Mrs Malaprop On the Failures Of Academics
Lecture # 43
Richard L. Howey, Wyoming, USA
WARNING: This essay is a bit of pure silliness written in the spirit of foolish optimism that this year should be better for all of us than this last year was; so if you’re not in a mood for something silly, you might want to try reading the Oxford English Dictionary instead which should keep you occupied for at least a year.
Note: For those of you not familiar with Richard Sheridan’s play The Rivals written in 1775 at the age of 23, he introduced the pompous and linguistically pretentious Mrs. Malaprop who became the epitome of one who misused words in egregious ways and generally abused language. Shakespeare had already used such devices and many writers and comics have subsequently employed them, but Mrs. Malaprop remains, as it were, the grand champagne.
I’m pleased as punch to be here again for another presentation in the Malaprop Lecture Series assuming that that punch is again lavishly and lovingly laced (oh, don’t you love illiteration?) with fine English Gin and not any of that dreadful Russian vodka made from yams or yaks or whatever it is--awful stuff! Oily, slippery stuff suitable only for an automotive crankcase. However, I’m sure I can rely upon Dean Spooner to provide post brandial refreshment. Certainly, in this retrospective, the extinguished Dean is an exemplary academician and deserves the highest kudus.
So, here tonight, we have a packed auditorium filled with anxious Maslowists waiting to hear what’s wrong with them and why they are failures. You notice how diplomatically I put that; I could have said “you”, but I said “they” even though I meant “you”.
There are such an enormous numerous of issues to redress, that I shall direct myself only to the larger and major ones. We can save the others for what I’m sure will be a much anticipated future presentation.
1) The first issue is, of course, eggs, no, no ego. “Dr. Hooley, you have to get a new secretary; these notes are a vertiginous disgrace.” Yes, the prime issue is ego. This was first brought to our attention forcibly by that much underappreciated French man of letters (he wrote hundreds of them), Renegade de Cates who wrote: “Coito ergo sum”, but the Bishop of Lordy made him revise it to “Cogito ergo sum.”, which roughly translates “I have a big ego and that’s the sum of it.” At times academic disputes have gotten so contemptuous that soy-disant scholars have tried to murder each other. In olden days, they sometimes challenged each other to duals. However, just because you had a giant ego didn’t mean you were brave; in fact, many of them were quite cowardly and they banned together to found PEN assocations which now exist in over 100 countries in the world. They invented the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword” as a way of avoiding duals while indulging in the opportunity to write nasty things about anyone who disagreed with them and there were indeed many disagreeable sorts about especially in the academic immunities. And I say with some pride that it was we British who tended to lead the way in literary infective!
I, in fact, know that a few of you in the audience have dualed for years in the journals over some trivet bittit and sharpened your whits again and again over the same issue. Every year in the Anals and Proceedings, there are recounts of your exchanges with each trying to get in the last word. Well, knock it off; get a meaningful job shoveling real manure instead of polluting thousands of pages with it, pages that could have been manufactured for service in the loo. This ego contest stuff has got to stop if we want to get anything meaningful done. So, on to the next point.
2) Academics have been notoriously ambiguous and vague about what universities should accomplish and what should constitute an authenticated university. Should they teach biscuit weaving? Or welding? And what about business ministrations? Bridge building? Building robots? In my unbiased opinion, faculties already have too many of those. It used to be that the heart of any great university was the Arts and Sciences and now with the emphasis on engineering, technology, and business that heart has become largely peritoneal. Now everything is geared to being practical and applied and ultimately rumenative, otherwise you won’t get research grafts. Where now are the chairs of Egyptology or of Assyriology? Anymore I can’t think of a single institution where you can find such with the possible exception of one of the Max Prank Institutes. If one can say nothing else good about the Germans, one has to admit that they were extraordinary scholards.
