In the diary of Alistar Skinner, a young artist dying of colon cancer, as quoted by Sîan Ede on p. 150 of Art and Science, we read:

Awake at dawn to go to the toilet, I hear the black birds singing in the quiet of the urban night and it is lovely. How does that fit into cost per square meter?

Does "How does that fit into cost per square meter?" mean:

  1. How much will actually the birds' song cost per meter square


  1. How can one actually measure the beautiful birds' song with soulless and ugly scales like cost per square?

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, Drew, Mitch, Hellion, Tragicomic Oct 4 '15 at 3:50

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    Can anyone really evaluate the bird's song in dollar or whatever currency? It is invaluable. – user140086 Oct 3 '15 at 11:33
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    Why are you asking? If you can identify the second meaning it's clear that it's not the first. – curiousdannii Oct 3 '15 at 11:42
  • @curiousdannii Yes, I know what it means. I wanted to know which way the writer is expressing it. Is he with some degree of satire thinking to himself that "how much birds' song cost actually"? or is he directly expressing that "it is not equivalent to anything else"? Both have the same meaning but the way of their expression is different. – user127733 Oct 3 '15 at 11:48
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    @user127733 That comment doesn't make any sense. You know what he means, and he's expressing it precisely as he has expressed it in the passage you quoted. I just went to Google Books: the entire context is about the objectification of human life, and the application of quantification to the immeasurable. I don't see how you can have any uncertainty. BTW, I fixed it on your behalf this time, but in the future, please always attribute quoted material. Not only is it ethical and proper, it will give us more context to provide you with better answers. – Dan Bron Oct 3 '15 at 11:53
  • @Dan Bron OK. Thank you very much both for editing the question (adding details) and for your answer to it. – user127733 Oct 3 '15 at 12:08

He refers to the "urban night", which implies that he lives in an apartment or house in a city. Whether purchased or rented, housing costs are measured in terms of cost per square (foot/meter). This cost is usually justified by benefits of the neighborhood like quality of schools, accessible transportation and shopping, low crime rate, etc.

In his waning days, your doomed artist is taking in the simple beauties in his surroundings, and noting that there is no way the music of the birds could be factored into the cost of his home.

A free gift of the universe.


I imagine that recently the artist had been quoted some product (Let's say drawing paper or canvas for example) at a cost per square meter. Such things have a material value, for example the cost of raw materials, production and distribution, but they also have other value. A picture by a good artist is worth much more than the cost of paper, pencils and paints that it is made from. A painting by Picasso or van Gogh may be worth millions per square meter.

A songbird takes up very little space in the world and uses very few resources—yet the value of its song to an appreciative human is out of all proportion to its physical presence.

  • He may just be assuming that the commonplace (and clamorous) is so commonplace that it needs no further contextualising. cf 'What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?' – Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 '15 at 13:35
  • @EdwinAshworth - I don't understand the point you are making. – chasly from UK Oct 3 '15 at 17:24
  • '(I imagine that) recently the artist had been quoted some product' need not reflect the actual situation. He might be making more intellectual demands on the reader in supplying their own context. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 '15 at 20:48

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