The Professor’s Process: Misinterpretations #1

[model of the human brain knitted by artist karen norberg, 2007]

[model of the human brain knitted by artist karen norberg, 2007]

One of the creative strategies that The Professor has found to be successful is that of willful misinterpretation [beginning first with the comprehension and interpretation of a subject]. This is a significant topic, one that has impacted The Professor’s own work as well as his way of working, his teaching as well his own learning . Suffice it to say here, The Professor believes that this misinterpretive methodology is as applicable to the design arts as it is to the literary arts.”Getting it wrong just right” was how the late New York-based designer Tibor Kalman put it about his firm M&Co’s own work; among many projects, he was known for his work with Colors magazine [sponsored by Benetton], for his mostly self-produced souvenir-type products, and his music videos [for Talking Heads, and others] in the 1980s.

For today’s purposes, a classic poem [circa 1863] by Emily Dickinson is a candidate for misinterpretation; this could also be thought of as re-hearing the poem via an intentional mondegreen. Sounds and syllables are thereby purposefully misheard by The Professor so as to provide new semantic possibilities; at the same time, there is an attempt to approximate the rhythm and cadence of the original text. This is what might be called a post-credible approach to literary production.

Previous literary critics have noted Dickinson’s comparisons to the world of nature [the sky and the sea] in the first two stanzas while highlighting the third [and final] stanza’s relationship between self and God. Note how the altered poem of The Professor’s plays off of [and with] those central themes. Directly below is the poet’s original poem, and directly following that is the same poem in a second version after it was “misinterpreted on purpose” by The Professor.

“Wider than the sky”

“1 The brain is wider than the sky,

For, put them side by side,

The one the other will include

With ease, and you beside.

2 The brain is deeper than the sea,

For, hold them, blue to blue,

The one the other will absorb,

As sponges, buckets do.

3 The brain is just the weight of God,

For, lift them, pound for pound,

And they will differ, if they do,

As syllable from sound.”


So that is the end of the poem as it was written

[From Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson [1924];

what follows below is The Professor’s version:


“Whiter than this guy”

“1 The Brain is whiter than this guy,

Forget him, asides so snide,

The lonely brother will intrude

Disease, and you astride

2 The Brain is needier than the sex,

Forgive him, blow for blow,

The one tether will absolve,

As punches, sockets glow.

3 The Brain adjusts the wait for God,

Forsake him, peen to peon,

And he will differ, if he can,

As silver from neon.”


There’s much more for The Professor to say about, and hopefully more insight to offer into, the potential uses for misinterpretation and more generally into the creative process itself; he looks forward to addressing the machinations and mechanisms that render such misinterpretive insights both manifest and meaningful—and that’s why they call him The Professor.



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