Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Fuel

April 1 comes to us with a cachet unlike any other holiday; it arrives bringing the glorious sense of anticipation that we acting as the individual I will be however momentarily led to believe something that is not true. Perhaps close enough to the truth to be plausible, perhaps so preposterous that the belief in it's plausibility makes us--I, me--the quintessential April Fool.

Built into the news reports or an otherwise no-nonsense political blog this morning was such an attempt at April Fool hoax, something of the order one might expect of The Onion, which is balanced on the fulcrum of irony and satire. The gist of the hoax had the effect of shooting fish in a barrel; it involved the incumbent president of the United States who, for some of us, each day of the past seven years could be seen as April 1.

My own favorite hoax was perpetrated by Mark Twain in what purported to be a new story, describing a scientific discovery, that of the human remains of a man, discovered in the tailing's of a mine operation. The subject of the story was described in some objective detail, a limb here, a digit there. 

 Only when taking in the entire set of circumstances was the reader able to piece together the remarkable fact that this petrified man, this relic of the past, lay in repose with the thumb of his right hand joined to his nose, the fingers of his right hand splayed to the full, the little finger of the right hand joined to the thumb of the left hand, the fingers of the left hand splayed. Thus was the petrified man discovered, thumbing his nose at those of us who waited for and were willing to accept this miraculous discovery.

It is no small thing to await, seek, embrace the miraculous, to have faith in the possibilities of remarkable discovery or invention. It is no small thing to believe in the collective mind of mankind as the most remarkable bit of machinery ever evolved from the more primitive guidance systems. It is no small thing to be able to look through some lens, whether it be the lens of the Hubble Telescope or the lens of a poet's imagination.

One of the more immediate responses to being the butt of a hoax, to be seen as having bought into something of utter preposterousness of nature, is indignation and the admittedly human reflex of swatting back with insult and self-assertion, as indeed we sometimes swat at flies, who are, after all, merely doing what they were designed to do. We invoke the awe and wonderment of the young, with their love of fantasy, stuffed animals, imaginary friends, and dreams come true, as though these had been denied us by the hoax that had so recently claimed us. 

 Yet we view these same young sensitivities with a patronage that borders on self-congratulation. Just wait, we say. They'll find out. Thus do we make cynicism a rite of passage. Welcome to the world of the ordinary, where there are no miracles. Or worse--where the miracles adults believe in have rendered them so defensive that they strike out at every permutation of the true miracles about us, which miracles open the potential for human experience rather than limit it.

It is fast moving toward noon. I have as yet not done my notes for today's lecture. Much less have I looked at student papers. Nor have I, to my knowledge, bit on an April Fool's hoax. But in that sense, the day is still young with possibility. Sally, who enjoys burying things, has made a claim on an April 1 joke by burying a piece of turkey skin given her for breakfast between the cushions of the living room sofa. Her 3 a.m. barking may have been a warning of real danger, or an early start on a hoax. Both events are good reasons for having a dog about, and good reminders that no matter if you are the target, the innocent bystander, or the launcher of the missile, the arrow of hoax is one of the keys to survival in this world where the President of the United States reminds us with some regularity of how easy it is for us to be had.

1 comment:

lettuce said...

i didn't know the mark twain story - how excellent.

i wonder where the turkey skin is now....