The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 50.0°F | Overcast

A place for the arts at MIT

Perhaps you have heard rumors of a man crucifying himself at McDermott Court. Perhaps you have heard rumors of yet another late-night rally. Then again, perhaps you have heard rumors of former MIT President Paul E. Gray '54 being seen wearing high heels and a tutu, dancing the lambada in a sleazy Boston nightclub. I cannot vouch for the last one, but as an eyewitness, I am prepared to recount the bizarre incidents of late Sunday night.

I am an insomniac, so to help me fall asleep I occasionally take late-night walks (although reading Pride and Prejudice also helps). I was on such a walk at two in the morning late Sunday night, and

I was approaching McDermott Court when I heard

a man scream "Nooooo! Go away!" Startled, I jumped behind a bush. I waited a few seconds, my heart fluttering like a drunken hummingbird. I wanted to get a closer look, so I half crouched, half ran closer. Peeking out from behind a pillar of Building 18, I beheld a scene which could only be described as "surreal."

Ringing the "Big Sail" sculpture was a throng of men wearing SEX sweatshirts, men who were nervously mumbling and milling about. They were waving flashlights around the sculpture. I noticed another man climbing to the top. He sported a T-shirt reading "Mondale-Ferraro for New Leadership." I noticed that off to the side of the sculpture was a large papier-m^ach'e bass violin and boxes of yellow flyers. Judging the situation more or less safe, I cautiously ambled over.

"Excuse me," I whispered to one of the men, "I know this is none of my business, but what's going on?" By this time, everyone but the guy climbing had turned around and stared at me.

"Er, well," mumbled the man. "We really have no idea. You see, we're from the Sigma Epsilon Chi fraternity. You know, SEX?"

"Uh, no. All the fraternities sound the same to me," I replied. But before I could continue to understand what was happening, though, the guy who had been climbing reached the top and cried out, "Get away from the statue, you desecrators!"

Utterly confused, I turned once again to one of the brothers. He continued his explanation. "You see, we're having a party Tuesday night, and we wanted to advertise it." He handed me one of the yellow flyers, which read "SEX Party!!! Come to our Second Annual Squirrel-Roast and Bass Violin Festival. . ." The brother resumed speaking. "We wanted to make a statement, so we came here tonight to plaster the sculpture with flyers and to put this model violin on top, too. But just as we began, this guy ran over and told us to stop. And, well, here we are."

I called up to the guy at the top. "Uh, excuse me, but who are you?"

"I am Mango Stevens," he said, with a very theatrical voice, "The Ninth Muse come to MIT. Look upon me and despair -- I am the biggest man you'll ever see."

"How quaint," I said. "You even quote Shelley."

"What!" he cried out, so shaken up that he almost lost his grip on the sculpture. "Finally, evidence that someone at MIT understands the fine arts! And what a coincidence that you show up now, because that is why I am here, straddling this sculpture, with my hands reaching up to caress the darling sky, to craft an ontological vision. . . ."

"Please!" I begged, "Enough rhetoric!"

"Uh, fine. But tell these uncultured louts to go away. They make me ill. They intended to profane this sculpture, this work of art. They have no idea of what it symbolizes to me. This statue isn't

the "Big Sail." The "Big Sail" says nothing to

me, except that some rich fool shelled out a lot

of dough for a bunch of dull black sheet metal.

I would instead call the sculpture "The Dying Butterfly.' "

"Oh, no," I thought to myself. "Yet another poet mystified by death."

Mango Stevens continued his harangue: "Just look at it. The butterfly is reaching up, its talon scraping the sky. But it is all in vain, because the butterfly is imprisoned in iron and steel, and is cemented to the Earth. It wants desperately to go free, but it cannot. It is lifeless and sterile to the touch, but still lives. It still cries out to us, in a subsibilant moan. Listen! Put your ears to the sculpture and listen with all your might."

We did so, perhaps to humor him, but maybe because we actually wanted to hear a message. I could not hear anything but I remember thinking that a passing photographer would have had a field day.

"The butterfly has a message for us," expounded Mango Stevens, waving his hands like a flying butterfly. "It says, `Fly away! Fly away! I am imprisoned, but you can still live. Be free! Be free! I have withered over the past 25 years. But you can still grow! Fly away! Fly away!' "

We were all enchanted. One of the brothers called out, "How?"

"Just look at the sculpture," cried Mango. "Look at it! The sculptor created it with the utmost mathematical precision. Just think of the precise engineering skill, the metallurgy, the physics necessary for this . . . this prison. We are all learning these abominable skills at MIT, and we too are slowly becoming imprisoned, our minds glazing over, becoming numb. We think of nothing but differential equations, shear stresses, coupled oscillators and countless other pieces of scientific rot. We need to fly away! We need to live!

"So take a break from your next problem set. Skip one of your math classes. Instead, read a good book. Go to an art museum. See a play. Listen to some fine music. Above all, respect the humanities. Because ultimately, it isn't the sciences that prove mankind to be great. It is the arts."

With that, Mango began to climb back down the sculpture. Some of the brothers had an epiphany, and were crying with joy. The rest were chattering excitedly to one another. They said, "Hey, isn't King Lear playing at Harvard?" and "Isn't there an exhibition of neoclassical cubist modern art in Boston?" and "I hear that the Massachusetts State Choir will be performing soon." The brothers quickly left the statue, forgetting to advertise their party. Mango disappeared into the murky night.

And me? I was still very much wide awake, so I resolved to go back to my room and read Pride and Prejudice.


Jason Merkoski, a freshman, lives in MacGregor House.

Peeking out from behind a pillar of Building 18, I beheld a scene which could only be described as "surreal."

"Oh, no," I thought to myself. "Yet another poet mystified by death."