Now, we have endowed chairs in Cybernetic Industrial Fracking Waste Management (fondly known among the “in crowd” as CIFWM. I’ve even heard it rumored that one college has an endowed chair in Acronyms which has stirred so much acrimonious debate that the faculty member who holds the chair remains acronymous. Governments, especially military and “intelligence” branches, have investisitured enormous amounts of money in devising acronymns, code names, names to hide individuals (“Deep Throat”) and the purpose of various agencies and plans and projects. The Yankers are expecially big on descriptive code names. For example, it is said that the mission code description for the aerial invasion of Grenada was “a pre-dawn veritical insertion” probably devised by some poor sex-deprived clerk in some remote, isolated facility. None of this nonsense has anything to do with legitimate academics. So, what should the core of a university be? Well, to start with, it should bloody well preserve what the heart of the classic university was. So, let’s examine this issue discipline by discipline.
A) Religion and Theology–Well, you can scratch these. If you want to know about this stuff, these days, you can go to some Bible College.
B) Philosophy. In olden days, to study this discipline properly, you needed to have a good working knowledge of Classical Greekish and Romish. These days, however, one needs French, German, Danish, Russian, and American. One still needs to read the ancient Greekers, because without sophistry, philosophy cannot survive. Why Danish? you might ask. Well, for one thing, the great pastries and then there’s Søren Kierkegaard, one of the most profound thinkers of any time. Why Russian? you might also ask. Well, for one thing, there’s the vodka and then the Russian anarchists, like Bakunin, Nechayev, and Kropotkin in case you want to overthrow a dictator and create chaos.
Anglo-American philosophy is, these days, a rather anemic, pale affair that should characterize true philosophical discord rather than argumenting over the meaning of “is”. All of this prattle about language and language games comes from that weirdo ‘Australian, a man by the name of Luddite Witlessstein. “Oh, my Professor Hoopla, whatever is the matter; you’ve gone quite pale.” “No, no. Don’t give me any ‘God Almightys’, that’s back in the addlepated, irreverent department of Religion and Theology that we decided is superfluous.
So, to resume, there’s all this endless pitnicking and these language games are just small scale versions of charades and Scrapple, not to mention an inordinate fuss about rabid ducks.
And then, there are those French Advent Garter soi-distant philosophasters who practice Deconobstructionism. A more academically sui degeneris bunch you cant’ image. There’s Jacque (The Leopard) Leotard leaping around from stupidity to absurdity in a single paragraph. Or Gorgeous George Battile pont-tificating from the Pont de Neuf. And, of course, one mustn’t forget everyones favorite dandy, Jacques Deridada, who extricated the ‘profound ass-ertive depths of an eggnomatic sentence’ of Nietzsche and was thankfully able to reveal the deep significance of even the most casual remark of a genius such as Nietzsche. The sentence in question is ‘Ich habe meinen Regenshirm vergessen.’ I would imaginate that this applies not only to water (d’eau} but to the three elementaries as well, earth, air, and fire which provide a springboard to Heidegger’s quadrate. The translation of the this sentence in question is, as I’m sure you know, ‘I have forgotten my umbrella”.
In most of the rest of the world, philosophy has either been banned or ignored. So, it’s up to you lazy louts to get up off your dusters and restore the greatness associated with philosophasting.
C) Literature–Now here I must admit to a weeny bias; when I think of genuine literature, there are some rather strict strictures. Literature is, of course, fundamentally English and, by that I mean, essentially British–not that polatry pablum that the Americans try to pass off for writing. John dos Posse, John Steinbecker, Henry Hapless James, Willian “Just call me Bill” Fulkrum, Fillup Wroth, Edger allan Poope, Heman Deville, Walt Grassy Whitman, Mark Train a.k.a. Sammy Cloghorn Clement, Toimmy Stern Endiot, F. Scotty Fitzjerry, Vladimir Nokitoff, John Updyke, Curn Funnygut. With a rooster of names like that, what can one expect? I mean really? So, now, we’re quite clear about that. American literature is on ox and moron and so no courses are needed to serve a pseudo-category.
As for other possibilities for genuine literature, beyond our beloved British Isles, one must grudgingly admit that there are some German writings that are actually great literature and amazingly even some French works.
