The “weirdest conference ever” seems to have been ripped right from the pages of a Thomas Pynchon novel. If you’ve ever read Pynchon’s fabulously surreal and satirical The Crying of Lot 49, then you’ll appreciate this story from The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Percolator blog. The story is, to all appearances, a clever satire about higher education and capitalism but it is, unfortunately, also true. In it, a possibly mad—but extremely wealthy—jeweler who claims to have “seemlessly” [sic] joined together the fields of religion and science in a curious self-published tome entitled (wait for it…) the Summa Metaphysica convinces Bard College (yes, that Bard College) to host a week-long conference on his work by making a sizable gift to the school. One anecdote about the oddness of the whole affair:
I spoke to several of the conference’s participants, including Tammy Nyden, an associate professor of philosophy at Grinnell College, who called the conference “so bizarre.” She felt hesitant about the invitation to begin with, but because it was taking place at a venerable institution like Bard, she decided to go. The conference covered expenses, and it sounded intriguing. But she thought it strange that almost no one attended the presentations, and she was surprised to come across a pile of T-shirts with Summa Metaphysica, the title of Birnbaum’s two-volume work, printed on them. Her brief interactions with Birnbaum did not put her at ease. “It was a very weird experience,” she said. “He keeps saying he has this unifying principle, and it’s ‘potentiality,’ and that’s the most sense I can make out of anything he’s said.”
So long as we’re on the topic of dubious authors, The Telegraph has a pitch-perfect parody of Dan Brown, in which a day in the life of “renowned author Dan Brown” is rendered in Brownish prose. A sample:
The critics said his writing was clumsy, ungrammatical, repetitive and repetitive. They said it was full of unnecessary tautology. They said his prose was swamped in a sea of mixed metaphors. For some reason they found something funny in sentences such as “His eyes went white, like a shark about to attack.” They even say my books are packed with banal and superfluous description, thought the 5ft 9in man. He particularly hated it when they said his imagery was nonsensical. It made his insect eyes flash like a rocket.
In addition to immensely enjoying the parody, I was able to finally put a finger on what bothers me about a lot of the prose style in airport books: “banal and superflous description.” It’s downright odd, frankly, that completely plot-driven novels feel the need to engage in lengthy, unnecessary, and flat descriptions when, let’s be honest, no one’s reading it for the scene setting.
In other book news, I’ve been trying to decide how to sell the Catholic grad student group at my school on Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited for our summer book club. First I have to confess that I haven’t read the book, I’ve only seen the fab miniseries with Jeremy Irons (streaming on Netflix FYI). I think I did a rather wretched job trying to describe it the first time round. It went something like this: “Well, it’s about the decline of the aristocracy and about Catholicism and about romance and, well, it’s just wonderful.” One person’s interest did seem to be briefly peaked by the “decline of the aristocracy” bit, so I think I’ve found the right catchphrase now for the next time I pitch it: “It’s Downton Abbey meets Catholicism.”
Speaking of Downton Abbey and of “things you should be streaming on Netflix right now BTW,” I’ve found my newest Brit-drama fix: Call the Midwife. I realize that I’m rather late to the party on this and I’m only three episodes in, but I have managed to tear-up and/or flat-out cry at least once during all of them.
While midwifery has its share of occupational hazards, nothing will make you more attune to workplace safety (nor haunt your dreams quite as much) as these vintage workplace safety posters from the Netherlands. A sample:
But Germanic languages have more to offer than just cautionary warnings against strangle-happy machine ghosts, they are also clearly the answer to the question of how to more robustly embody our sexuality in everyday life. In my German studies this week, I discovered—to my overwhelming delight—how to tell someone in German that you feel like having pancakes: Ich habe lust auf Pfannkuchen. Yep, that’s right: “I have lust of pancakes!” I kid you not, I am prepared to forgive German all its crazy 30-letter words over this. Not to mention, considering the big discussion on the Catholic blogosphere (well, on Patheos at least) about better, more positive ways to talk about chastity and sexual embodiment, I think the Germans might be on to something ;-).
This final quick take is brought to you by your cat. Who is sad. Because of you. Just thought you should know.
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