I’ve developed a troublesome affliction. People who did Psych 1 will remember those visual perceptual experiments where the lecturer would show you a picture that could either be seen as a young or a very old woman. It all depended how you looked at the thing. And then you could start shifting the face from young to old, and back again.
Psych 1 was full of these kinds of stunts. I remember we even had a lecturer who ran down the stairs of the lecture hall, arms in the air, rock star style, to discuss masturbation. Word had got out that there were three lectures on human sexuality and people had flocked from other disciplines – philosophy, sociology, chemistry, anywhere really – to come and listen to him. This was before the internet and we were nineteen, pushing twenty. I remember nothing of content but everything of style: his floating run to the podium, the excited fullness of the lecture theatre. He could have told us any old gibberish and he probably did.
It was more exciting than Roman Law 1, which was truly incomprehensible. There was a visiting lecturer whose weird accent and ancient world subject matter shocked everyone into perplexed and anxious silence. Who knew what to write down when one heard this:
If Titius stole Aulius’ dog and then Aulius took out an actio coniunctis animalium against Titius, the loonahtik…
It took us an entire semester to work out that a loonahtik was a lunatic. But once you knew that – oddly, there were many lunatics in Roman Law – things became much better. You learnt to shift what you heard between Central European gibberish and, well, gibberish, but sort of English gibberish.
These days my perceptual problems are different. They don’t relate to Roman Law or seeing age and youth in the same person, but to perceiving people as apes. Humans look remarkably like small, medium, large and extra-large apes. It’s a terrible affliction. Once you start seeing lowered brows, angry gesturing and little kids clinging to their parents, it’s impossible to stop. And where to from there?