Friday, June 12, 2009

Less Than Nothing

Picture this: A concrete abutment adjoining a railroad overpass, the concrete polished and new, in contrast to the rugged, rusted iron of the CSX railroad bridge over West Fayette Street, Syracuse, New York. Spray-painted in black upon this otherwise pristine urban whiteboard is a graffito of one word, perhaps one foot high, a yard wide:

N O T H I N G

But what catches my eye is the gestalt of nothing, for the graffito is a piece of urban design, if you will, that adds by subtraction. Each of those seven letters is less than a letter; each letter is truncated, almost overcome by silence and absence (and who isn't overcome now and then by silence or absence?). My eyes are caught because at first glance I don't see a word but a modern urban hieroglyphic. I am arrested. I must stop and figure it out.

Oh, you say, show us a photo, Pawlie. Show and tell!

Too easy.

Picture an N that almost looks like an upside-down V; an O reminiscent of a U; an H -- oh, stop! I can't tell you. I don't precisely remember. I cannot recount with confidence. Come on out and see this sub-nihilist shrine for yourself.

So, who is the author, the designer of Less Than Nothing?

And what is he or she or they trying to tell us? (I should not be so presumptuous: "tell me.")

And is Less Than Nothing more sublime, more alluring than nothingness itself?

(Nothing has its semantic merits, as in signifying no-thing. The English language is great like that, as also demonstrated by the word atonement, at-one-ment.)

I keep telling you. The signs are there for us to see, and interpret.


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