Sunday, June 7, 2015

Cultural Literacy without tears (expanded)

We all want to be … well, we all wish to seem, culturally literate.  It can even be crucial to your career.  Recall that, in Agatha Christie’s classic Thirteen at Dinner (which of course you do recall, don’t you), the schemes of the murderer come unraveled when, at a dinner party, she ignorantly assumes that “the Judgement of Paris” alludes to the capital of France.

Das Urteil des Paris
(so hard to choose …)

But as one wise philosopher observed here, that’s way 2 much work.
Accordingly, we offer, gratis (free-will offerings  gratefully accepted),

Dr J’s  Han-D Cultural Literacy Cheat-Sheet

Bullet-proof lines  for use in social gatherings.  If someone mentions the following subjects, here is how you reply:

Beyoncé / Jay-Z / Justin Bieber /Rihanna / …  :   (groan)  “That’s so-o-o-o last-week…”

The Riemann Hypothesis: (pause thoughtfully;  then say, as though weighing each word)  “Basically,  a kind of Thinking Man’s  Poincaré Conjecture.”

Thomas Pynchon :  (casually)  “I’ve read his upcoming blockbuster in galleys -- Deadly Penguins.  Makes all his previous efforts look like juvenilia.”

Karl Marx:  (Do not introduce this name into polite conversation.  However, if some rascal does, coolly reply:)
“MmmMarx,  mmmmyes.  Intermittently interesting.  Have you read his film criticism?”

Hegel:  “Wa-ay overrated.  Nothing but Karl Marx doing a headstand.”

Professor G.W.F. Hegel

[Note:  This one’s tricky.  Since the name is pronounced HAY-g’l , you’ll need to somehow make clear that you are not talking about the current Secretary of Defense.]

Aristotle:  (If no-one ever slyly slips this name into conversation, then you are attending the wrong parties.)  Personally, I prefer Plato.”

Plato:  (If someone angling for the attentions of the same girl or prospective employer drops “Plato” into the conversation as a sort of knight-to-bishop’s-three, you’ve got stiff competition.  Time to pull out all the stops.)
“ ‘Plato’;  realll-ly. -- Impossible to appreciate outside the context of the post-Heracliteans.”
(At that point, unmanned, your opponent will deflate and slink off.)

Of course, the best way to establish your up-to-the-minute literary-philosophical creds,  is to pipe up brightly:

Have you read the latest  from Dr Justice?
A wise-cracking two-fisted pre-Conciliar thriller,
Available in

Update 2015]

I often read the less well-known works of G.K. Chesterton, in the uniform Ignatius Press edition -- partly because they offer the nearly complete works;  partly because the physical production is exquisite -- crisp printing  and paper to die for;  partly because Ignatius is a Catholic press, which I am happy to support.  Indeed, further, I had rather hoped that their notational apparatus would be fuller and more scholarly than what is provided in by pop publishers:  but alas …

On page 119 of What I Saw in America (1922), GKC writes:

… he might be as wise as Socrates, and as splendid as Bayard, and yet be unfitted ….

Curious to see spicy arcana what the editor might add to the cursum vitae of that “chevalier sans peur et sans reproche” -- that preux (to use Bertie Wooster’s term) and parfit  gentle knight, whom you will have learned about  if only from reading Wodehouse, in case the thing was never whipped into you at Eton -- I checked the footnote.  In vain.

James Asheton Bayard (1767 - 1815) was an American politician and member of U.S. House of Representatives. …


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