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Sunday, 09 October 2005


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Rich Puchalsky

Hmm, interesting story. I would guess that at some point you skimmed through the whole book, looking for some remark like "Wrong! Wrong!" or "Brilliant!", right?

The first similar story that springs to mind for me was from sometime late in the 20th century. I was working half time freelance, half time for an environmental group, and a (small) part of my job was to squabble with industry at various meetings. Depending on who you were dealing with, they'd like to try various petty intimidation things -- I remember that at my first-ever one, when I was just getting started as a volunteer activist (and grad student), they sent somebody outside to take down my license plate number during the meeting, and informed me at the end that according to state law I had to have an in-state license plate, and how could I bring up their air pollution when I was breaking laws myself etc etc.

At any rate, I walk into this meeting, and there are the usual row of industry people facing me and, I think, one other enviro. I don't even remember why we were there; I'm pretty sure it was some deregulatory issue that an association of chemical manufacturers was trying to negotiate with us about, and my part of it was to not negotiate. So, just before the meeting starts, one of the industry people starts talking to me, supposedly being interested in what I do. He pulls out a sheaf of paper and I realize that he's printed out parts of my Web site. Seemingly pointless; why print out the front page, which is largely links? But of course it was for the suggestion that they could track me, which in the days before Google existed was not quite as obvious as it is now, and to make it clear that they had taken the trouble to research me beforehand. He might have written small, cryptic notes on the paper as well, though of course he only brought out the paper for long enough for me to see what it was. It didn't work; I had long since gotten used to things like that.

That's nowhere near as good as your story, I realize now that I've typed this. Might as well hit post now though...

Adam Kotsko

Not nearly as good as your story, but I do have an "academic celebrity" story that I might as well share -- when I met Simon Critchley, the first thing I said to him was, "I know a guy who claims to have seen Derrida's penis."

I had already been accepted to New School at that point.

Adam Kotsko

Also, more directly related: Does Irvine not have a Barnes and Noble?

Adam Roberts

A good friend of mine, a keen-enough deconstructivist (so many of us were, back then) met Derrida at a Cambridge posh do in the early 90s, and she thought it would be a good idea to say 'it's great to be in your presence, sir, yuk-yuk.' And, without saying anything in reply, he. Slowly. Turned. His. Back. On. Her.

Come to think of it, she hasn't had much luck with celebrities. She once queued for many hours to get her copy of Johnny Rotten's (as I always still think of him), which is to say John Lydon's autobiography signed. When she finally got to the head of the queue she asked him, 'hi, can you please write in it, "To Pam, I mean it maaan"?' And he said, 'no.' Didn't even sneer it. Perhaps that's the punkier thing to do, I don't know.

Ach, I apologise for unloading weak and, worse, second-hand stories upon you. Still, as Rich writes above, I might as well press 'post' now ...


Once at the MLA while roaming the cold streets alone looking for a place to eat lunch I passed Stephen Greenblatt, also alone, roaming the same cold street with a very determined look. As I passed him I noticed a string tying his impassive face to the back of his head, like those masks in *Maus*.


I left academia after that.

Rich Puchalsky

It must be pretty horrible to be John Lydon. I remember the bit about him and the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002 -- well, might as well go to poetry:

The Golden Jubilee of John Lydon

When there’s no future, how can there be sin
We are the flowers in the dustbin
Left to compost, turning to mold
Easy innocence is getting old

No more future, we’ve eaten the past
The golden present is here at last
Nostalgia makes our daily bread
All of our music is already dead

The human machine will not stop or slow
No future, we said, that was decades ago
Oh lord God have mercy, all crimes are paid
Now that we live in a world that we made

Adam Roberts

I like the ""I know a guy who claims to have seen Derrida's penis" story; but comic logic would surely require an ""I know a guy who claims to have seen Lacan's penis." Or, as second best, Zizek's. Now that story could get cross-posted to the Valve.

It's hard to feel too sympathetic for John Lydon once you've watched him on I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! Which is worth a google if you don't know it.

Rich Puchalsky

Yeah, I was using him more as an example of the general tragedy of identification with youth culture.

I think it's vaguely interesting that I read Scott's story as "subgenre: people unexpectedly marking up your stuff" and everyone else seems to have read it as "subgenre: encounters with celebrities".


Funny post Scott.

Scott Eric Kaufman

I've been wanting to respond to my responses here all day, but have been distracted by vicious bouts of Dresner-inspired hand-wringing, lesson-planning and the quotidian demands of daily life...but something compels me to comment on this tonight, despite the delirious state I'm currently in, and that's the reference to this post as a "story" in a couple of comments. It's not a "story." It happened. I considered bringing the digital camera to bear on the book and the postcard before I posted, but decided not to because it involved many wires. But I can, if I must, to prove that this "story" isn't a "story" so much as an "account."

Such things happen to one when teaching literary journalism. I fear I suffer the fear of disbelief I imbue in my students every quarter...the one which leads them to turn in their final article, a couple of micro-cassettes, three notebooks and a VHS tape of their final interviews with the subjects. You know, The Fear.

ben wolfson

Irvine has a Barnes and Noble, Costa Mesa has a Borders, and of course Laguna Beach has a fiercely independent bookstore called Latitude 33 which my mother used to manage.

ben wolfson

I think Borders runs UCI's bookstore, too. But I'm not really sure about that.

Rich Puchalsky

I would guess that everyone's stories in this thread actually happened (except T.V.'s). They'd be more baroque otherwise.

But even though I don't question that your story actually happened (although I should, ever since Berube sorely shook my trust in anything resembling a lit studies anecdote), it is still unquestionably a story rather than an account.


What, now I'm the poster boy for "stories" vs. "accounts"?

I suppressed the part about Greenblatt's mask looking slightly feline because I may have confabulated that, but I did see the string.

Scott Eric Kaufman

Ben, I wasn't notified of your comments...strange. You must have special powers. Yes, there are Barnes and Nobles in Irvine, but the culture of Irvine is such that on the eve of Spivak's public lectures, during which, she's already announced, she'll be discussing Empire, there's no chance there'll be a copy of Empire at the bookstore.

Rich, you've no reason to question the veracity of my story, since I was also duped by Michael's. That said, I still think it's an account, but that may be because I teach literary journalism, a.k.a. the art of transforming facts into stories without compromising the veracity of the former and the entertainment value of the latter.

T.V., I think you're the poster boy for "T.V. Quality Accounts of T.V. Quality Perceptions."

Rich Puchalsky

By saying that your blog post was a story rather than an account, I wasn't questioning its veracity. Here's an easy way to tell it's a story: stories cause other people to want to tell stories, accounts do not.

Adam Kotsko

Where would a "yarn" fit into this scheme?

I've decided to change my story to the "Lacan's penis" thing.

Rich Puchalsky

Yarns differ from stories in being always untrue.


An anthropology grad student at the University of Chicago that I knew found a library book that had been signed out by Victor Turner in the days when signing out involved actual signing, on the library card that was still in the book's pocket, though no longer being used for anything. My friend took the card and burned incense in front of it when he was on the job market. It's not clear that Victor Turner was especially kind to him.


hey whats up just want to write a story im that bored so if there is some way can you sighned me in to one

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