In a room high up in Butler library, a man has received a great honor.
He is not a man in the traditional sense, but then neither is the room a room.
Like the Israeli city of a certain great Someone, or a mountaintop in Greece, dotted with crumbling palaces, the room is given its form and substance, as intrinsically as it is ineffably bound, by a place very much like it, down below. In this case, the earthly counterpoint goes by a name less impressive than Jerusalem or Olympus: Butler Café, or Butcaf for short. It too is a café, or something like one. There are tables and chairs, resembling the ones you’re familiar with, and these are arranged similarly. It must be much be bigger however. It would have to be, there are so many more people, although it hard to say for sure, this room defying an exact sense of space.
It also feels much grander, but that is likely due to the nature of the company inside. Some have their name chiseled in stone on the walls outside: the Homers, Platos, and Aristotles. Some are prominent in their own right: Foucault and Hemingway and Einstein are among a few. Others are entirely fictional, and one or two still walk the earth. Obama stops in sometimes to chat. They are the Columbia pantheon and a man has just been invited to talk with the greatest of them.
He is apprehensive, and has good reason to be. He has never been popular up here. His reputation has waned and waxed with the political season, but even at the best of times he’s never been liked as much as he is out in the world. Maybe it’s due to Hamilton, once rival and now drinking companion, who was, for a time, had a seat at the more prominent tables. More likely it is because of his hypocrisy. It is a hypocrisy shared by many of his contemporaries, but then that is the price to pay for so thoroughly symbolizing an ideal; you must represent the failure of that ideal as well.
Legacy is a strange thing. Just ask Kant, glowing so magnificently over there in that corner, brilliant bright but blurred, revered but not really understood. Or Nietzsche, sitting across from him, a comic book character with a comic character’s mustache, hyperactively shouting his catch phrases but rarely allowed to talk long enough to explain himself.
As schools of thought are fitted into to new narratives, the men and women here associated with those schools, and oftentimes those who are barely related, find themselves changed, their faces morphed, their character radically altered, all to better embody the ideas that they consist of. A conversation is enough to have an effect. A joke. A story. Especially a story.
Today it is barely a story. An old bit of credit really, mistaken credit to be technical. He didn’t invent the idea. Indulged in it might be more appropriate to say. After all, the words that got him into this room in the first place were themselves stolen: We hold these truths to be self evident…
And so, because of an idea that wasn’t his, and an old association that so few below must even be aware of, he walks forward just a little taller, with a bit more of a spring in his step, stopping when he reaches her.
“So Mr. Jefferson, “ Alma says, “tell us about these new standing desks of ours.”
Anyhow. There are standing desks in ButCafe now.