14-4 academic-arrogance

The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.


A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

14.4 (Fall 2014)





Homo Superior Rises from the Muck

Ivor Davies

     If only there were time, more time. Connect the dots. It all made perfect sense and explained everything that is or was or ever will be, like the Theory of Relativity. A name: that was one requirement. Time to think of a name that would grab dull minds and not let them go. Relativity, quantum mechanics, string theory. Read more science: draw a word from science, for the name. Something that would bring instant respect—a little hard to understand. Or very hard. But a magisterial sound. They wouldn’t really understand, anyway, even though it was so obvious. How many really understood relativity, even among the few?

Read some biology, some anthropology. Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon, hominid… cranial capacity, speciation, hypertrophy, vestigialism. The scientific basis was indispensable—for the dull minds. It couldn’t go on this way. People had to be made to understand, among the few. The few who could understand. Homo Sapiens after the fork, the branching: his higher morphosis. Homo Superior.


     “Philander Spode is very well known to everyone in this audience. But in case you’ve been living under a rock—or getting your news from FOX—Dr. Spode is the Niles Professor of Nineteenth-Century Studies at Guggenheim University. He is the author of innumerable articles connecting Romantic and Victorian literature with political movements of the day; and his latest book, The Byronic Hero and the Nietzschean Superman, appeared last year for Penn State Press. Yet the achievement for which he has been invited here this day to be our keynote speaker is his groundbreaking work in the field that he has named Evolutionary Aesthetics. Because of Dr. Spode’s labors, many of us are finding a voice to speak out against our outdated curricula and demand that we be allowed to truly educate the minds of our students….”

Bulletin of the North Central Modern Language Association, 31:2, p. 3:

“After Atwood’s introduction and a warm reception by the audience of almost 500, Spode delivered a talk in which he explained the ‘obsolescence of literature in a world of liberated will.’ The intelligentsia of previous eras, he maintained, were forced to express themselves in writing, where a series of filters—not merely the censor’s prohibition or the editor’s pen, but the very travail of writing and the paucity of the writer’s audience—assured the subduing of the authorial imagination. In the present age, however (Spode went on), literature has become but a curious artifact, and literacy itself a set of shackles soon to be struck off. Through electronic media, people are able to express themselves instantly before the whole world, and the traditional genres that once straitjacketed expression are being replaced by spontaneous outbursts.

“The profession as a whole has yet to determine its verdict on Spode’s radical ideas. Obviously, many of the professoriate who have devoted their entire careers to teaching and studying the great authors of the past are alarmed at the implication that their time has been misspent. Younger scholars, however, tend to find Evolutionary Aesthetics (or EA) energizing. Perhaps ironically, enrollment in Guggenheim’s English program has skyrocketed since Spode’s ideas have gained acceptance there.”


     “Phil, you should have seen the Provost’s face! You know how purple she gets when she blushes. Well, it was like watching a chameleon change right there under the lights!”

“To be fair, she doesn’t really understand Phil’s… whatever-you-call-it. The Evolution thing.”

“In that she is not alone!”

“I’d be very happy to explain it to her.”

“I mean, there she was with this pseudo-evolution business to defend in public, along with an agenda that she had no hand in endorsing. She apparently thought it had something to do with Darwinism, or at least with genetics… in both of which she was mistaken. But the name… I believe the colorful word is ‘hifalutin’… makes it all sound like real science.”

“And I believe your choice of colorful word is something I rather resent, Prasad. In any case, it is science, though perhaps not of the sort you’re familiar with.”

“Indeed, it is certainly not science as practiced in my field. But I will go further. What I hear of your theory is anti-educational, and that is why I find it in bad taste to laugh over Adriana’s being placed on the spot. I’m sure she perceives that educationally threatening aspect of it, as does the general public. And I must say… I really must ask, Spode, how in hell you expect us to introduce undergraduates to rigor, objectivity, research, method, protocol—how are we supposed to groom scientific thinking in them when half of the faculty is now committed to some wild theory that disparages reading?”

“Boys, boys! Eat your nice gâteau aux fraises and be quiet!”

“The theory does not disparage reading, if you care to know. It emphasizes that students must read in order to understand the degree of irrelevance and suppression in the past which has brought us to the present. Reading reveals the evolutionary mechanism.”

“All right, Phil. Ramajit, let’s not have another policy debate over dinner.”

“No, let’s just take pot shots at Adriana because she was placed in a position no less impossible than many of the rest of us.”

