One day a fencer huffed down the hallway, banged his sword loudly against the wall and chewed his lips bloody. He had lost a game. He dropped the dulled metal sword he was carrying clangingly onto the floor. The instrument collided with some other athlete’s hockey stick, and the two poles lay crossed like an ex. The fencer stormed off then, never knowing what sort of an impact he had just made.
Now another man entered the scene, with a name worth mentioning––Lemuel Macduff. It was an odd sort of name, and he was an odd sort of man––not dull or unoriginal but shrewd and smart. His acquaintances dared call him “intellectual”––a word that was the key, it seemed, to his success. Macduff entered the corridor where the fencer had huffed, and he noticed the cross of the hockey stick and the fencing sword. His eyes traveled quickly on, at first, until he did a dramatic double take, wobbled on the spot, grasped his woolly black hat, and stared agog at this marvelous wonder.
“Here it is! Here it is!” he repeated, over and over, with worshipful fascination.
Fortunately for the history of art, Macduff was not alone in this hallway. The average passersby witnessed the absolute amazement of the laughing, hat-grasping man, and they collected around him, curious and eager for this bit of information that would make them as wonderfully astounded as he was.
“Here it is!”
“Excuse me––but here is what, sir?” said a fencer in padded uniform.
“My dear boy!” exclaimed Lemuel Macduff. “Here is where perception as we know it will change! As a watcher yourself, as an athlete, I would expect you’d understand the significance of this little cross, this mark! Please, please look closer!” he said, pointing an excited finger at the cross.
The hockey player leaned forward, and saw nothing whatsoever out of the ordinary pile of belongings. But such was the buzz surrounding the scene that he thought he might see something, something special and impressive in this nonevent. “Yeah,” he said, “I see.” It was a safely noncommittal answer which nevertheless expressed the excitement blooming in his chest. Macduff beamed at him.
“I’m sorry, but what’s to see?” a woman in the crowd asked.
“My dear woman,” said Macduff, “it is––a metaphor.” The air stopped buzzing at once at these words and became electrifyingly still. Every person felt a chill from their heads to the tips of their toes. A metaphor! Though they still did not understand, they now knew that they must. The crowd thickened as every spectator craned his or her neck for a better glimpse at the metaphor.
A third spectator spoke. “You,“ she said, gazing at Macduff––“you are an intellectual.”
Another ripple through the crowd at this word. A few people gasped, in surprise and admiration. Macduff bowed deeply, and sensing his work was done, walked off down the hallway. The crowd watched him go with wide eyes.
And soon this hallway was not just any hallway anymore––it was a museum, with one exhibit, and though the fencing sword and hockey stick weren’t maintained by glass or guards, there seemed to be a general agreement among the public that they were not to be touched. The people crept cautiously by. They stared for several minutes, they left with excited bewilderment. And this continued, until a few days after Macduff had been there, when someone in the audience asked––
“What’s this metaphor for, anyway?”
The blasphemous thought was immediately hushed, but the hushers themselves were a bit curious about this, as well, and they all stood there wishing silently that they knew the answer. Then a man spoke up, whose name was Jeremy Wormwood. Wormwood was unusual in that he was uncommonly brave and foolish. He admired Macduff and wished to copy his wisdom. His theory went––
“It is a metaphor because the hockey stick and the fencing sword each stand for their respective games. Both of these games are polished and the rules are preserved and each has a very specific set of equipment, set of followers, set of players. Both are very neat and are respected for being so. But when you drop a carefully administered fencing sword carelessly onto a hockey stick, the two clash––all of the niceness and neatness is disregarded as the two games are combined and compared. This cross questions the polished quality of each game. It stands for harmony in messiness, in togetherness.”
There was a bit of silence. Each person was kind of upset that this sacred metaphor was being so carelessly interpreted. But the words sunk in, and it occurred to each member of the crowd that this interpretation was really quite a swell idea.
Somebody said, “Yeah.”
Somebody said, “What’s your name, young man?”
It wasn’t long before Lemuel Macduff himself had heard of Jeremy Wormwood, “the man who interpreted the metaphor.” He showed up at the exhibit in the hallway, his woolly black hat perched precariously on his scalp. He stood by the crossed sticks and spoke with the flamboyance of the intellectual trying desperately to reach duller ears. The crowd listened, silently.
“I know that you have all heard of Jeremy Wormwood, who famously had his say,” said Macduff. “I am not here to disprove what he has said––I am here to disregard it.” He looked impressively at the audience. “I am afraid that a metaphor cannot be pinpointed to one meaning, to one exact meaning. Each person, in their own mind, has given it meaning. Soak up this mark, but do not spoil it in being so concrete. This is art, my dear people. Art is yours, not Wormwood’s.”
Once more, Macduff left with just enough said, departing mysteriously down the hallway. In his absence, the crowd began to nod their heads.
Soon there were cheers and great rallying cries. It was theirs! In the name of art this was factually correct.
Now there were big searches being made, searches to find this great artist who had dropped the fencing sword onto the hockey stick. He gave the art to us! He gave us metaphor! Descriptions on posters read, “Wanted––a man. Probably a fencer. Probably careless with his belongings. Come to claim prize.”
Again Macduff appeared at the exhibit, which now bore masses upon masses of people, and the crowd cheered him on. “Int-el-lect! Int-el-lect!” they cheered.
“I am in opposition to the hunt for the artist!” Macduff proclaimed.
There were hoots and hollers and whistles and claps.
“The search for authorial intent undermines the organic quality of the metaphor,” he continued.
Several people shouted, “Yeah!” (They had no idea what they were affirming.)
“I give you this, my dear people. Separate the art from the artist,” Macduff finished proverbially, and the crowd went wild.
Most recently a boy named Ron Parry and his family have visited the site of the fencing sword and the hockey stick. Ron’s parents ooh-ed and ah-ed at the site of the ex on the floor. Ron didn’t much like being there––the crowd was big and he was hot and hungry and he didn’t know what all of the fuss was about in the first place.
“So what’s the point of this?” asked Ron. His mother hushed him diligently.
“What? What’s the point? It’s just a bunch of junk that everyone’s looking at.”
“Not another word from you,” said his mother, frantic to have no one overhear her son speaking in such a manner.
“It’s a metaphor, Ronnie,” the boy’s father explained to him in an undertone.
“For whatever you want it to be.”
“Well, I don’t want it to be a metaphor at all.”
“Don’t challenge intellectuals,” said Mr. Parry.
And Ron––why, Ron rolled his eyes.