Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 4

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on April 17th, 2007

The first part of this story may be found here, the second part here, and the third part here.

Coffee in hand, I fled the cafeteria and found my way to the first session of the morning.

I had selected it whimsically, based solely upon the fact that all three papers being presented had misused quotations from Chaucer in their titles. Not that it would have been difficult to pick out a score of other sessions which had similar deficiencies.

But then it is a common joke, the Medievalists and their penny a dozen titles, titles which always seem to begin with a quote from the Canterbury Tales and go downhill from there: “He coude roste, and sethe, and broille, and frye:” Supercilious Nonsense About Inane Stuff in Chaucer’s Something or Other Tale.”.

Pfui.

At least I’d have the pleasure of asking subtly vexing questions at the end of the presentation.

To those of my readers who’ve never been to the International Congress on Medieval Studies, you must understand that this is the largest academic conference in the world, one which is attended by upwards of 5,000 medievalists and their hangers-on (think of limpets stuck to the bellies of snails). These five thousand medievalist produce voluminous stacks of paper, which are then read out loud, three or four at a time in lugubrious monotones, to other medievalists who are waiting their turn to read their papers.

And the thus sum of human knowledge advances.

I, myself, am complicit in this undertaking, having produced somewhere on the order of 650 academic papers, more than 100 scholarly articles, and fifteen books (none of the latter of which, I am happy to say, remain in print).

Of course, I would trade them all in an instant to be able to write a single chapter of H. Rider Haggard, or a single line of Karl May.

So yes, I am complicit in this enterprise, but to my credit I have taken the honorable route of making my presentations unusually unintelligible. My papers, when read out loud, are nothing more than 20 mintues of unadulterated tosh, a fact which saves me incalcuable amounts of time in the writing, and confounds my audience into utter silence in the hearing.

One would imagine that my listeners would rise up as a body and cast me from the academy as a charlatan, but show me a single academic who is brave enough to say, in front of his colleagues, “I don’t understand,” and I’ll send immediate notice to my friend Diogenes to extinguish his lamp.

So I attended the morning sessions, endured the execrable lunch, and pushed on into the afternoon, enjoying myself as much as possible, for my great moment on the Kalamazoo stage was fast approaching.

Tomorrow, dear readers, I shall continue this story.

Read: Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 4 »


My Apologies

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on April 17th, 2007

I had promised to give you the fourth installment of von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, but unfortunately I was felled over the weekend by what was either a two-day version of the bubonic plague or a bad döner kebab.

I am now somewhat better, and will post part four of von Korncrake in Kalamazoo later this evening.

Read: My Apologies »


Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 3

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on April 15th, 2007

The first part of this story may be found here, and the second part here.

On my first morning in America, I emerged into the Midwestern daylight and was immediately engulfed by the International Congress on Medieval Studies, like a German sunbather in a tsunami, swept up in a roiling mass of 5,000 screechingly insecure academics.

I fought past the pudgy historical reënactors, and pushed my way through the crowd into the main hall, until I was swimming with the current to the coffee urn in the cafeteria, where I found nothing but diluted tar-water and non-dairy creamer. I gratefully choked it down accompanied by a hemorrhoid-pillow-sized sugar doughnut. I would have preferred my customary breakfast of Früstück Weisse and bran flakes, but when in the wild among savage peoples one must quickly adapt or die.

As I returned for a second cup of “coffee”, I noticed a curious and stilted social dance. Everyone, myself included, was wearing a personalized badge which named the institution to which the wearer belonged, and predictably, the academics were using this information to quickly sort each other into a heirarchy of supposed merit. God help the poor community college scholar.

At the urn I was accosted by a lank-haired, rat-faced, middle-aged female. Her badge identified her as belonging to a third tier state university in North Dakota. She stood directly between me and the coffee.

“Institute fur Europayshe…” she leaned forward, adjusting her glasses.

“Europäische Spielwissenschaft und Freizeitforschung,” I corrected, “and good morning to you. I am Herr Professor Doktor Boethius von Korncrake. And you, madam, are in the way.”

“I’m Sally.” she answered, heedless of my needs.

She extended her hand.

I took it and gently pulled her to one side and poured myself a second cup of coffee.

“I apologize,” I lied, “I’m terrible if I don’t have my morning coffee.”