“Impossible… really? I don’t see how. I only brought it up—in an ill-inspired moment, it appears—because the whole scene was a bit funny. She had an awkward moment in front of a camera, and I thought I’d share it with Phil. I really don’t see any ‘pot shot’ in that, you know. Just a bit of humor. Is it a pot shot because she blushes that way, the way that we all know and love? I would tease her about it to her face if she were here, and I’ll bet she would laugh.”

“And blush purple!”

“You know, Marie, I’m on a diet, and I can tell that this delicious dessert of yours is sure to pull me far off the regimen. Besides, I have an early meeting tomorrow with the guy who’s supposed to donate the greenhouse for Riu’s energy project.”

“Aw, c’mon…”

“Please don’t anyone get up. I know my way out. Thank you so very much, Marie. Thank you, Anthony. Good night, Marie. Excellent meal, excellent! Good night, Anthony. I intended no offense to you, I assure you. I’m a bit chippy these days. The diet, you know.”

“Of course…”

“Good night, Felicia. Good night, Craig. Tomorrow at noon, correct? Yes? Yes, excellent.,, … … Professor… Spode…”

“Gee, that went well. If this was the party to celebrate your committee’s completing its charge, I can imagine what the meetings were like. Good thing I didn’t serve steak.”

“Serve… what?”

“The knives, darling. Phil, would you like more coffee?”

Later that evening…

“Marie says good night. She has a doctor’s appointment some time in the A.M.”

“Nothing… wrong, I hope.”

“Oh, no. Yearly check-up, that sort of thing.”

“You know, Anthony, I let the time escape me—I had no idea.”

“But it’s not late at all! And you haven’t finished your sherry.”

“No, you’re right. Let me just belt it down before I get behind the wheel and go navigate the campus police! Seriously, I do have an early class.”

“We would have done this on Friday or Saturday, but I couldn’t get everyone together…”

“Oh, tonight was marvelous! And maybe we’ll get another committee assignment together, and we’ll just arrange all our meetings to be like this!”

“Now, there’s an idea!”

“Enjoyed everything all around. No, don’t get up. Good night… if I can find my keys. Good night, again! Good night, Phil.”

“Cheers, old boy.”

“Humph. Hope he doesn’t trip over the hose—I should have moved it. Really fine fellow. Easy to work with. I’m just sorry that… it’s a shame that that bit of unpleasantness with Ramajit had to happen…”

“Unpleasantness? I found it quite amusing!”

“Hmm. Well, I wish I did. Brilliant fellow, you know… but kind of high-strung. I wonder what kind of diet he could be on, with his figure? He obviously was just using that as… oh, well. Water under the bridge. But you know, Phil, to be perfectly honest… well, no offense, but a lot of people around campus really don’t understand your theory. The Evolutionary…”

“It’s odd that nobody tells me that when I’m actually on campus.”

“Not odd, really. Not if you consider that they’re all… that we are all a bit intimidated by your brilliance! At least those of us who aren’t trained in your discipline have trouble—”

“But don’t you see? The ‘discipline’, as you call it, is a complete crock! That’s the whole point. All these monumental edifices of jargon and ideology—and their practitioners claim to be cutting-edge, but they’re only tearing down the old hierarchy in one place to build it up again in another.”

“Well, but… it does seem sometimes as though you’re promoting the overthrow of literacy, even though at other times you insist that you’re doing just the opposite.”

“To close the circle, yes. Man wants to get back to where he was when he was happy—when he was all natural, before the Word. But speech arrived, and then writing, and then print… and he became a prisoner wearing more and more chains. Now he is on the verge, if he will accept just a few more chains, of breaking his bonds forever. A new man, a new species… a higher man. A man who knows himself without reading, who declares himself without scribbling or pecking. Not the ape-man, but a fully man-man.”

“You mean, as in a robotic hybrid? A cyberman? Why are you laughing?”

“You see only a part of it—a very small part.”

“Well, I told you I’m not versed in the parlance of your discip—of your field. But I do know one thing, though! All that ‘man’ talk that you’re throwing around had better be p.c.-parsed into ‘person’. The feminists in your field will eat you alive.”

“Women will have to cease to be women—or to revert back to womanhood and stay there. Manhood is really what feminism is all about, you know. It’s what they’ve always wanted. It’s why they persuaded so many men to become women: so that they could pass them up on the evolutionary scale.”

“Oh. Umm… not that this is my field, either… but is that the correct way to speak of evolution? I mean, isn’t an evolutionary change supposed to require dozens or hundreds of generations?”

“You’re quite right, of course. So was Prasad, to be honest. My scientific knowledge… it’s altogether inadequate. I wish now sometimes that I had chosen anthropology instead of literature when I was a young sapling. I should like to make the rest of my life’s work, in fact, the complete annihilation of literary studies as we know them through anthropology. I should like to see one wholly absorbed by the other. That would be real progress. I was lying in bad a few weeks ago when it struck me just how much I need more scientific training, even if only to find a name for my theory.”

