Lit Hum Study Guide: Dante Goes to Mudd

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The approach of midterms week means Dante’s Inferno is to be found in the sweaty hands of freshmen this week.  Urban Spelunker Gavin McGown was not content to simply flip pages: he was jonesing to explore!  Mudd’s basement is a dark and terrifying world Dante surely would have assigned to heathens and traitors.

Huddled as it is against the northeast corner of campus, the unapologetic Seeley W. Mudd Hall extends itself  many stories aboveground, a bulwark against ignorance, home to generations of Columbian engineers. Its characteristic miner of shrewd and pinched face embodies the literal and figurative steel of the structure, casting a disapproving sneer at those filing in and out of the building at whose entrance he stands attendant, as if he sensed in them intellectual pursuits directing them towards weak disciplines (gender studies, pure mathematics, political “science”).

Finding myself, however, at that unaesthetic edge of the campus, I ignored the statue’s contemptuous glare that seemed to counsel me to abandon all hope, and marched brazenly on through the doors that opened, supermarket-like, at my advance. No Limbo eased the passage between light and darkness: I crossed, so to speak, the river Acheron (descending a staircase infected with the sound of an unceasing and ominous mechanical whirring), and found myself immediately confronted by a dusty and dreary vision as the first of many basements, bathed in a sallow light, extended on before my eyes.

Like most buildings pressed against the northern end of campus, Mudd contains within itself multiple subterranean floors not graced by the footfalls of eager undergraduates—falling, as it seems, far outside the quotidian paths of almost every Columbian. The basement was unlit save for the lugubrious mercy of fluorescent tubes and untouched by sound other than my own bold step striking the linoleum whose only companions are the silence and the dust. I strode past doors behind whose frosted glass one might expect to hear the screams of a recreant engineer tortured by some one of the Malebranche, but instead I saw signs decrying the danger of entering and presence of hazardous materials, or, alternatively, pointing out to curious passers-by that “Nano Tubes ‘R’ Us.”

Finding myself beset by thirst from breathing the air of that place—stripped of any scent that would suggest life and urgency, stagnant and slothful, unventilated and unmoved—I looked around for any water-fountain to relieve me in my moment of need, but found only one that had gone uncleaned, it seemed, for decades, graced by two plastic cups in which rotted away the remains of some engineer’s indulgence. Not all hope quite yet abandoned, I found at last the elevator and, starved for clear air, emerged from the labyrinth, at last, to see the stars.

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  1. HELP!!  

    the condoms are out in SDA. where can i get more?

  2. good writing  

    i like your sentence structure. sometimes i wish you used more short and punchy (and generally clearer) sentences to balance out your elaborateness

  3. Hmm...  

    Is this Dr. James Hone secretly constructing a series of tubes in the basement of Mudd?

  4. RAB

    I don't understand why people find Mudd so unattractive. As a fourth-year engineering student who has spent many hours eating in Carleton, studying in the engineering library, and fighting sleep in various classrooms, I find Mudd to be one of the nicer buildings on campus. The color schemes in the staircase and hallways give each floor a distinct character, and some classrooms and offices in the higher floors offer amazing views. Sure, the elevators can be slow and the fourth floor can be a Costco freezer if the sliding doors are stuck open, but I wouldn't call this place hell.

    Maybe it's Stockholm syndrome.

  5. "Subterranean"  

    I must point out the obvious that Mudd is *not* underground, since the author has explored mostly the 2nd floor (Nano Tubes R Us is right near the computer lab!), and street level is the 1st.

  6. seas kid  

    i'm dissapointed, mr mc-evening-gown; hone's lab is on the 2nd floor of mudd, nowhere near the actual basement. it's pretty much the furthest from abandoned as you can get, given that it's right next to the 251 lab secret entrance and the mechanical engineering shop where all us mece kids hang out.

    it this what passes as spelunking since columbia put mul-t-locks on all the tunnel entrances?

  7. Next time  

    actually go to a basement level. They're labelled with letters such as "B", "LL", or even "L2".

  8. Alum

    Some of the most self-indulgent writing I've seen in a long time.

  9. beset by thirst?!

    try thirsty, instead. Sometimes simple is better.

  10. Yikes  

    What are they teaching in composition class these days? The last paragraph more or less exemplifies everything you shouldn't do in terms of prose writing.

  11. Anonymous  

    This account is a joke. I work in the basement - next to the reactor. The first floor is cozy compared to the basement.

  12. ...  

    ok, so i see what you're going for here. but seriously, without the proper formatting it really just kinda comes across less canto and more drugo. it would work much better if you were to format it properly, print it, then scan it through a few layers of lightly bunched up saran wrap...

  13. Bitches  

    be hatin. Great lugubrious mercy!

  14. Anonymouse

    This oozes pretension.

  15. Seriously  

    go to the real basement, you'll see how much more like Hell it really is. But oh how I love it. 2nd floor is one of the most populated. Weak. Please try again tomorrow.

  16. Steps for Next Time  

    1) Do a better job exploiting your Columbia degree
    2) Steal impressive photos of the actual basement levels from places such as http://www.flickr.com/photos/mmj171188/sets/72157603961259968/
    3) Write up your instantly improved literary exercise

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