Chomsky note I

Chomsky came to the Outpost. He gave his political talk first. The ceremonies hall was packed and I only managed to get in using my special job skills, i.e. playing the authority / authoritarian figure. The visit was organised by Great Westphalian, but his Mighty Employer partly hijacked the whole affair and almost made it into a media circus, with many seats reserved for local politicians and such noted anti-imperialist activists as the American Embassy’s Public Affairs officer. Thankfully, besides grim-looking figures (like me) and politicians, a great many young people and local grassroots activists made it into the room, these having arrived really early (some of them, like Zapata, after having been warned by Loxias himself — I am happy I did).

I sat on the floor squeezed among University professors ousted from their seats by politicians and other assorted local dignitaries, the President of the Principality Parliament’s feet almost touching my back. Chomsky gets on stage, an old man, starts talking with a slight slur. ‘Oh dear’, I thought, ‘he’s too old’. Wrong. He quickly warmed up and gave a wonderful talk on the huge responsibility of intellectuals, an elite to the sustenance and comfort of which considerable resources go to; he talked in terms of a major moral crisis about their unwillingness to speak the truth, to reveal and chastise injustice. I was so captivated (although I am known for my relatively limited attention span) that, when the President of the Parliament started whispering to a mandarin seated next to him, I turned around with my finger raised and gave him a gorgonian look that immediately petrified him. Hehe.

Chomsky turned even the silliest question into a stimulating answer. For instance, to the worn-out demand “tell us what to do” he replied “as the Bolivian farmers did: get informed, debate, act”. He also delivered the following gem of an answer, to the frenetic applause of the activists present — and to the consternation of the local mummified dignitaries, who until that moment probably thought Chomsky was a handy token anti-americanist to base their own crass ‘nationalist-disguised-as-anti-imperialist’ propaganda on:

It’s convenient to blame outsiders for the problems. It’s not for me to recommend solutions but it’s usually a good idea everywhere to look in the mirror and ask what we can do right where we are to mitigate and limit problems that are very serious and have to be overcome.

At night I hardly slept: I would give the Chomskys a tour of the Old City the following day, then I would have lunch with them, all thanks to Great Westphalian squeezing me into their protocol-rich schedule.

I did. Chomsky survived sunstroke, two cars racing in the narrow streets of the Old City towards him and an erratic moped, as well as my fast walking pace and rolling commentary. During that day, it gradually became evident to me why a quasi-cult of personality has been created of him: he is obviously a thinker of a platonic scale (“so they say”, commented his wife). If he were not the most humble and modest person I have met (making us all surrounding him, with our egos and opinions and conceit, plainly nauseating in contrast), had he in the slightest encouraged this quasi-cult to develop into an endorsed fan club, he could have very easily corrupted himself and others: such is the charisma radiating out of this soft-spoken old man, who prefers listening to interrupting. But here we had a man blushing visibly (at a distance of 50 metres) for becoming vested with the gowns of the Outpost University (!) later that evening, a man carefully listening to a well-prepared, focused and pleasantly informative (but arrogant) historian giving him a layperson’s guided tour, a man dizzyingly courteous.

Generally speaking, I’m in awe. At the same time, I am glad I have kept my contact with him to a minimum all these years: I have miserably few things to tell him, really (although I am proud he and his wife enjoyed the bit of the Outpost Capital tour I gave them).

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7 thoughts on “Chomsky note I

  1. God damn it, how come everyone gets to have lunch with Chomsky and i don’t? It’s not fair!

    I enjoyed his first lecture immensely. Unfortunatelly, due to this being the examinations period, I couldn’t attend the lecture the day after out of fear that I would cover the material on time.

    I walked up to him at the end of the lecture intending to shake his hand but changed my mind and walked away. After a few minutes i was (forcibly) persuated by my fiance and a couple of friends accompanying us to just go ahead and do it. I was very nervous and confused but nevertheless I walked up to him again. I don’t remember much after this, apart from the fact that I walked away with an autograph which i never intended for on my invitation and no handshake whatsoever. Embarrassing.

    Great post by the bye.

  2. Pingback: “… neither reveals nor conceals” » Chomsky note II

  3. I’m sure he ha got the brain the size of a planet but I am also sure that world would be no different if he had never existed.

  4. @john bennett: I would agree with you if our definition of ‘world’ excluded at least Cognitive Science, Linguistics, East Timor and the American Left…

    @deviousdiva: Quite cool and, surprisingly, pleasant and fun, too. 😉

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