My research had previously indicated the existence of a single word which obviates the artist (writer, painter, sculptor, etc.)’s responsibility in matters of clarity. When asked any question about any aspect of his art, the artist may successfully respond, “Exactly.” For example, I once read a candy wrapper at a series of colloquia, “A Little to the Left: The Hermeneutics of Discomfort.” I had been asked to contribute to the proceedings of the event, and had forgotten to compile any data regarding anything of even the remotest interest to the attendees. After walking to the microphone, completely unprepared, I reached into my pocket and found a piece of some indeterminate chocolate candy. I chewed noisily into the microphone for about 3 minutes, licked my fingers, and began to read the wrapper in its entirety—ingredients, advertising tidbits, various warnings, etc. Since my talk was supposed to last 45 minutes, I stood and stared expectantly at the crowd, as if waiting for the glorious spark of comprehension in their eyes. Half an hour or so later, several of the listeners stood to leave. One of them raised his hand. He seemed upset.

“What the hell is this supposed to be?

I smiled benevolently, implying “I forgive you for your ignorance.”

He looked around for support, which he quickly gained from his herringboned compatriot, who piped, “All you did was read a damn candy wrapper…preposterous!”

This was the cue I had been praying for, “Lord,” I had said silently only a moment before, “Let someone speak the absolute truth, so I can make him pay for it.” The lord had replied, in the form of my two gentleman inquisitors, “Verily, Let it be so.”

I waited a moment for the “preposterous” to die down. When the last ripples of the outburst lapped the edges of the entrance hall, I responded,


My tone made it clear that I was relieved someone had seen the truth in my work. Someone had been listening.

“Thank you,” I said, as I smashed my open hand into the lectern for dramatic effect. “Thank you, I am glad someone was listening.”

I was simultaneously elated and heartbroken by what followed. As a scientist, one is always glad to see theory predict behaviour accurately. However, when the behaviour is ridiculous or otherwise contrary to what one wishes were the case in his heart of hearts, a certain sadness may intrude. Rather than be thought ignorant or unworthy of my message (which was apparently very important since it was heavily symbolic…turgid with hidden messages) the crowd began to applaud. By the time I left the lecture, discussion groups were already forming and I had received two offers for visiting professorships. I eventually wrote a series of essays for personal use on the power of “exactly” and its immediate corollary, “Does that make you uncomfortable?”