Q & A

October 30, 2007, 5:13 pm

The corollary to what Eric describes in his excellent post is the scholar in the audience who, after hearing a talk or paper, “asks” a seven-minute question that isn’t a question at all. Instead, it’s an opportunity to say: “Here’s what I know. Here’s what you should have said. Here’s how very, very smart I am.”

For example, Speaker A gives a talk on, well, on FDR’s New Deal coalition. The talk is just fine, though, if we’re shooting for verisimilitude in our scene-setting, it’s probably not that great, because most talks aren’t. But then, during the Q & A, Scholar B stands up — these people almost always stand to “ask” their question — and begins nattering on about Habermas or Foucault or the rise of the proto-facists in Argentina under Peron or whatever. The best part is: Scholar B usually isn’t even self-aware enough to end their monologue with a few words delivered at a slightly higher pitch, the oral signifier of a question mark.

Okay dude, you’re really smart, I get it. And your pet rock is exceptionally cool. I’d even like to hear about it. But how about some other time. Because right now I’m trying to sleep through the talk without closing my eyes (I don’t want to be rude). And your colossal display of ego and cluelessness is keeping me awake.

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