“A name? But… you mean, you want to change ‘evolutionary aesthetics’ to—”

“No, no, no! Not that theory! I’m already bored to tears with that. It doesn’t go nearly far enough. There needs to be a… a kind of unified theory. I don’t know what to call it yet… but it will explain everything! I tell you, Anthony, the greatest impediment to truth is knowledge! All our stupid preconceptions… we can’t see what’s been staring us in the face. All this time we’ve wasted thinking that there was such a thing as the human race!”

“And… there isn’t?”

“Of course not! It’s only recently been discovered that many of us are as much as five percent Neanderthal. And then there’s Homo Heidelbergensis. Look at the vast, vast physical diversity in what we call ‘humans’. It’s like speaking of a Hispanic as anybody named Gonzalez or Menendez, whereas some of those people are mostly of African slave blood brought to the Caribbean, some are entirely Amerindian, some pure Castilian, the vast majority an indecipherable mix of two or all three of the above… and the Castilians themselves are part Moorish. And here I speak only in analogy, you understand. I’m not really talking about physical traits at all: I don’t mean race. I mean the part you can’t see. The intelligence, the brain. That’s the part that separates Higher Man from Lower Man. And yet we lump them all together and call them ‘human’. It’s like saying that Einstein and a chimp are the same creature. It’s insane.”

“Insane… yes.”

“Yes. Take Prasad.”

“Ramajit? What about him?”

“A racist Victorian would have taken one look at him, seen his dark skin, and branded him inferior. But he is, as you say, brilliant.”

“Yes. Yes, he is.”

“That’s the kind of man I need to talk to. I need someone to help me understand—no, explain—how a higher race of beings can exist within or across the racial divides that we currently recognize. How can Prasad and I share a critical genetic component while the visible effects of our DNA express so much difference? How can we all find each other, we few? But it explains everything, this fragmentation. We could begin the era of solidarity, of convergence, if I could just enunciate the Unified Theory.”

“The… the Unified Theory of what?”

“That’s just it. I need a word, probably a genetic word. What is it? I’m… oh, how frustrating! I’m truly humbled by my lack of knowledge.”


     Survival. Survive and multiply. It was so obvious. To survive but not multiply was to perish, speaking evolutionarily. The winner must plant the flag, spike the ball. If Homo Superior triumphed over his competition only to die and leave no copies of himself, then he had lost. His species had lost. The “human race” would again be defined downward toward those apes who had scarcely left the trees.

Two obstacles to overcome, then. The first was the pernicious idea that higher, keener minds abstained from delights of the flesh. This was a shortcut to oblivion. Sex, at least for a man, was like a visionary drug, a supreme ecstasy. It stirred his imagination and awakened his vital energies to the maximum. Only dull minds stood in the way of admitting this truth. It was almost as though “lesser humanity”, paradoxically, were capable of devising a snare wherein “greater humanity” caught itself. How could Superior Man allow himself to be thus cut off from his destiny—his dominance of the future through his innumerable progeny—by a net of crass bourgeois hang-ups?

Then there was feminism, as Baglioni had said. Out of the mouths of babes and fools… but no, Anthony was one of the few, in his way. Maybe. Don’t rule him out. But then, there was the rub: the genetic blur, the man whose father had been superior but whose mother had been a mere Sapiens—or even worse (for many women might as well be baboons… and the photographs of women with substantial Neanderthal DNA, after all, were hot: a breeding-age male would have a hard time staying off them). Unless the Superior gene were dominant, then, Superior Man must almost never mate with Superior Woman, because educated women didn’t want offspring and seldom had them. But if the gene were dominant, then why were there so few Superior specimens?

Unless Superiority were repressed by bourgeois hang-ups. Maybe Superior Man simply didn’t breed enough. Maybe he did once, but didn’t now. Maybe Victorian “progress” had put a warp in real progress.

To be considered, though: why identify Superior Woman with the educated, and especially with feminists? A bunch of damn parrots squawking the same words that grad school had beaten into their ugly skulls! Perhaps, indeed, feminism had evolved as an elaborate rationalization for why ugly women remained untouched. Merely an intellectualized version of the “sour grapes” strategy. But who, then, were the Superior Women? But did it matter, as long as the Superior gene was dominant?

Or was genetic transmission, as currently understood—this was the real point—the only kind of cross-generational, interpersonal programming possible?

