It's all about immortality.
Michelangelo has it. So does Rembrandt. And students really want it.
To some degree, they've got it. At least until the next time the desks and walls get cleaned.
Harvard students seeking to shortcut the rough road to immortality graffiti their names, year and other pre-autobiography minutiae, and examples of this unique art form are found everywhere throughout the campus.
The classic feat of spending the night in Widener is commemorated by one who claims he actually did, and wrote it down for the edification of future generations. "I spent the night here. July '85. No shit," reads the desk.
But "on July 4th, 1978, nothing happened here!" someone with a less exciting life wrote on a desk in Lamont.
Graffiti is, after all, "just a gesture against obscurity," as "SDD" admitted in his scribblings on a Lamont desk.
But most graffiti refers not to fame, but to a classic Harvard experience--too much work.
Who could fall to empathize with the pathetic story of a "desperate Wigg freshman," etched on a desk on the Science Center's top floor, even though the student has probably long since blocked out the experience?
"It's fall reading period, 1985. it's 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, and I'm still reading Julius Caesar and Hamlet for my Garber exam on Monday, while I haven't started studying for my Chem 10 exam on Tuesday. Help!"
And, More desperately, "I'm in deep shit. I have a paper due six days ago." Someone who probably turned in that paper, as well as several more, could find only enough words to scribble "if I write one more paper. I am going to lose it."
Some friendly artist kindly inquired of his captive audience in Lamont 605 "Hi, how are you? having fun?" Only to be answered cynically with the scrawl "on, not really."
But when too much work becomes too mundane, students turn to another favorite topic: how much they hate Harvard.
Some express their disillusionment succinctly, "Harvard sucks."
Others are more eloquent in describing their distaste, "Harvard is like a drug. It costs a lot. It's fun to think about doing. It's really neat for a short time. But after a while, you're fucked up for good."
One disillusioned student who complained about the weather inscribed with regret "should have gone to the University of New Mexico" in Lamont. Others found fault with their fellow undergraduates, "Harvard attracts childish, arrogant bastards."
But some Harvardians loyally defend the school. Countering the assertion that "Harvard sucks," a student wrote the reply "no, you do. It's okay here."
"I love this place. It just takes a lot of getting used to, so hang in there," reads another Harvard wall.
In case life becomes too inexplicable, students can use blank desks and walls as a forum for their particular opinions on life.
Who, or what, is God is one of student' favorite philosophical questions to try to tackle.
Although for centuries kings, emperors and politicians have hotly disputed this topic and men and women have shed their lifeblood to defend their opinions, even today the answer eludes scientists and philosophers alike.
Nevertheless, it seems Harvard students are determined to try their hand at discovering the truth, and at least the graffiti artists have reached some conclusions.
"God is a grilled cheese sandwich," according to one philosopher who inscribed his wisdom on the walls of Holworthy's basement laundry room.
But no, "what are you talking about? God is Derek Bok," countered another launderer, who wrote the disparaging postscript "Everyone knows that!" But apparently, not everyone does.
God's true identity is Snoopy and "Linus exists," another of the divinely inspired Holworthian horde reveals.
The only God with a congregation of more than one person is immortalized in ink on a study carrel wall in Lamont Library. Quite simply, Alan Brinkley is God." At least two others concurred, writing down "Yep" and "agreed."
But if Alan Brinkley is God, who is the devil? Graffiti artists had no comment, but one philosopher did conclude that the devil resides in all-too-close land, "thermodynamics is hell."
While God's identity remains unsolved, one graffiti artist vouched for what God has accomplished. "On the eighth day, God created bastards who scribble on desks," reads a desk on the Science Center's top floor.
On a more secular note, the pseudo-philosophers expounded on their version of life's most probing questions. What is justice? The meaning of life? The purpose behind graffiti?
"If there was any justice in this world people would occasionally be able to fly over pigeons," reads a desk in Lamont.
On human identity comes the philosophical "I'm pink. Therefore, I'm Spam" and a variation on a popular theme, "To err is human. To moo bovine."
