Category Archives: Question authority

Excerpt from an introductory lecture

Hello all, and welcome!

This is the first lecture of the semester, and – I suspect – for some of you the first university lecture altogether. Those of you who have been here before know what to expect, but it’s good to hear these things anew, to refresh one’s memory and make sure things are still as they used to be. Certainty and reassurance being in short supply these days. Sometimes, stating the obvious serves to ensure we’re all facing in the same direction

As you know, this is a university, and at universities we seek to expand knowledge. Both on a large scale, with experiments and suchlike, and on a smaller scale, one head at a time. The heads, in this case, belong to you, and what you are about to experience is an opening up of possible lines of thinking. You all have a certain range to your thinking, and by the end of this semester that range will be larger than it is now. It does not matter how big it is at the moment – you will all walk out of this with bigger heads than you had walking in

I say this to ensure that you at all times know why you are doing the things we ask you to do. Why read this book? Because it lets you think larger thoughts. Why write this assignment? To have done it, and know in your souls you can do it again, should need be. Why do you need to know this or that? To ensure that the bigger picture emerges afterwards, allowing you to stride forth with renewed confidence

Ideally, you should approach upcoming lectures with trembling knees, apprehensive of the new vistas of thought that will reveal themselves. The person you are now is a mere precursor to the person you will become, the contours of which you can only vaguely glimpse at the present. The future is arriving, and it will collide with you head on

And yes, personal growth will be on the exam. That is one of the few things you can be sure of

Retroactive authorship

The first thing the time travelers learnt was that it is very to mess up and destroy your timeline. Not in the way most commonly depicted in fiction, where the protagonists return to the present only to discover that the circumstances under which they and they families live have altered dramatically (a concession to the real-world fact that fictional time travel is a great excuse to put actors in new costumes), but in the slightly more brutal way of you and everyone you’ve ever known have been preemptively eliminated from history. It is a specific kind of bummer to find that the new timeline caused by your interference does not (and never will) include you in any way whatsoever

This lesson was learnt by messing up the timeline, and then having said messing of up prevented by someone from an upcoming timeline interfering and stopping it outright. It was hinted that this interloper arrived from a place hundreds of timeline alterations upstreams, but alas, we will never know for sure, no matter how many times we ask

The second thing the time travelers learnt was that timelines are strangely robust when it comes to alterations of routine events with high probabilities. An extra face at a large sporting event makes no difference to or fro. The same goes for any kind of large scale social gathering with a semblance of anonymity – as long as the travelers are part of the crowd and only intervenes in ways heavily scripted by the social situation, their impact is negligible to nonexistent. If something was likely to happen at one particular such gathering, it would happen the next time, had it been prevented somehow

Thus it came to pass that one of the main uses of time travel was to gather contextual information about already known events. In particular, literary scholars sent themselves back in time to attend university lectures and seminars on important (and contemporary) works of fiction. Ironically, authorial intent is a lively business

A question of style

I lack all style whatsoever. I make Feyerabend look like the paradigm of systematized thinking. I make Wittgenstein look long-winded. I make Hegel look straightforward and undialectic. I make Nietzsche appear like the man to ask for common sense advice. My entry into the discourse firmly placed Foucault in the American pragmatic tradition. I spoke a sentence, and Glaucon disagreed. Socrates asked me a question, then changed his mind. I walked into a room, and Guy Debord took up drag racing. I performed on stage, and both Judith Butler and Erving Goffmann became traditionalists. When I spoke to Zizek, he did not mention Kung Fu Panda even once. Kafka once considered making me the protagonist of one of his stories, but found me too vague and undefined. Robert Musil took up statistical analysis. Pynchon called me the Kenosha Kid. According to Rowling, I was heterosexual all along

But, you know. I try best I can