She laughed. I fled.

Tomorrow, dear readers, I shall continue this story.

Read: Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 3 »


Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 2

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on April 13th, 2007

The first part of this story may be found here.

After a lengthy flight from Frankfurt to Michigan, with a change to a regional carrier in Detroit, I arrived in Kalamazoo jet-lagged and exhausted, but happy.

I had with me three copies of my paper, one in my suitcase, the second in my briefcase, and the third artfully folded and stored on my person. I had made the additional precautionary arrangement of sending copies to the chair of my session, to each of the participants in the session, and to myself poste restante in Kalamazoo. There would be no danger that “Cultural Semiotics, Semi(n)ology and Semiotics: scientia omnis aut est de signis aut de rebus significatis: Text, Textuality and Semiosis” would not be delivered.

In the cab, on the way from the airport to the college, I tried to engage the driver, a rustic lout with a thick roll of fat on the back of his neck, in conversation.

“What is that beguiling music,” I asked, refering to the countrified Götterdämmerung issuing from the speakers behind my head.

“Toby Keith,” was his only reply.

The driver deposited me at the college. It was Thursday evening and only a few of the other participants had arrived, so I checked into my room, hoping to sleep until morning.

To say that the accomodations were Spartan would be to traduce the ancient Greeks. Indeed, only someone who had grown up in the Eastern Bloc could fully appreciate the soul-deadening, life-sucking nature of the dormitories at Western Michigan University.

My tiny room, recently vacated by students who had majored in Filth, was floored in worn commercial linoleum, and was furnished with a pair of sagging bunkbeds and cheap plywood chairs and desks.

I shared a single bathroom with an elderly Jesuit professor of history, who stank of whiskey and Burma Shave. He kept me awake most of the night by alternately praying the Rosary and singing “The Cliffs of Moher

“Your disgrace for me, has brought up shame on my behalf,” he shouted in something approaching a lilting scream, “What we’ve seen so far feels like you’re tearing up my scars”

The next morning, the full enormity of my errors became apparent when I stepped outside to find people in homemade armor shouting “Forsooth!” and bashing each other with wooden swords.

Tomorrow, dear readers, I shall continue my story.

Read: Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 2 »


I’ve Got a von Korncrake in Kalamazoo

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on April 12th, 2007

This afternoon, when I returned from a lengthy and sausage-intensive lunch, I found my chief assistants, Manfred and Helmut, atwitter. They had just received the improbably thick program of the 42nd Annual International Congress on Medieval Studies.

“Herr Professor von Korncrake,” squeaked Helmut, brandishing the monstrosity in my face, “look, here is the session in which Manfred and I will deliver our paper.”

“Ach, very good.” I replied, “and how many sessions are there? 620, well they certainly seem selective.”

“But Herr Professor,” said Manfred, “Herr Direktor Professor Kleimann said it would be an honor for us to present at this prestigious medievalist conference.”

“Well, as an expert on Late Ming Dynasty scholar-beauty romances, I’m sure he knows best.”

Truth be told, I was glad Manfred and Helmut were on their way to America, especially as I would not be going with them, for you see, dear readers, I have already been to Kalamazoo, and once was more than enough.

The trip was more than a decade ago, when I was still relatively content in my fate, before the world had shifted under me and rendered all of my plans and desires moot. (But that’s a funny story for another time.)

This story begins with the news that my paper, “Cultural Semiotics, Semi(n)ology and Semiotics: scientia omnis aut est de signis aut de rebus significatis: Text, Textuality and Semiosis”, had been accepted for presentation at a special session to be chaired by a very prestigious scholar, one who had made particular mention in his letter of my innovative use of two colons in the title.

I was giddy with pleasure, especially as the the Direktor of the Institut had agreed to fund the trip.

It was not much money, and I would be staying in the infamous Kalamazoo dorms, accomodations which even the most humble of Cistercians would have rejected as inadequate. But this was nothing, I had done my term as a conscript in the Nationale Volksarmee and was used to much worse.

The important thing was that I was going to America, my first trip abroad.

(Tomorrow, dear readers, I shall continue this story.)

Read: I’ve Got a von Korncrake in Kalamazoo »


Berlin Wall Stolen?

