A Smudge and a Bird

I was watching reruns recently of my favorite show, ‘The West Wing’. There’s a scene in one of the last few episodes where the character Toby Ziegler, once a powerful figure at the White House, is now awaiting prison for a security leak. He is incredibly idealistic and the conscience of the West Wing. Now he’s reduced to sitting in his apartment waiting for punishment, so he starts rereading and comparing different copies of the Constitution (believe me, this is his idea of fun!). He notices a place where in some copies there’s a comma and in other copies not. It changes the meaning of the sentence, so he calls up and has someone check the original. He’s told, yes, there is a comma. Or is it a smudge? They’re not sure.

This is a kite

This reminds me of the famous Freudian analysis of Leonardo Da Vinci’s childhood, which, no matter  what else you think of Freud (in my case, not

This is a vulture

much) is fatally flawed because of a mistranslated word in a document he used in his research on Da Vinci. In one of Freud’s interpretations, he extrapolates from a childhood incident with a vulture that it is a symbolic remembrance of suckling at his mother’s breast, and interprets the memory as a fantasy with mythological connotations. All of this is moot, because it is based on a translation error where the word was for the bird  ‘kite’ instead of ‘vulture’.

What I learn from all this is how easy it is to say the wrong thing or build an intellectual edifice based on a small mistake. It makes one almost terrified to put any thoughts down.  I probably should reread this blog a few dozen more times.


4 Responses to A Smudge and a Bird

  1. Maybe the fear of putting words down is what kept you in blog block! I’m so glad you’re back to releasing your thoughts to the world, Rog.

    It is amazing how the tiniest changes make a difference in meaning. Perhaps instead of fearing it, we should feel the joy that our words have such power. Embrace the force 🙂

  2. First of all, Roger, I LOVE The West Wing and remember that last Season and ALL Episodes from that Season well. It did not seem far-fetched at all that Toby ended up in jail and that when he did, obsessed over a comma or possible smudge.

    Okay, back to topic at hand. What you post about is one of my favorite things to explore when writing. How people project their prejudices and limited perspective onto something that means nothing of the kind… In the end it all comes down to Fear and the demons that plague us.

    That’s my take on it anyway. And like Jeanne, I’m delighted you have decided to share your thoughts once again. Keep posting!

  3. Brenda says:

    Hallelujah! It’s an actual post. Be not afraid, my friend. I used to obsess over every tiny thing, and I eventually realized perfection is not a realistic goal. If someone misinterprets your meaning, that can make for some highly entertaining and enlightening conversations. Tuck your keyboard firmly under your arm and come run with scissors!

  4. Tom Knapp says:

    Reminds me of one of my fav. quotes from college reading:
    “We must take it as an unavoidable fact, … that there are more topics desirable for knowledge than any one person can possibly acquire.  It is hopeless to approach the problem by the way of enumeration of subjects which every one ought to have mastered.  There are too many of them, all with excellent title-deeds.  Perhaps, after all, this plethora of material is fortunate; for the world is made interesting by a delightful ignorance of important truths.” — Alfred North Whitehead (Aims of Ed. 1929)

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