,” or was “college” rather an unreal dream, a gift of Queen Mab? And, once more, if the same word “college” can conceal such entirely different references within such a short period of time, what meanings might lurk silently behind our words?

Four: We are on a walk, or our bodies are. So: walk. You need not walk in order to get “somewhere”: what is “somewhere” but an invention of a mind which has such a supply of ready-made barbells to hang from the necks of moments of time? Somewhere will be much more magical if we enjoy the trip there.

I was reading the Marketplace Messenger the other day, carefully filing it away next to every issue published since 2008, and I fell on these words: “Trust yourself. Every heart vibrates to that iron string.”

-Eric Ritter ’12

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    Eric RitterMar 9, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    Oh man this is soooo cooolll