Sunday, January 17, 2010

Linguists, Poets, Me, and Chris Elliott as FDR

I partied with at least two linguistics experts last week and may finish up partying with poets tonight — but the important things are the clip of me on YouTube asking a Stossel guest about Ayn Rand and the series of clips of Chris Elliott on YouTube portraying FDR. The situation, in ten bits:

1. Adam Braff is a fellow 90s Brown alum now moved to the neighborhood (being feted by people including another former Brown student who once saw a bench-clearing near-brawl between the New Yorker and Onion softball teams) — but before Brown (and before becoming a bigtime business consultant) Adam was an MIT student studying linguistics.

2. And that got me thinking about perhaps the most famous MIT linguist (and America-bashing left-anarchist), Noam Chomsky. I read that the Unabomber, ostensibly a left-anarchist himself, threatened to kill Chomsky, and, horrible as it may sound, I have to admit to feeling just slightly conflicted about that.

3. It then occurred to me, as it periodically does, that if one were out to dismantle industrial civilization and even symbolic language itself, creating a world of combat and tribal savagery devoid of machines or philosophy or abstract ethical codes, so-called “green anarchism” or primitivism is the way to go, since some of these people (presumably few in number) apparently want to do just that, getting humans to revert to non-human ways of life including communicating through grunts and smells. Rather than an impossible dream, it sometimes sounds to me like the path of least resistance, giving in to the weakness of the animal, not summoning the strength of one. Luckily, even amidst terrible earthquakes, people tend to see civilization as the thing to aim for and savagery as something to be avoided if possible.

4. I also think that regardless of how rational or irrational one thinks Chomsky is — and I’ll grant he’s far more sane than the primitivists — you have agree that the MIT building containing his office looks like it’s the Hotel Wacky in the center of Crazytown, East Loonyland.

5. Let me also qualify #2 above by saying that the Unabomber’s no laughing matter, of course, and he in fact killed the ex-boss of one of my old roommates. Murder is bad — and you’ll learn more about extremely basic philosophy and political economy in my Book Selections entry tomorrow, featuring Aristotle and others.

6. I also spoke to linguistics and cognitive science expert Steven Pinker last week, at an event honoring his wife, author Rebecca Goldstein, whose latest book is about the tension between faith and reason. Talking at the event to Nick Gillespie, who’d noticed I recur in the studio audience of Stossel (as in this clip, at the four-minute mark, where I ask Ayn Rand Institute head Yaron Brook if we really want more selfishness), I likened myself to Chris Elliott from the days when he was (among other recurring characters) the Guy Under the Seats on Letterman’s show.

7. And that inspired Gillespie to tell a couple of us that Chris Elliott’s half-hour 1986 performance FDR, a One-Man Show is a hilarious and completely historically-inaccurate parody of “one-man show” history plays and the kinds of overblown actors who star in them — and YouTube reveals that Nick is correct.

8. Speaking of people who have a great facility with language who hate FDR (do I mean conspiracy theorist Chomsky or comedian Elliott?), Gore Vidal was recently nicely skewered by his one-time acolyte Christopher Hitchens for going off the deep end politically (as noted on Kyle Smith’s blog).

9. But if poets are the people who really get language, perhaps I should party tonight — as should you — in honor of the poetry journal Boog, 7pm at Zinc Bar (along with my poet friend Boni Joi, who learned not long ago that her biological mom is a Salem witch), 82 West 3rd St.

10. And that reminds me that the Ramen Girl screenwriter I mentioned yesterday was a poet back when we briefly dated, and we went to a slam at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, where, somewhat awkwardly, she did not win anything whereas I — deciding on a whim to participate using the only poem I’d written in my adult life — came in third place. Since two poems were required and I hadn’t realized that, I had to create one on the spot by stitching together unused stand-up comedy lines I’d been saving for possible use.

The pre-written one, though, was a joke poem I’d sent to a Brown literary journal as a prank, called “Stork in a Gyrocopter,” largely a parody of idyllic environmentalist sentiment (with some quotes from my favorite song, “Synchronicity II,” thrown in, not to mention a rhyming bit involving “wish” and copter blades that go “swish,” followed by “Earth” and copter blades that go “swerth”). There was an “Interlude,” I recall, involving a midget boy with green buttocks. The opening lines, at least, stick with me: “Stork! Stork in a gyrocopter! Grim harbinger of the coming age…” Indeed.


Braff said...

So now that we are reacquainted, am I going to be a recurring character in this blog, the guy with the top hat and mustache who says “Bank Error in Your Favor”?

Todd Seavey said...

Well, I wouldn’t want to compete with your personal newsletter, but if you keep things interesting and don’t sound publicity-shy, this can always be a valuable secondary venue. I prefer to think of you as the thimble or the howitzer, though.

Michael Bates said...

Back in my day, Chomsky had an office in the first incarnation of Building 20, a saner, albeit humble, three-story, multi-winged, wooden structure erected in 1943 as a temporary building for wartime research in the development of radar. It was in continuous use until demolished in 1998 to make way for the Toontown Hilton.

cb said...

I left in the nick of time to avoid this Frank Gehry Stata Center beast being my own building…