Oldest Device in My Office

January 19th, 2014, 2pm

Fifty four years ago, as a budding graduate student, I walked into the Coop and bought a pencil sharpener. The Boston brand seemed appropriate, given my new favorite city. Also it was a brand I well remembered from the walls of Oklahoma school rooms. A typewriter was out of the question at this stage (jobless, broke), but I reasoned that the technology of the pencil would likely suffice for first drafts or, at the very least, for the taking of copious research notes. Curiously, I still remember Judy Garland, on my little portable record player, singing I’ll go my way by myself as I thought about my move from the prairies to a big east coast city, seeking those who talk about ‘things that matter’.

My nightly general reading program, to be diligently pursued, I had decided, over and above the requisite Harvard course readings, would commence with Nabokov’s Bend Sinister, for the title alone, no doubt, but perhaps also for the pure joy of my earlier encounters with this author which led me, for God’s sake (if for no earthly reason), to enroll in a Russian language class at the height of the McCarthy era. Lolita had me, almost literally, struggling for air, whether from the utter brilliance of his language play or the disquieting menace of his dark hero, I was never quite sure; but certainly I did understand my own extreme inadequacies in the language department. Pnin, the restless misadventuring but lovable little professor was already firmly imprinted on my brain by this great prose master.

Dare I admit this? I don’t see how you can believe me. After framing the paragraph above, and before returning to write this little essay on the oldest object in my office, I fondly sought through my current Nabokov collection to sample some of the excellences of his words, his sentences, only to find that he, the master, long before I purchased my Boston sharpener, had, in the novel Pnin already shown the way.

he screwed onto the side of the desk a pencil sharpener — that highly satisfying, highly philosophical instrument that goes ticonderoga-ticonderoga, feeding on the yellow finish and sweet wood, and ends up in a kind of soundlessly spinning ethereal void as we all must.

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David Wade Chambers

Born in Oklahoma: 30 years in US. 6 years in Canada, 40 years in Australia. Academic field: history and philosophy of science. Currently, teach indigenous studies online at Institute of American Indian Arts (Santa Fe, NM) and Brandon University (Manitoba). Come visit our B&B on Australia's Great Ocean Road. Mate's Rates for Hi community! (http://www.cimarron.com.au)

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