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Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Anvils are from Acme

In "Mortal Coils: The Risks of China's Collapsing Sidewalks" I quoted Anthony Tao who wrote on Beijing Cream:
Now we have confirmation that sidewalks are unsafe. What next, falling anvils? How next will death conspire to end our mortal coils by the most indecorous devices?
I suggested two possible interpretations, both of which I found problematic. I also took the opportunity to quote Shakespeare.

But as I walked to a late night dinner after publishing the post, I began to wonder if something was amiss. Today, "The Tao", who by all appearances is indeed Anthony Tao, left this comment on the post:
I think there's a third interpretation you may have missed: that I was trying to turn a quip out of two surreal, tragicomic yet all too real events. If I wanted to paint with broad strokes, I probably wouldn't have referenced Acme anvils.
First, I appreciate the confirmation that the anvils were indeed of the Acme variety.

Second, yes, this appears to be an entirely possible interpretation.

I could use this moment to launch a discussion on the fascinating issue of sarcasm. As someone who has written a sarcastic post now and then myself, I appreciate the various challenges involved--both as a writer and as a reader. I suppose there could be an interesting debate (or experiment!) on whether the sentence "Now we have confirmation that sidewalks are unsafe" is clearly sarcastic in the context of the individual post (the sarcasm regarding anvils was always clear to me). Whatever the case, if I had read Tao's other posts on Beijing Cream, many (all?) of which appear to include a healthy dose of sarcasm, I would have likely interpreted it differently.

Anyways, it is wonderful to know that Tao has not fallen into the trap of reading too much into individual incidents. And I wish him the best of luck on his series tracking the location of Chen Guangcheng.

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