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Travelogue H14

May 11, 2016

So began the unending sequence of plenary conferences, shorter presentations and question-answer sections to which the participants, myself included, had voluntarily subjected ourselves. The results were mixed. Where a few speakers held the audience rapt with attention, more common proved those who prattled on about a niche or a pet thinker beyond the time allotted them. Still rarer were those who bored outright, for whom watching eyes glazed over and inevitably slid to smartphones beneath tables or behind books.

I had the pleasure of watching one such master at work, talking of how philosophers fixated on immanence to the detriment of transcendence and mapping a medical dictionary’s knowledge of membranes onto the world’s levels of existence. I better understood why he had taken care to distribute a transcription of his talk before beginning; visibly, no one followed his reasoning, a string of individually understandable units made incomprehensible through their association in novel syntaxes. At his presentation’s end, we found ourselves hard-pressed to address him the even least of questions. So, our prophet of transcendence and immanence instead attempted to foist on the few listeners who remained as many of his previous publications as possible. These came in the form of a pitiful booklet bearing titles equally beyond the understanding.

The prophet’s own performance stood but as the extreme manifestation of a more general trend to which we were all prey. Indeed, observations from the first and second days provided more than enough material. For the conference paid its respects to a single person, an East Prussian two hundred years dead. In his name we mouthed his ideas, his very meaning, in reading a paper composed of his words and ideas, with nary a glance at our listeners. Communication consisted in nothing more than directing a stream of words at one another and hoping that, on occasion, someone retained or seized on something of this flow and gripped, held tight, until time for discussion arrived, such that she might present it as she would a severed limb or a found object, sundered from all context.

Participants lingered more and more for the morning and afternoon coffee breaks, and it would not have surprised me to learn that, once back in their rooms that night, all collapsed with a dull thud on their beds, a touch too hard, life seeping from the vessels.

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