Feb 6, 2011 by

„Do animals appreciate beauty?”, an Asian girl sitting opposite was looking straight at me. What a strange way to start a conversation, I thought, but replied:

“Is that what the argument is?” looking at the pile of sheets spread out in front of her.

“Yes. Do you know R. Pipes?”

“No” I knew nodding would not do. The girl was too inquisitive.

“He got the prize… He teaches here, he is a genius. So why not, you think?”

“Why not what?” I needed my afternoon coffee.

“Why don’t they appreciate beauty?”she asked. There was something lightly disapproving in her voice. I had not listened to the question.

“Well, if you assume they do, you would have to assume animals have consciousness,” I thought that would be the end of it. Consciousness is a stop-concept, you cannot really go beyond it. Even at Yale.

“Because appreciating in conscious…” she drilled with implacable logic oblivious to my mouth full of pasta and broccoli.

“Exactly. And beauty is subjective, it is a concept made up by humans.”

“You think it’s not universal?” She kept examining me.

“No I don’t think so.”

“What about peacocks? Female peacocks are attracted to the beauty of the males.”

“I’ll just grab some tea.”

“Sure” she said in a tone saying why are you telling me that. Go and do it and come back and answer my question.

“Are you at Trumbull?” she asked

I felt relieved. At least the beauty contest was over.

“No, I’m a graduate”

“Really?” she said in that tone of disbelief that Americans assume every time they pose a question. Even a rhetorical one.


“Have you been to the roof of HGS?” That’s the grad dormitory.

“I have been to the twelfth floor.”

“You should go to the roof. They have two staircases there. And a ladder. When you see a ladder climb it. It’s not allowed, but climb it. My friend was supposed to be here twenty minutes ago. Anyway, it was nice meeting you, might see you again. What’s your name?”


“Great, nice to meet you Jola. Bye” And she speeded off. If we were drawn in a cartoon, there would have been a gust of smoke trailing behind her.

I sat there chewing my pasta and thinking what the hell. Is that what they’re all like. Nice, academic, focused. Ultra-confident. It seemed to me that all the girl needed was a fairly intelligent chat partner to fill up her lunchtime. She, because I had no time to ask for her name. It was not exactly shallow, not unintelligent. It was ‘small talk’ on a grand scale. If small means dissolving the talk from the person, opinions from the flesh.  Or maybe this is what they mean by open-mindedness.  A mind open enough to let your interlocutor’s name and face slip the moment you leave the dining hall.

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