So, let’s start with the Krautburgers and, I must admit, I love good Sauerkraut. Now, one of these early scribblers, a guy named Goth, Johann Wolfgang Goth, probably also loved Sauerkraut. He had a close friend down the in Viemart, a man called Freddy Schill. “Oh, for goodness sake, what is it now, Professor Hempelpfeffer?” “Oh, yes, Schiller,,–eh, ah, Schiller and what?” Oh, yes, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Rather a fancy-schmancy name, don’t’ you think? Really, Dr., if you keep getting so angitated, we’ll have to call a doctor for you.” Now, where were we? Ah, yes, the German writers or Schrimpsellers, yes, righty, ho, Schiftsteller. These Germans do seem to go out of their way to make things difficult. Do you know that annually, every year, there is a contest in German for the longest compound noun that makes sense and one of my professors submitted: “Oberammergauerpassionsfestspielklosterdelikatsfrühstückskäse”,which is simply a cheese made in a monastery as a delicacy for the Passion Plays at Oberammergau. Now, you can’t get much more straightforward than that! However, during that nasty Nazi period, H., who shall not be named, wanted to purge the German language of all foreign words and derivatives and so the word “dynamo”, an unclean Greek word, was replaced with “Wassertreibselektrizitätsherstellungsmachine:–a water-driven electricity producing machine. Well, how did we get off on this tangent? Prof. Hakenpeeper, you really must try to control your tendency to detract me. Well, you know this Goethe guy used to write some rather wristcay stories for private circumambulation among his friends and, in one of these there was a character named Herr Hosenscheisser. Well, see, now Professor Howitzer, you’ve done it again. Let’s stay on subject. Some other truly important writers must be included and this next one is rather long-winded; namely, Thomas Mann, but I do have to admit that he was an exceptional stylist–whenever I was in Los Angeles, I used to have him do my hair. Just kidding. However, I do have lots of stories about old Tom. I must tell you one of them because it’s too good not to. At the appropriate moment. You see, Prof. Hollykuck, you’ve gotten me off on a tangent to the hypotenuse once again. Well, what did he write? The first really biggie was, I guess, Budding Brooks, which is about a family somewhere in North Germany. Then, there’s the famous Magic Mountain which is about a tuberculosis solarium where Hans Castrate and Madame Cha Cha listen to debates between an Intailian humanist and a Jewish Jesuit plus there is a long disposition on Time and this volume is several hundred pages, certain enough to produce a cerebral hernia. What he needed was a good editor or more likely an entire editorial staff. Anyway, this leads me back to my story about when old Tommy Mann was living in Los Angeles. A friend went to him and told him that the famous critic Feelbe Wigfester, or some such, was giving a lecture on Mann’s Magic Mountain, and that they should go have a listen. Now, Mann always admitted that the novel was full of both big and little guities, but mostly ambiguities. So, they went and the critic outlined layer after layer of symbolism, multiple meanings, emnigmas, and plot regressions. As Mann and his friend left the lecture, the friend asked Mann: “Did you really put all that in there?” Mann replied: “No, but it’s there.” I’ve always found this a charming little story.
Mann’s other biggie was Dr. Faustus about some fishmonger who sold his sole for deviled eggs or some such nonsense. How the Germans do go on and sometime a single sentence can fill an entire printed page. “Oh, my Prof. Howitzer is all agitato again. No, no, don’t remind me; it’s all coming back to me. The inspiration was Goethe’s Faust who was one of those bloody scholars who studied just about everything, but still wants to know more; in fact, he wants to know everything! Talk about hubris!!! He wants to be god; he wants to be omnivorous. So, he makes this deal with Bill Bub, also know as Mefistofollies. And then some trollop gets involved and everything ends happily ever after. Well, after dew consideration, I’m not so sure that we need to include the Germans in the Literature department after all.
