On locks

Locks are an interesting problem. Locks can be found in cars, front doors, trunks, bicycle chains, gates, desks, vaults, lockers, handcuffs, and telephones. Are they really for keeping people out of some place or are they for protecting what is inside? Some might argue that those two ideas are the same thing, but I beg to differ. Sometimes there is nothing on the other side of the lock, but keeping people out is still important for safety reasons at least. A vault or a safe would be an example of keeping something safe by keeping people out, but a bicycle lock only keeps people from taking the bicycle. Locks on front doors pull double duty in the lock world: they protect the people and things inside by keeping the uninvited out. Banks have lots of locks to do both: keep people out and expensive things safe, and bank vaults are a kind of meta-lock writ large of locks in inside of locks. Telephones (and computers) come with digital locks that may only be opened by know the code, the key, the pin, the combination, the magic word. We carry around bunches of keys so that we can safely and legally get our cars moving, our computers running, and our houses open. I have a strange collection of desk keys, but only one desk. I have no idea where all the other locks are. Locks are both a blessing and a curse. Being locked out because you left your keys inside is the ultimate frustration and a keen paradox that might only be solved by a spare key. Losing one’s key ring is almost as bad as forgetting the password to get into your phone. Locking the trunk of your car with the keys inside is a sure phone call to the locksmith. Sometimes locks are meaningless if there are too many keys in the hands of too many people. This is the only time when a lock is not a lock, but a broken lock. Locks are also not locks when one forgets to employ them, turn the key, lock the lock. Cars have door locks and ignition locks, and sometimes they are different keys. One has to wonder why coffins have locks? Harry Houdini made an entire career out of opening difficult locks, proving that any lock that can be locked may also be unlocked with the right kind of coaxing, so putting one’s faith in locks may be misplaced. Locks are really there to keep the honest people honest and to make the bad guys think twice. Locks are really an illusory confidence in mechanisms built by humans that can be subverted, or picked, by other humans. Locks speak to dishonesty, crime, trickery, danger, and lying, but they do not speak to security, safety, or surety, since nothing in this world is certain. Locks are certainly a metaphor for the nature of a fallen, uncertain, insecure world where property owners cannot trust their neighbors, or anyone else for that matter. The days when one might leave their front door unlocked have long since passed, and some people must install security doors in order to really lock their houses and apartments–the whole door is a lock, not just the little mechanism with a key hole. Locks are also a metaphor for literary interpretation and hermeneutic practices of interpretation. What key unlocks the codes within a text–sometimes a cigar is not just a cigar, an orchid is not just an orchid. Meaning is not stable, locked within a discourse of tropes, symbols, metaphors, and similes. The problem with literary texts is that the reader must find the key and apply it judiciously or all meaning remains locked behind the doors of superficial literalism.