In the entryway to the large, central cube, Vonderwelt finds a letterboard announcing an event hosted by a certain Dr. Glenn Bacca, Ph.D.: “Building Trust, Building Sales: It’s Your Move!” On a fold out table to the side there is a cardboard box filled with glossy pamphlets describing Dr. Bacca’s many accomplishments. “Dr. Glenn Bacca, Ph.D., is one of the most sought-after motivational speakers in the country,” the pamphlet announced. “Known to earn up to $20,000 for a single engagement, Dr. Bacca has made a name for himself wowing crowds and boosting sales from Palm Beach to Palm Springs.”
That’s from a very bitter short story about conferences and the dregs of the academic life. It’s by Justin E. H. Smith, who is a professor of, I think, philosophy at Concordia University in Montreal. The fellow above is posing as Dr. Bacca, the motivational expert.
The protagonist of the story is a poor schmuck who can’t find the conference room for the talk he’s supposed to give. The reason is that the talk has been canceled, and the reason for that is there was never a good reason to give the talk, as the fellow himself realizes. Reflecting on the sign for his talk:
Dammit! Vonderwelt thinks. Why do they always write ‘Ural-Altaic’ when it’s supposed to be ‘Aral-Ultaic’?! And where is that damned circumflex accent over nâk? Nak doesn’t even mean anything! Come to think of it, nâk doesn’t mean anything either. I thought it did when I did my thesis. I made up this whole big structuralist structure that made it mean something. That went out of fashion, the profession crumbled into a thousand little camps –dear old arrowhead collector here, indigenous advocate there, grating culture-studies clones all around– and I was left with my meaningless nâk: just a sound, really, just a meaningless sound the fates had conspired to make the center of my career. Nâk means employee benefits is what nâk means. Nâk means braces for the girls. Nâk meant braces for the girls anyway. Now it’s just this last meaningless talk of an undistinguished career, advertised with clip-art, to be given in the Minnetonka Annex of the Minneapolis Sheraton.
(Via Sullivan, once again.)