And in the beginning of Holworthy laundry room, "The Lord said, Let there be Lite, and there was Lite and it was good." But "no, it was less filling," disagreed one scholarly scribbler.
As all undergraduates know, the one word Harvard won't allow its clan to forget is "diversity"--but diversity won't allow Harvard to forget its words either.
From "down with Pre-Meds" to religious "Jesus Saves" and the political "Bring back George McGovern!" graffiti captures on on desks and concrete walls--if not concretely--the many shibboleths of the Harvard experience.
Some graffiti artists use the art to explore the meanings behind graffiti.
Someone in the Holworthy basement Wrote, "I was trying to figure out why someone would write on a door. I figured they had something important to say."
Others seek the answers from the readers. "If you're reading this, you obviously have lots of taste and not life, so...what do you want? Please respond." The reply reads quite simply "I would like to know the meaning of life."
Beyond the metaphysics, the religious, the philosophical and the pathetic lurks another dimension of the graffiti artists' world. It's the world of the inane, or, as one graffiti artist wrote, "This desk is getting looney."
From Holworthy's laundry room hails the vindictive statement "Bomb Bambi in '87." But the defender of the deer rose to the rescue and not only wrote a reply but sketched a drawing of Bambi saying "No! please bomb Thumper or Blossom? Yeah, in fact, bombing Blossom is a great ideal!"
And again from Holworthy's laundry room, someone wrote on the wall, "This brick loves me. It can love you too--for $50,00." Someone wrote back "someone is paying $60,000 to educate him?"
But, a Harvard education is not all books, as graffiti will attest. While most of their classmates are out with members of the opposite sex on Friday and Saturday nights, some more diligent Harvard students flock to the libraries where they spend their time...thinking about going out with members of the opposite sex.
The walls record a myriad of stories about unrequited love, Harvard style.
"I want a serious relationship. What's wrong with me?" asked an anonymous launderer.
Others know more exactly what they want variations on "I want Jon" and "I want Paula" and "I want anyone (of either sex)" cover as table on Widener's D-Level. But "I want Maypo" and "I want my Malt-o-Meal" are written nearby.
And in the tradition of spurned loves, a visitor to the Quincy Qube bemoaned his fate. "Oh my dearest Betsy--if only you weren't seeing that dreadful Law School student, we could have the greatest life together. Oh woe is me, my lovely one."
Other just give up and study for midterms or wash their socks. "Icky Boys Abound," reads the Holworthy laundry room door. Another put it more directly, "I hope you didn't come to Harvard to find love."
And in Widener's basement a table chronicles the evolution of one Harvard would-be love story. "Me-she0, then meshe, then me(it)she(it), then MITSHIT," then "But this won't work me/she (nominative vs. accusative) ISHE."
Often, the graffiti artists will stop complaining about their lack of companionship long enough to speculate on whom they would most enjoy as a companion. In the Quincy House Qube, an ongoing battle is raging to pick the prettiest girl in Quincy.
"There are only five attractive girls in this House," one writer suggested. "Who?" asked a second. A third modest entrant added "Me, for one." However, she declined to sign her name.
Although willing volunteers try their best to keep the Qube list updated with current house residents, some alumnae are immortalized in ink. But the critics will have their say, "No way!," "Is not," and "Who wrote this?"
Of course, men are not the only ones who enjoy rating members of the opposite gender through the safe anonymity of graffiti. In Dunster House, the women have turned the tables on the men. A door in the women's restroom bears a list of nearly 50 names of former and current Dunster males, under the heading "Best Looking Dunster Men (random order). Vote early! Vote often! Use any criteria you like."
Nearby, another writer added, "Let's get less shallow. How about the Nicest Man in Dunster?" Graffiteers obliged with a list of 10 names.
A visitor from Adams house was not impressed. with the Dunster women or men and wrote, "A note from Adams House--this is a meat market which is disgusting." But Lowell responded favorably to the meat market. "Note from Lowell--wish we had one."