To be posed to an expert, perhaps Prasad: was the age-old taboo against father-daughter intercourse truly founded on the inviability of the possible embryo or the likely birth defects of a child… or was this just more bourgeois, bogey-man howling in the dark?


     “Dad, did you hear me? Yoo-hoo! I need to borrow your car this morning. I have an important interview.”

“Where is your car? Well, why are you looking at me that way?”

“Because you don’t listen! You never listen!”

“Ah. You were talking again while I was reading. I have asked you not to do that. Your mother always did that, too.”

“You weren’t reading. You were staring out the freakin’ window!”

“That’s how one reads, child. It’s called reflection. So how did you get home last night without a car?”

“I do have friends, strange as that may sound to you. So I need your car, okay? Maybe it’s just my battery—but I don’t have time to get a battery from Pep Boys and have Todd put it in.”

“Clever girl! And this Todd… you were at his place last night?”

“As if you cared.”

“Care? It depends on what you mean. I asked out of interest. I’m not going to pry into your personal life, as your mother does—which is why you love to come here, after all, is it not? But I often wonder, you know, just what my students do at night. Perhaps you see some of them. Do you know a girl—”

“I’ll take all that as a ‘yes’. I should be home before noon. Your classes are all in the afternoon.”

“Yes, they are. So they are. But has it occurred to you that I might have an important meeting? Or an appointment, say, with a student whose dissertation I am directing?”

“Well? Do you? I’ll drop you off.”

“Drop me off where?”

“To your meeting.”

“What meeting?”

“Good-bye. I can’t afford to be late.”

“What does Todd read, by the way? Does he read anything? Is he… I suppose he must be functionally literate. Does he talk—do you two have meaningful discussions? Or do you just go at it the whole time?”

“You mean like you and your graduate assistants? No, we’ve never actually done it on a desk.”


“And we do talk, but probably not as much as that—what was it… Flannery or Hillary or something? Not as much as she did when Mom’s attorney deposed her.”

“Ha-ha-ha! You are a clever girl! You’ve made my morning!”

“And you’re about to ruin mine.”

“I’m really not judging you, Maggie. I would never do that. I’m sorry if your mother has so infected you with her ridiculous bourgeois inhibitions that you regard me as a spy. I’m sincerely interested—as a professional, I mean—to know just what kind of male a bright, lovely young woman like yourself is attracted to. It’s an anthropological question. Do women prefer a brute virility, or do they admire high intelligence… or do they see the two as overlapping in any way? Attitudes about such things are critical to our common future as a species…”

“I’ll see you later. Back by noon.”

That afternoon:

“May I ask a question, Professor Spode?”

“But of course! Always ask questions! Question everything.”

“It’s just that… I’m having difficulty reconciling your lectures with my Gender Theory class. If writers have always been oppressed by the very act of writing, but women have been oppressed throughout most of human history by being denied access to writing and publication… well, do you see what I mean? Does this mean, in your view, that women have been doubly oppressed, or that they have escaped oppression through a kind of happy accident in the patriarchy’s blundering? But it’s hard to regard women as less oppressed than men at any point in the past.”

“I had that same question, Professor, but I didn’t know how to word it.”

“Yeah, me too. Megan put it perfectly.”

“If this popular outcry will allow me to think for a moment… Judas Priest, there are so many things to be said here! One might be that, yes indeed, women communicated better than men through being denied access to writing. They did not labor under the necessity of having to choose the diplomatic, inoffensive word acceptable to the power structure. There is in fact much evidence that women of Ibsen’s and Flaubert’s time were stereotyped as being untrustworthy in speech—as being apt to spout off indiscreetly. They had not learned self-censorship from their writer-husbands. Yet it is perhaps just as likely that they seldom even vocalized their insights. They probably became very intuitive communicators. The infamous ‘woman’s intuition’ has become the punchline to a cultural joke, but why would there not be an important truth embedded here, as in so many derisive stereotypes? We ridicule what we cannot dominate.”

“Are you talking about… like ESP? Or telepathy?”

“Why not? And you should bear in mind, further, that gender is not a binary opposition. Cultural conditioning would have it so… but we in this room know that some women have quasi-masculine genitalia, and some men have feminine touches in their physique, and some female psyches are more male, and so forth. Gender is a spectrum, not an ‘either/or’. So to say that women were discouraged from writing may be little more than to say that writers didn’t wear dresses. The feminine spirit may well have dominated writing in masculine form. Again to recur to cultural stereotypes, you know from our own time that ‘manly men’ are not supposed to write or be expressive—and the stereotype is somewhat nineteenth-century, as we see in O’Neill’s Hairy Ape and—from the opposite direction—in the effeminate caricatures to which proto-Romantics were submitted by the likes of Johnson and Swift.”