Now, what about the French? Well, there’s Madame Boulevard by Honorable Bizarre. “Oh, no, Prof. Howstay, I realize it should be Honorable de Bizarre. Oh, don’t tell me, I should know this. He’s the humorist who wrote The Comic Human and Madam Boulevard was written by this other guy–no hints now, it wasn’t de Maupassant; ah, GusTav Flowbear. Another very long novel about some silly woman and a mediocre, dull doctor. It’s all terribly, terribly boorgewash. Well, so far the French aren’t doing any better than the Germans. However, there’s this other chappie, Marcel Proop, who must have had some German blood in him somewhere, as he wrote 7 volumes in very fine, interminable print. Even the title is Germanal in length: A la Reshersh du Pont Pairdu, which translates as something about being quiet when crossing bridges. Then, there is Albert Camoo, whose riveted novel The Stranger opens with the riveting sentence: “.” (‘Aujourd'hui maman est morte’). Translation: “Today mother is with Uncle Mort.” the main character Mehrso is an outliar who shoots an Arab and when in prison for the murder is visited by a prison chaplain to whom he says that he doesn’t have time for God when the chaplain asks him if he has a wristwatch. This became a major work in that minor movement called excrementalism. His other major minor work is The Fall and it’s all very abstuce and neither Adam nor Even ever appear as characters; the only named character is a chappie called Clamence whom some have described as “an idea that talks”. He is, as the young would say today, “one deeply weird dude”, because he seems to believe that he is a walking, talking mirror.
Well, while we’re on weird French excrementalists, I suppose we have to mention Jean-Paul Saytr. He was, according to the French, not merely a novelist, but a man of letters, although I’ve never understood what knowing ones ABCs has to do with being a writer. In addition to writing novels, he wrote turdgid, endless tomes of philosophy and also essays, plays, short stories, and criticism. His most famous philosophical work is L’Etre et L’Neant (The Letter and the Ant) in which he argues that we are condemned to be free and in case you’d prefer that message in novel form, he wrote a 3 volume trilogy called The Roads to Freedom. He was the companion and lover of Simone de Boudoir and she encouraged and inspired him. It is still uncertain as to whether or not she should be forgiven. Saytr’s best know novel is Nausea and many have argued that that’s the only work of his that one ever needs to read. Well, I don’t think we need to be too concerned about not having the French in a Literature Department especially given how rude they are to us British when we speak to them in exemplary French and they pretend not to understand.
Then, I suppose we have to at least consider the Russians since our royals had some imperial hanky panky going on with them for a while. However, I must admit that it’s rather difficult to take a literature seriously which uses a surrealistic alphabet which according to tradition was named after Saint Surreal. The two 19th Century standouts are Shrenepilov and Kamtonika–“Oh, no, Professor Hornkney, I’m just teasing; you can sit back down and ‘Porter, you should bring him brandy, but if you can’t manage that, a Porter will do.’” Clearly the two great Russian 19th Century novelists were Destroyevski and Toilstoy. Destroyesvski wrote that famous work about demonic spirits taking people over, The Possessed, and he wrote The Imbecile, The Brothers Kalashnikov, and Grime and Punishment. They ramble on and on and the characters have unpronounceable names which keep changing or getting added to.
Leo Toilstoy’s three most popular works are 1) War and Pieces which goes on interminably about the French invasion and Napoleon’s obsession with making the Russians eat torts. 2) Anna and the King of Kalinka or Anna Kalinka for short. This centers around an unhappy love affair–when these writers get a hold of things there doesn’t seem to be any other kind. Also there’s a train journey; some kind of travel in Russian novels is de rigger. 3) The Death of Ivan Ill-Itch –absolutely dreadful–fatally scratches himself to death.
Well, time is getting on and I see Professor Harkonen waving a big banner at the back of the auditorium. “What does it say? Oh, yes, ‘Dean Spooner has a lovely 25 year old Scotch whiskey waiting.” Oh, yes, time is indeed up and I still have so many fine suggestions as to how you academics can make something of yourselves and your institutions. However, it’s now clear that this is a gargantuan and pantagrueling task which will require a considerable number of my inspiring and insipid lectures and I look forward to seeing you all again very soon. With that I wish you all a dew.
All comments to the author Richard Howey are welcomed.
Editor's note: Visit Richard Howey's new website at http://rhowey.googlepages.com/home where he plans to share aspects of his wide interests.
Published in the April 2021 edition of Micscape Magazine.
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