“Can We Believe Our Eyes?” (E69)

  • Originally printed: Liberty Magazine, May 9, 1931  
  • First reprinted in:  No Poems; Or, Around the World Backwards and Sideways
  • Original Byline:  Unknown



Here we have a solid effort in a staple Benchley genre, a dithering dirge directed at the endless cascade of cosmic crockery battering every human effort to just not be wrong about everything, all of the time. Things were confusing enough before the scientific method got up and running, but here in the modern era, the spirit of “well, actually” trolls through all things. The more we ken, the less we can feel sure of, and the only certainty is that whatever shred of a sense impression you’ve been clinging to will swiftly evaporate under scrutiny.

Perhaps it has always been thus, as the madcap adventures of Socrates demonstrate. On the other hand, Socrates was just one guy marauding the streets of Athens, and a pretty old guy, at that. You could easily run away from him and believe whatever you wanted about the size of that arrow in the agora. Not so easy to dodge the infinite deferral of truth and meaning with the advertising industry now negging the public for its own hypnotic purposes.

Benchley keeps up the fight for as long as he can before taking refuge in the bottle. If you can’t get reality’s measure by looking at it, or hearing it, or smelling it, or touching it, what’s the point of being sober? Mix me up an absinthe and absinthe, bartender. There are also some jokes about British military ranks.

Favorite Moment:

“Which is the larger of these two arrows?” Of course, it is perfectly obvious which is the larger, but when you come to measure them you find that, through some trickery, they are both the same size.

I will put up with just so much of this kind of thing, and then I will stop measuring.

Reprint Notes:

  • Unable to compare text with original Liberty piece.
  • Why doesn’t the Toronto Public Library have the Gale Liberty Magazine Historical Archive? (Why can’t a regular person subscribe to it?)

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