“So… but… that makes sense, up to a point… or maybe I’m still just trying to make all this jibe with what Dr. Waters says. But… it sounds as though we’re saying that women really were not oppressed.”

“Oppression is a state of mind. Does an ant feel oppressed when crushed under a shoe? I’m sure that women didn’t feel themselves liberated by being gagged and shackled, though in a sense they were. For the only way that our culture would truly, consciously escape the labyrinth of the written word was to write more words. We had to write until we were exhausted by writing and disgusted with it, and we had to read over and over what we had written to see how unlike what we really wanted to say it all was. Now we’re ready to move on, straight into the mind—those of us capable of a mind-odyssey, that is.”

“So our literary heritage doesn’t say anything at all that’s worth preserving? We just throw it away?”

“The Provost has a plant in every one of my classes, I see! Ha-ha-ha! Are there any more questions?”

“”I’ve seen articles that equate your ideas with robotic hybridization, but you’re not at all a technophile, it seems to me. So are we really… do you think the big change really comes through some kind of organic mutation?”

“A mutation cannot be willed. It’s a contradiction in terms. Here we find ourselves in the presence of something that man—and woman, especially woman—has always had, but has largely forgotten or disparaged. You required twelve years of education to read at college-level… well, not you in this room, but your typical peer. None of us will acquire a new means—will re-acquire the old means—of communication overnight.”

“But what, then, will be the feminist’s role in this transformation? Do you think that it can be driven by feminist studies—”

“Enough! Please! You… you all are so conditioned by the system that… that the first step has to be breaking free of these ossified thought patterns. Those who bestowed literacy on you, and then advanced literacy—and most of you are female: there are far more women in graduate literary programs now than men… they have suborned you to a new yoke in place of the old one. You’re all thinking like prissy old male pedants in bow ties, the way your teachers want you to think! This is beyond male and female. The new male will declare rather than write, and he will know just what he wants to say. The new female will feel and know, as she has always done until we reduced her to a pettifogging literate Tom Brown… only now she will no longer apologize for knowing or will study to play at evasion.

“Look at the Sasquatch. Yes… you know, Bigfoot! You don’t think he’s real? Most educated people don’t even believe in his existence, as he slips all the while around the edges of major population centers. Or else they suppose him to be a big dumb Gigantopithecus who drools and howls somewhere in British Columbia—a Hairy Ape. How have such creatures survived? How do they communicate? It’s because of what they know from a smell, from a broken twig. The dewdrops are words to them, and a pile of dung is a book. Like the Native American. And you want to divide them up into male and female? Is that really all you can think of?

“I’ll tell you a secret. I wouldn’t say this outside a seminar class… but the field in which you all hope to take your Ph.D.’s needs to be blown to smithereens. Or it needs to interbreed with other fields, like anthropology. The two need to mate, like Neanderthal and Sapiens, until their DNA becomes ones. They need to copulate and reproduce like a bunch of castaways on an island.

“Tell that to the Provost, if you dare!”

Email circulated to select colleges and universities:


     “Guggenheim University’s Department of Anglophone Literatures solicits submissions for the forthcoming First Annual Conference on Literature and Anthropology, March 28-31. Of particular interest are papers treating the relationship between written expression and intelligence, the cultural motivations of publishing, publication as ‘positive censorship,’ the literary evidence for psychic means of communication, the relationship between gender and prophecy/telepathy, the use of stereotyping to restrain non-literate means of communication, and evidence for intelligent communication in non-human hominid species.

“The keynote speaker will be Dr. Philander Spode, Niles Professor of Nineteenth-Century Studies and Founder and First President of the Conference on Literature and Anthropology. Professor Spode will address the new horizons opening to human communication as our age of advanced technology evolves a literary aesthetic no longer dependent upon written text.

“Submissions chosen for presentation will be eligible for inclusion in Professor Spode’s forthcoming book, Evolutionary Aesthetics: A Reader. Paper-readings should not exceed 15-20 minutes, but works selected for inclusion in the anthology may be substantially lengthened or revised.”


     “My next class is across campus, Spode. I wish I could explain at greater length, but my walk consumes a good fifteen minutes.”

“No, no, I entirely understand. What I want to know would probably require fifteen years of high-caliber research to find out, and even then…”

“Well, no, what I’m telling you, in the five-minute version, is that what you describe is genetically impossible. Fifteen years or fifteen hundred years would not change that. You laugh, but it’s the truth.”

“”I laugh because you practitioners of hard science have such confidence in yourselves! It is a virtue that I envy. Nevertheless… nevertheless, it seems to me that what you’re really saying is that the current parameters of your discipline cannot embrace what I suggest.”

