Its all true,
until it isn’t ♥.
This bit of graffiti, which is part of a neighborhood-wide series of messages, is interesting to me because of how it is punctuated.
Now, this is not going to turn into a snarky lesson on punctuation, though I think I am competent enough to provide a few. I don’t do that schtick. The fact is that people make signs, and people make mistakes. And you are better off (it says here) just letting some things slide, especially if you can’t fix it yourself. To wit, the bodega on my corner boasts that it is “Convinient,” and most of the time I see this simply as a good way of identifying my street. I consider what follows here not a lesson but “philosophy,” as in “a dog is a dog; that’s philosophy.” Or, as in, I thought about your stupid vandalism for longer than a few seconds.
As any observer can see, the artist who left the graffito above chose to add a comma at the end of the first line and concluded with a period, which to me are hints that this person is literate. By some measure, anyway. I say “by some measure” because the use of the comma is not really defensible, unless your usage guide has a chapter on poetic license. (Which maybe it should.) The period interests me, too, because it comes after a pictogram, which is often a clue that what you are dealing with is not really a sentence at all.
Furthermore, a third piece of punctuation is conspicuously absent: the apostrophe that turns the possessive “its” into a contraction for “it is.” Is an artist who employs a comma and a period likely to leave out such an important apostrophe? Well, probably; proper use of an apostrophe, on the surface, seems “advanced” compared with simply dotting the end of a sentence. But is it possible that the artist means to convey the sense of a Greater It and its singular essence, the All-True? Perhaps it is just a fragment, or a kind of urban koan? (“Its all is true”; veritas omnia vincit?)
And is the pictogram [(x²+y²−1)³−x²y³=0] a symbol for love or life or the soul, suggesting the pang of a distant, amorphous heartache?
Or is it a signature? Is the graffito meant to be a curt, cynical wave of the metaphorical hand from a life-worn and weary Love (or Life or the Soul)?
Probably not. Probably, the artist was working in vain, ignorant haste, blithely unaware of the comma splice in particular and of apostrophes altogether, hoping that a dripping yellow finger will not cause alarm when, later, he or she alights a subway train.
Earlier this week, the author Ron Rosenbaum, in a piece for Slate that is mostly a disquisition on language and meaning, considered the fragments of much more famous verse, which he presumably did not encounter painted sloppily on a wall. He starts with “What will survive of us is love” by Philip Larkin, contrasts that with “We must love one another or die” by W. H. Auden, and triangulates, if briefly, with “And in the end, the love you take/ Is equal to the love you make” by the Beatles.
He approaches the lines in different circumstances, dwelling for quite some time on a change Auden made (“We must love one another AND die”) for an anthology of his work. But before his conclusion, which is to ask what the substance of love actually is (“where exactly would it be?”), Rosenbaum makes an observation that hits close to an editor’s home:
“For poetic compression, Lennon and McCartney had nothing on Bob Marley, for whom two words were enough: ‘One love.’ Or Bono, for that matter, who used just one word: ‘One.’ That such lines leave themselves open to mockery is our fault, not theirs. Simplicity is not the same as simplemindedness and can aspire to the sublime.”
via “What will survive of us is love”: Poet Philip Larkin’s controversial line from “On Arundel Tomb.” – Slate Magazine.
Can simplicity, or in my case, a simpleton “aspire to the sublime”? Will you settle for original? The words, as painted above, may be a common sentiment, but they do not have an obvious source.
In “its all true” there is a hopeful affirmation, the idea that light can reveal goodness in many places. It also is clearly a message of inconclusiveness, lest anyone forget the Venn Diagram of Being. Swiftly, though, “until” brings a caveat, helpfully ruling out a lot of unpleasantness but also serving as a reminder that an endeavor devoid of warmth and energy is doomed to fail, in some way.
Even if it is only a paint-sopped finger stroking a brick wall.