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on April 11th, 2007

“Guten Morgen, Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake,” said my chief research assistants, Manfred and Helmut, as I entered the office this morning.

“Guten Morgen, gentlemen,” i replied, removing my coat and hat and handing them to Helmut.

“Have you seen the news, Herr Professor?” asked Manfred excitedly, “the Berlin wall was stolen this morning!”

“Manfred, the Berlin Wall ceased to exist in 1990. I remember it vividly.”

“No, no, Herr Professor. I meant to say that someone has removed one of the commerative pieces of the wall that remained…” He was jabbering now.

“Precision, Manfred! Precision!”

It turns out that the city authorities of Berlin had removed one of the remaining sections of the wall to allow work to proceed on a project. But, I knew that even before Manfred had mentioned it, for I had read about it over a hearty breakfast of Frühstück Weisse and Pop Tarts.

Read: Berlin Wall Stolen? »


Music and Lyrics

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on April 10th, 2007

Last Tuesday afternoon, as I was trying to slip out four hours early, the director of our division, Herr Prof. Dr. Kleimann, ambushed me in the hallway. drewhugh.jpg

“Herr Prof. von Korncrake,” he asked, “I understand from your assistants that you are an afficionado of the comedic cinema?”

“Yes, Herr Direktor,” I said, forcing a cheery smile, “I have, on occasion, been known to enjoy a good laugh.”

“Wunderbar! Frau Kleimann and I saw the most delightful movie the other evening,” he said in that nauseatingly familiar manner he adopts with his underlings, “It was called Music und Lyrics. You should see it, Herr Professor, I think you would enjoy it.”

Well, dear readers, what could I do?

I had anticipated spending a pleasant afternoon at my favorite Bierstube, the Herrenhausen, drinking bock and playing skittle bowls with unemployed chemical workers, but now, I was caught like a rat in a trap. If the Direktor and his swinish hausfrau recommend a movie one is obliged to see it.

Read: Music and Lyrics »


Jealousy

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on April 8th, 2007

I had just come back from my morning constitutional around the Marktplatz when Silke, the department secretary, a tasty bit of blonde Topfenstrudel, met me at the door with the news that I had a visitor.

“Who is it, Silke?”

“It is one of your former students,” she said in that lilting-gutteral voice that German secretaries sometimes employ when they don’t like you, “I have let him into your office.”

“Good God!” I interjected, “Not the office!”

“Well, he seemed very nice, Herr Professor. He’s short, but good looking and rather distinguished.”

“Did he give you a name?”

“I’m afraid I forgot it.”

“Wunderbar.”

Read: Jealousy »


The Unbearable Lightness of von Korncrake

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on April 7th, 2007

I was sitting in my office the other day having just returned from a very satisfying lunch with my chief research assistants, Manfred and Helmut, or as I like to refer to them, Tweedletoady and Tweedlegrovel, when the deputy chief our our division, Frau Prof. Dr. Beatrice Glaeßner, poked her inartfully dyed head into my office.

“Guten Tag, Frau Professor Glaeßner, what may I do for you?” I said, leaping to my feet, so as to be able to offer her my chair.

“Guten Tag, Herr Professor Korncrake,” she whispered, “Herr Direktor Professor Dr. Kleimann requires our presence in the conference room forthwith.”

You’ll notice that she refused to address me by my proper name, the aristocratic “von Korncrake “, preferring instead the more democratic “Korncrake”, which she does principally to twist the knife of her unmerited promotion deeply into the wound.

Read: The Unbearable Lightness of von Korncrake »


The Name “von Korncrake”

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on April 6th, 2007

Several people have inquired about the provenance of my name, “von Korncrake.”

Most of these interlocutors have noted that the bird known in the British Isles as the “corncrake” (Latin crex crex, named onomatopoeically after its distinctive call) is known in German as the the Wachtelkönig (”King of Quails”) not the “Korncrake”.

Presumeably this is pointed out with the intention of calling into question the design of this webpage, which prominently features illustrations of the crex crex/corncrake/Wachtelkönig.

My polite rejoinder is that, oddly, the etymology of von Korncrake is not found in the name of the bird, but rather is derived from an ancient Yotvingian word, Kyrnkyrklus, which named a species of pygmy toad that lived along the upper reaches of the Servac river.

Read: The Name “von Korncrake” »


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