“As you wish. Please don’t think me rude if I begin to pack my papers. My lecture notes are not all uploaded to CampusServe.”

“Nor mine, either. But listen… in physics, I believe, dark matter is still very much debated. Twenty years ago it was considered an absurdity by the academic mainstream; now the mainstream is defending it ferociously against a competing new theory.”

“That may be. I’m not a physicist.”

“No, but you’re a scientist. And the template of any science is always inviolable right up until the day when it becomes laughable.”

“As opposed to the templates in your field, which are laughable from the beginning and slide on coasters.”

“Ha-ha-ha! Yes, you’re actually quite right about that. Couldn’t agree more. But look, why is it really so implausible—come on, I’ll walk along with you—why would you say that it contradicts perceived reality to propose that intelligence is passed along in some way different from eye color? On the contrary, we see the truth of this all around us. The superior person crops up in the oddest of places, often surrounded by an extended family of drones and slugs.”

“What you’re describing is precisely perceived reality, in the sense of unaided human sensory perception. That is the realm of metaphor, of poetry, where one thing superficially appears like another. Science deals in objective reality, much of which is not immediately perceptible to us. And, I might point out, the very definition of intelligence is notoriously subjective.”

“Okay, let me try a scientific metaphor on you.”

“There’s no such thing.”

“Ha-ha-ha! Now, I’m sure you know what a chimera is, genetically speaking. Non-identical twins fuse for some reason in the embryonic stage to form a single fetus. The resulting person may have one DNA sequence in his hair and fingernails, and a wholly different sequence in his liver and testicles. There are about twenty known cases of chimerism in the world today, but perhaps hundreds or thousands of undetected ones.   The affected person has no discernible irregularities.”

“I doubt very much that there can be thousands.”

“Why may not a radically distinct DNA message be similarly passed along in Homo Sapiens, such that its presence essentially defines a new species? It would be living constantly in the shadows, like the hidden twin. Sometimes it would be dominant, at others it would be dormant. But when assertive in an individual, it wouldn’t simply bestow a rare ability to factor large numbers or… or compose complex musical harmonies, or whatever. It would transport its bearer to a qualitatively different level of awareness.”

“Like the Holy Spirit… or demonic possession. This is all entirely mystical, you see. And there is no ‘hidden twin’ in the chimera, by the way. The individual is a fully functional combination of the two, though immunological problems can occur.”

“But couldn’t DNA—”

“Listen, Spode. You’re a very bright guy. Extraordinarily bright, they say.   Certainly you have done extremely well for yourself within your field, even though I admit to having little respect for that field sometimes. Your star is in the ascendancy, if I may use an astronomical metaphor—and not just on this campus, but nationally and, as it were, popularly. I heard about your piece in The Atlantic.”

“This isn’t about my career, Ramajit. It’s about—”

“About what? The truth?”

“Yes, the truth! About higher things! About our destiny! Do you think the adulation of a few blithering idiots who live only to see their name in print can give me any pleasure?”

“And the truth—does that give you pleasure? Because to me it gives immense pains. The truth to most of us who seek it is a very stern taskmaster. But you speak of it almost as… as the satisfaction of some erotic desire. And on the matter of words, I must say that I find your use of the word ‘higher’ in this discussion to be extremely… unnerving.”

“You’re a grand fellow, Ramajit. You have no idea how much pleasure I take away from our conversations. I know my ideas are pretty esoteric. What I really need is for someone like you to challenge me, to criticize me, even to deride me. Oh, I don’t mean right this minute. I understand that this wasn’t the best of times. We’ll get together some time when you have more leisure. I’ll… I’ll part ways with you up here. Have a great class!”

Newsletter of the Huron Bigfoot Society (vol. 8.3):

“It is our great honor to announce that Dr. Philander Spode will be accompanying the expedition in late August as we seek to verify several sightings in the Kalomahoochee River Valley earlier this summer.   Dr, Spode describes himself as a pioneer researcher in the emerging field of Crypto-Anthropology. He has taught many courses in related subjects at Guggenheim University and plans to found a chapter of the HBS at his institution. If you have made plans to attend this event, please be sure to meet and greet this distinguished scholar who is doing so much to advance our cause. If you have not yet decided to attend, don’t miss this chance to have an encounter with a great man as well as a Sasquatch or two!”


     “I just want everyone to be aware that there are some brown bear in the area, and we’re intruding upon their prepare-for-hibernation stage. That means that they become omnivores. Their clocks may be running a little slow this year thanks to our long summer…”

“You mean, thanks to global warming!”

