A few weeks from now, when my homeland is covered by the rising ocean, it will be discovered that the chief reason why the Australian universities were unable to co-ordinate any effective solution to the flooding was the presence within their command structures of too many co-ordinators, conveners and similar types of persons short on solid qualifications but long on salary. They are also, characteristically, long on time: they’ve got all day, and when they communicate with you they assume that you have too.
I’m still gibbering from the receipt of a note signed by a woman named Liz, billed as the Communications and Awards Co-ordinator at the Australian Academy of the Humanities. She “warmly invites” me to “contribute to a unique communication initiative.” Apparently the Academy’s upcoming 50th anniversary will be “a unique opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of the humanities disciplines to understanding our past and making sense of the present, and [to] consider their role in humanising the future.” Cutting slowly to the chase, she proffers a stack of questions she would like answered, for example: “How have the humanities disciplines (culture, the arts, music, history, languages, linguistics, philosophy, religion, archaeology and heritage) deepened our understanding and appreciation?” It’s only at this late stage of her letter that its author reveals what one would have thought might have struck her early on as a terminally inhibiting requirement. She wants all this done in “50-100 words.”
She also wants me to send a recent photograph. Since I now look, after several recent surgical procedures, like someone who has put his face through a brick wall, a photograph might well communicate how I feel about her request more effectively than any number of words. But anyway, here’s my 50-100:
Only if Toscanini had conducted Traviata in the Parthenon with the scenery painted by Rembrandt and Maria Callas singing the title role could the humanities disciplines, as you call them, have been summed up in 100 words. I therefore must invite you to take a running jump at yourself. But please feel free to publish, before you do so, the attached photograph of myself after I did the same.
At that moment, however, with my finger trembling above the send button, I remembered I might…