Sine Qua Nonsense

Encoded Messages on a Whiteboard

Shortly before Thanksgiving break, a new phenomenon appeared in the graduate student computer lab. Elaborate stories were drawn on the whiteboard, ever changing, always evolving. Supposedly, this was a collaborative piece of cartoonish graduate student art. In reality, it was a serious critique of academe.

The original drawing depicted higher education as leading to debt, a Sea of Precarity (a synonym for precariousness coined by Mark Deuze) and, at best, semi-permanent work, or, at worst, unemployment. It also showed Michelle Funk as God and a planeload of graduate students from Far East Asia, the Middle East and Southern Europe headed towards a cliff. This is clearly a feminist, post-colonial critique of some sort. Either that or it is a display of narcissism and xenophobia.

The current version of the whiteboard mural just might include even more subversive messages. It shows graduate school as a castle, accessible only through the Bridge of Recommendation which hangs above the “committee croc”-infested Moat of Admissions. Students are rebelling against an establishment which pits them against each other like gladiators during admissions season.

Inside, there is an amphitheater filled with representations of superficial popular culture, like rap (in the form of Senia Borden’s DJ SenSen and Dan Levy’s version of 2 Chainz), modern humor and consumerism (the latter two in the form of me standing atop The Pillar of Comic Relief with a magical wand in my hand and a bottle of Coca-Cola at my feet – none of which was drawn by me, by the way). High culture is nowhere to be seen. Shakespeare, Mozart and Tony Soprano have fallen from grace.

There are also unidentified souls of graduate students past roaming the castle and one current student is trapped by his first name as he asks to be called by his middle name. Names are nothing but cages of preconceived notions, tools by which society determines who you are for you, but at the same time, without a denotative label you are nobody. Confusing, isn’t it?

I am ambivalent about this whiteboard. On the one hand, it shares a subversive spirit with my own underground posts. As such, my ego would like to take undeserved credit for the anti-establishment messages. On the other hand, it has produced an unhealthy arms race of wits – a wit-off, if you will.


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