“Yeah, absolutely! But anyway… just be careful. Stay in your teams. Use the whistle if you do come upon something aggressive—that frequency really kills most non-human ears. No, Erin, not permanent damage. I’m exaggerating. Now a bear, according to Nick, probably won’t be actively foraging at night…”

“I said in normal circumstances, but the variables fluctuate with—”

“That’s okay, Nick. We’re just trying to be sure here that the newcomers know that you never know just what’s waiting for you out there at night, in the wilderness. Bigfooting can be lots of fun. This may be the greatest night of your life—I hope it is. But what we do is not a game or a walk in the park. Take it seriously. All the novices have been paired with old hands. I’ve got Dr. Spode in tow. Are you good to go, Doc?”

“In full primate mode, Mama Bear!”

“I hope you’re not going to make me laugh all evening! Okay, everybody check their walkie-talkies.”

Later that night…

“Watch your step here, Dr. Spode. Lots of loose rock here.”

“Please call me Phil, Wendy. Pretty please?”

“I’m sorry. I keep forgetting. You’re far and away the most distinguished guest we’ve ever had.”

“But it’s not as though you have no academic credentials yourself.”

“Me? Are you kidding?”

“Don’t be so modest. You have an advanced degree and you teach at a local college.”

“I have twenty-one hours toward an M.S. in Biology, and I teach at Tecumseh Junior College because they couldn’t find anyone else who’d work for peanuts.”

“A high protein source, if you get enough of them. But you are a humble person, really. I like that. I run into so many of the opposite type at my institution. You wouldn’t believe how a Political Science bigwig sneered at my creating a chapter of the Bigfoot Society on our campus!”

“I would, too. Run into that all the time. But you’re a pretty humble person yourself to go through with the chapter while making yourself a target—hey, watch this branch!”

“Now you’re making me a target!”

“Are you ever going to stop cracking me up?”

“Maybe bigfoots like the sound of laughter.”

“Maybe. Anyway, Dena said you were something like… like the chair of your department.”

“Been there, done that. I wouldn’t have that job again. It’s for people of low aptitude, moderate ambition, and a highly developed taste for power.”

“So… but you’re like a founder of a national organization, aren’t you? Shhh! What was that? Ah… an owl. A great horned owl. Those are rare. An endangered species.”

“Just like you.”

“And what does that mean?”

“Well, look at yourself. How many young women of your talents and abilities are working for a pittance because they love knowledge, even risking their lives among nocturnal omnivores? Doesn’t happen much these days.”

“Tell it to my ex. He was a nocturnal omnivore, in his way. A pretty expensive one.”

“How about if I give his number to my ex? She likes to spend money almost as much as she likes to make it.”

Still later…

“’Flint, do you read?… Flint, this is Wendy. Do you read?… Wendy for anyone, Wendy for anyone. Please answer if you copy. Is anyone hearing me? Please answer if you can hear me…’ Well, Doc… Phil… I think I’ve figured out where we are.”

“Where’s that?”

“We’re up Shit Creek. There’s no reception here. We’re too far down in the valley. And there’s no action here, either.”

“Maybe we should go up higher.”

“First rule I ever learned in Outward Bound: if you’re trying to survive in the wilderness, go down. Look for water. Everything drinks to live, and the critters that come to drink are potential food. You can bet that Kushtaka knows that. If he were here, he’d be watching somewhere along a stream like this one. But there’s just… nothing. Nothing all night. I thought someone else might have heard something, but… no reception. Sorry about that, Phil. But that’s how bigfooting is, most of the time.”

“What if you… shouldn’t you try a whoop or a howl, like they do on TV?”

“Like the Four Stooges? No, we don’t do that. Kushtaka can hear a twig snap from a mile off, and he certainly knows the difference between a mate’s howl and one of our cheap imitations. We’d just be telling him that the stupid flatland touristers are out in force again looking for him to do tricks. He doesn’t like that. He’ll come spy on unsuspecting hikers or campers, but he’ll sit down and pout if he thinks you want his photograph.”

“Why do you call him that… that word you used?   Kush… Kush…”

“Kushtaka. It’s the Inuit name for him. I don’t know, I just love it. It’s the coolest word in the universe. I whisper it at night sometimes until I fall asleep. I always figured that if I ever had a kid, I’d name him Kushtaka. Well, nothing doing here. Might as well trek back to base camp… what? What is it?”

“Umm… why don’t you go on? I’ll be along later.”

“No way! We can’t split up! Or do you need to use the John?”

“No, no. Well, actually, yes. It’s kind of like that. I need to take all my clothes off.”


