Thinking About the Poor   /   Fall 2014   /    Signifiers

Smart

Mike Rose

Universal Composition, 1937, Joaquín Torres-García (1874–1949); photograph: Philippe Migeat; Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; © CNAC/MNAM/Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY; © copyright Alejandra, Aurelio, and Claudio Torres 2017.

Our computational capacity grows but does that mean we are smart?

After sleepwalking through high school, I landed in a senior English class that caught my fancy, and one of the first things I did was shell out thirty-five cents for a Roget’s Pocket Thesaurus. After years of disaffection and tomfoolery, I wanted to be smart. And one way to be smart, by my adolescent reckoning, was to pepper my essays with words like disaffection and tomfoolery. I was being a smarty-pants rather than smart, perhaps, but new words represented for me a fresh world of books and writing and using my mind.

That old thesaurus, crumbling a little more every time I open it, has a wealth of synonyms and antonyms for a word like smart, and I would roam through it, as I am now, finding threads and connections. To be smart bears similarity to being intelligent, ingenious, or resourceful, and to being clever, witty, or quick. And then there are book smarts versus street smarts. And working smart. And, of course, a smart aleck with a smart mouth. Humanity lofty and flawed lives in these definitions.

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