Monday, January 7, 2008

abra cadabracademics

Chinese and Japanese historians are gathered in Beijing as we speak, to discuss the politics of interpreting history. More specifically, to address discrepancies between their respective history books. But that's not what interests me.

BEIJING, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- Chinese and Japanese academicians held the third in a series of meetings this weekend aimed at bridging differences over interpretations of history, amid a warming of bilateral relations.

Academician. Hehehe. I thought it was a fake word. You know, like falsificationism, or controlabilification or something like that. But it's a real word according to Merriam-Webster. It refers to an academic who promotes the academics. (As opposed to all those academics who spend all day convincing kids not to keep going to school because it's pointless.)

But I like my fake idea of an academician. It conjures images of magic. Of cloaks and masks and scantily clad female grad student assistants who run off with their magician/patron/professors, who together would take their show on the road, renaming their Historiography of Historicism paper:

Then is Now

Actually, magic could do a lot for bored grad students. Just think of the most boring seminar you were in, or else the most boring college course, period. (Classical Japanese Poetry, for me)

The Academician
The Professor, an Asian-American man in his late 40's, of very slight build and measuring no more than 5 feet in height, glides into the room on a dolly emitting smoke. He has masked his face with the backs of his fists crossed at the wrists, held up in front of his eyes. As the entrance music (Cirque Du Soleil theme music circa 1995) diminuendos to silence, he lowers his arms and steps off the dolly, and introduces himself.
"I'm Hikaru Shirane, and this is..." an explosive burst of glitter shoots up into the air, directly in front of The Professor, before he steps over the falling confetti and finishes his sentence, "...Classical Japanese Poetry."
The Professor then jerks to his left, pointing at his assistant, The TA (her real name is Meredith and she's a twelfth year PhD candidate from Baltimore). The TA walks slowly towards the classroom and starts handing out an outline on the different ways to qualify auxilliary verbs in The Tale of the Genji, as The Professor says,
"Can I get a volunteer?" The classroom sits in stunned silence, and since no one raises their hand, The Professor elects the young overweight man in kakhis and school sweatshirt to come up, motioning simply by curling his black leather clad index finger.
"What's your name, young man?" The Professor extends his hand to shake, when the student notices an Ankh grafted into the leather glove.
"Uh, Peter Obermann." Peter starts sweating lightly.
"Alright Peter. Have you ever taken Classical Japanese Poetry, or Professor Smith's Classical Chinese Poetry in Ancient Japan?"
"Good...good. Ok, I need you to think of a character from The Tale of the Genji. Any character. Just don't tell me which one." Peter, having never read any part of the seminal novel, can only think of the title character, and does so now, very intently. Meanwhile, The Professor walks to the dry-erase board, which is cloaked in black velvet, before asking Peter and the classroom,
"Is it..." and he rips off the cloak to reveal a perfectly parsed classical Japanese poem, with each verb, subject and tone identified, with one name at the center, highlighted by the purple ink it has been written in. It is Genji. Peter, blinking rapidly now, stammers in disbelief, and looks at the classroom with his jaw agape.
"It is! It is! It's Genji!"

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