“Don’t you see? You said it yourself: they have senses that we can’t even imagine. I’m going to strip naked and smear myself with mud so they can’t smell the human on me. The mosquitoes have been devouring me, anyway. They say mud keeps them off.”

“Yeah, it does, but… you’d actually do that?”

“Whatever it takes. Whatever it takes.”

“Wow, did I ever take the wrong English classes in college!”

“I’ve been thinking about various strategies for… well, for months now. Ever since I started looking into bigfooting. How to get closer to them… how to be more natural. I wanted to try out my method tonight, if nothing else worked. That’s why I asked you back at camp if I could go out alone.”

“You did? I must not have heard you. But the answer—”

“Would have been ‘no’. Yes, I understand that now. But nothing else is working.”

“But… but you still can’t go it alone. You really can’t. I mean, it’s strictly against the rules, and these aren’t just dumb faculty regulations. They’re about survival. No way can you do this. Especially with you being a novice like you are.”

“Couldn’t you perhaps wait for me here, then, while I work a few hundred yards up the ravine?”

“That’s just not… no, I’m not comfortable with that, either.”

“But… we may never have another chance like this again!”

“Oh, hell! Scoot over on that rock. Let’s both do it! It’s a really, really original idea. Probably somebody’s had it before… but nobody would ever admit to it, because… because it’s just so ‘out there’!”

“The phrase is ‘bourgeois hang-up’.”

“Hmm? Well… you know, it might just work. But we’ll need to keep our boots on. Without the socks. I don’t think they could carry much human scent, with everything else that’s on them.”

“Are you going to try to radio in and tell the others…”

“Ain’t telling the others nothing! Ever! And neither are you, if you want to live! My God, if they ever found out about this…”

“I didn’t mean tell them the strategy. I just meant…”

“No. Nothing. If we’re going to play this hand, we’ll play it out to the end. What if Kushtaka can detect radio waves somehow? What if he can hear them? Nothing human from here on out.”

Still later…

“What is it, Wendy?”

“I thought I saw eye-glow.”

“Where? Where?”

“Come here. Stand right behind me. Look straight over my shoulder. Follow my arm.”

“I… I still don’t see anything.”

“I don’t any more, either. Not sure I ever did. It’s so hard to be sure, especially with the moon rising. Are you going to let me go now?”

“No. No, I don’t think I will.”

“What’s this? Another new technique to draw them in?”

“Why not? What could make them more curious? Let’s give them something to watch.”

“Might just work. Who knows? Worth a try… worth a try.”

“A little noise… would make it more… more real. More primal. Make them more curious. Draw them in.”

“Yes… okay. You make boy noises… I’ll make girl noises. Phil… lose the boots, Phil!”

“You, too! You’re raking me!”

“What if they… Phil! What if they come right up? What if they look right down?”

“Worth researching. Ground-breaking research.”

“Oh, Kushtaka! Kushtaka!”

“Wendy! Oh, Wendy! Your red hair! Your strong brow! Your cute pug nose!”

“Oh, Kushtaka!”

“Your full lips! Your square shoulders! Your firm thighs! You’re so… oh, my God! Oh, Wendy! You must be… five percent Neanderthal!”

Associated Press release:

“The Department of Education’s Curriculum Standards Director has named Professor Philander Spode of Guggenheim University (Ph.D. Princeton University, 1992) to sit on its influential Committee of Innovative Instruction and Critical Thinking. Dr. Spode is widely recognized as a guiding light in the ongoing overhaul of the Humanities to accommodate twenty-first century technology, paradigms, and objectives. A recent recipient of the Clarendon Award and numerous other honors relating to creative pedagogy, Spode has already transformed the curriculum at his own institution and resuscitated several flagging programs, particularly in literary, linguistic, and historical studies. Guggenheim’s president, Cynthia Lonborg-Shelley, greeted the announcement by observing that ‘our next generations could not be better served than by having a man of Dr. Spode’s inquisitive frame of mind and interdisciplinary productivity serve as its beacon into the future. I know that every scholar on our own campus greatly profits from working in his proximity.’ Secretary of Education Simeon Varlet revealed that Spode had been selected for the post ‘only after an exhaustive screening process, for we want only the best minds on the planet to decide our children’s future.’ Dr. Spode himself declared that he was delighted, and even a little stunned, upon hearing of his nomination. ‘I think of myself as still a very ignorant man,’ said Spode. ‘There is so much to learn, and so much we think we have learned that must be unlearned. This opportunity to serve my country and my fellow man is one I have not sought, but which I shall embrace as yet another chance to improve myself.’”

 Mr. Davies has been delightfully (and all too accurately) satirizing Academe in these pages for several years now.  He has taught at numerous colleges and now resides in the North Georgia area.