I attended the talk with great difficulty, bearing two arms in white casts and loaded up on pseudo-opiate painkillers. But it was worth it because Charles Taylor is a living legend and you don’t want to miss a literal giant strut his stuff. He spoke for about 45 minutes against reductionist explanations.
Then at the end an oh-so-stylish UCD postgrad who might as well have been wearing a tshirt with Derrida’s face on it (sadly they exist) for all the effort he was making to come across as smart, took up the great Canadian intellectual on his incoherence. It is for this reason that I tend to dread the Q&A session after a public lecture. The kind of people who ask questions sometimes seem to be more interested in speaking than in learning or even engaging in dialogue.
Nothing will ever likely compare with the woman who in a Q&A session with Stan the Man, suggested, proposed, nay lobbied that responsibility for the formation of moral vision in the 21st Century must fall to… the novel! Hauerwas was surprisingly restrained in that he didn’t unleash his violent sonofabitch sensibilities and almost managed to deal politely with the suggestion. I didn’t have the guts to raise my hand to suggest that YouTube videos could shape our ethical imagination.
The same postgrad showed up (without my permission!) at a public lecture at Maynooth a few months ago. After Roger Scruton had finished his talk against reductionist explanations of the mind, this handsome joker raised the fact that he still thought Charles Taylor was an idiot. Scruton reacted by talking with respect of his friend “Chuck’s” eminence. He didn’t seem to address the problem of his obvious stupidity.
Too often, Q&A sessions seem to take the form of the questioner not questioning, but instead stating something and then looking for affirmation. At the end of Terry Eagleton’s recent lecture in Trinity someone described some allegedly cutting edge school of zombie criticism called Undead Decayed Scruturalism or something slightly less stupid and then summed it all up by asking Eagleton if he was familiar with the school?! Familiar with it! Not his opinion, critique or assessment. Not if this relates to the topic at hand. Just whether he was aware of it. Again, I didn’t have the guts to raise my hand to tell him that I have a money box that takes the form of a Tokyo subway car that makes the noises of the metro when you put in coins and was he familiar with my kitschy spare change holder (Aside: Did you know every ward in Tokyo has its own flag?).
In one of the greatest movies of all time, Godfather II, Michael’s son Anthony misses his absent father a great deal while he is in Las Vegas doing Godfathery things. He draws a picture of his dad in his car and builds a radio button survey (one assumes that he later became a web designer) asking “Do you like it. Yes _ No _”
The vast majority of Q&A sessions take the form of a lecture equivalent of this drawing. “I yearn, oh esteemed one, for you to recognise me. Validate me. Befriend me. Adopt me. Employ me. Dedicate a freaking book to me. So here is a statement. Do you agree? Am I good? Am I worthy?”
Very boring for the rest of us. After all, what I want to know is what font are they using in their powerpoint?
But for this reason I am nerding up on the history of the Chicago Cubs so that tomorrow when I hang out with Scot McKnight again he’ll recognise that I should really be put in charge of a new theological think tank he will get funding for, dedicated to thinking more god-like thoughts about baseball…
Your Correspondent, Posing as he types for Madame Tussauds