Fiction
LiteratureEmail This Article Print This Article

From Myth and Reason

Laura Ludtke

Laura Ludtke
From Myth and Reason

A satirical look at academia, parents, and love in the twenty-first century, this excerpt from Laura’s current fictional work-in-progress, Myth and Reason, finds a young researcher William and the enigmatic Ophelia at a reception on the eve of the big New Romanticism conference.

A part of her hated the silence more than the way he tried too hard to show how like her he was, so she began to recount, with extreme diligence, the doldrums elicited at the plenary address that had been delivered by the editors of the highly regarded New Romanticisms journal. The plenary had addressed the topic of the journal’s founding principles, the anticipated difficulties and successes of academic journals in a newly digital age, and the future of the field.

“And then he descended into one unending sentence—a cavalcade of ‘ism’s’ interrupted and punctuated by works and authors too obscure even for a room full of intellectual obscurantists. By this time, the ‘names’ had arrived. At one point I think he was worried he would leave something or someone out, so he decided to take the approach of taking every approach and reading from every angle: both the text and the posturing of his body in relation to the audience, the angle of his head in respect to the lectern, and to his incomprehensible paper.

“In the end, rather than admit defeat—that they had been unable to understand a single word his gaping jape of a mouth and his thin, fast-moving lips laboured to produce—the audience just nodded its assent like fat calves before the slaughter, rose to its feet in applause, and asked bland questions about how his ‘ideas’—and I use this term generously—might relate to their own work, which is not at all.

“Also, never use a timed slide show if you haven’t practiced the timing until it doesn’t seem timed or coordinated in any way, only seamless and completely complimentary. Don’t use a timed slide show upon which every point you make relies upon a slide’s very timely-ness. Even the name ‘Power Point’ reveals the true function of the digital slide show presentation. Each slide exploding into view, each bullet point flying in from the left with a ‘woosh’, every letter falling from above at a gallingly slow rate and accompanied by the artificial typewriter sound should add power to your point, not take it away. The language of the digital slide show is an agonistic one: power, bullet, &c.” She felt on fire.

“Do topics other than the wretchedness of plenary talks make you this passionate? I think I like you like this.”

“That’s not funny. It was horrible. This plenary was a harbinger for the whole conference, where all the greatest ‘names’ in Romanticism will converge to disorient the helpless, hapless, full fee-paying attendees.” Is all of academia like this, she wondered, or just conferences organised by my mother?

“Speaking as a thrifty junior research fellow hoping to get his money’s worth, would you like to re-join the reception and get a glass of champagne or two?”

She paused a moment before she spoke: “Sure, but why not abscond with a full bottle and go down to the beach as the sun sets.”

“Can we do that? I mean, get down to the beach from here—not make off with our weight in fizzy drink.”

“Yes, there’s a lesser-known entrance behind the Haida house on the west side of the reflecting pool.”

They made their way back through the maze of display cases and past the concrete rotunda, where Bill Reid’s iconic Haida sculpture, The Raven and the First Men, stood. William slowed to a stop, taking her hand with his.

“What does it mean?” he asked.

“Everything.

‘Here abouts was the saltwater, they say.
He kept on flying, Raven did,
looking for land that he could stand on.’

“The Raven is an old trickster god; the meaning of his tricks often escape understanding. What with all those rainy weekends spent in a museum, I’m surprised you haven’t figured it all out.” She smiled at him.

Laura Ludtke is reading for a DPhil in English at St Anne’s College, Oxford.