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White Flurry

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Some students were slowly but without cares leaving the room one by one. The other Ph.D. holder has dozed off in the front row. The idealistic newbie in front of me kept nodding her head in agreement. My foreigner friend, a deep man, is listening closely as best he could, trying to understand the words that have acquired a different accent and pronunciation. I, meanwhile, have dismissed the speaker half an hour ago and have already settled on watching everyone else. Perhaps, from them, I could learn something new--which was why I went to the "lecture" in the first place.

It was a lecture about "thinking philosophically"--a title which seemed to me odd in a pretentious way, but nonetheless, because of the same reason, interested me. Wow, I thought, I am going to learn how to think philosophically! Nothing could be more attractive to one who also tries but often fails to think in that pristine way. Add to it the promise that the lecture would be framed by the thought of a philosopher I admire and work on, I wanted to be there no doubt. And the foreign speaker was supposed to have just completed her dissertation on the said philosopher in the latter's own grace land, which according to others, she had taken a good ten years to finish and a thousand pages to show for it.

There is no point in going into detail of how the lecture went, what I learned or how effective the speaker was. All I asked from my good friend was this: "If she had spoken in German, would she have made sense?" And the whiskey priest answered, "Absolutely. You can imagine all the work she put in in even coming up with the lecture." Okay then, and I rested my case, folded the few scraps of paper I had managed to write on, and then consoled myself that all was well.

But what I could not leave without comment was what happened after the foreign speaker gave her lecture. Another foreigner, a visiting professor, was to react to the lecture and give some of his thoughts. But since apparently he had none, he went ahead with giving the all important first questions to loosen the audience and to encourage others to ask as well. Well, that was fine. But because the speaker and the reactor did not understand each other on something so silly and easy, they ended up having an "intra-German conversation"--as the reactor himself called it--between them.

And seeing that the exchange was getting nowhere, I looked at the audience. There they were, all smiles, as if they were watching a movie. In awe, perhaps? Something like that. Seeing such foreign intellectuals discussing about "games"--the main image the speaker used, which, by the way, comes from the philosopher himself in his notion of "play" (Spiel)--was not among the daily fare for most. As it turned out, it was the two foreigners who were were playing a game--on us. We, the poorly educated folk who are expected to study and get our Ph.D.s in the schools these foreigners went to, have to consign ourselves with watching in the stands, afraid that our poorly informed opinions would look laughable against the superiority of their intellects. And so we clapped and applauded--twice at that; and left with the necessary feeling in our hearts that we wish to be that good someday, that intelligent someday, that white.

With all due respect, I learned much more about "thinking philosophically" when I sat in my co-teacher's class last Tuesday night as I waited for him so we could get out for a drink. With all due respect, I learned much more about "thinking philosophically" from my friend--also a foreigner, now unemployed and a nobody like me--as we had dinner after the lecture. With all due respect, I realized that I need not go to distant universities, be under world-renowned mentors, or write a thousand pages in order for me to learn--by myself--what it could possibly mean to think philosophically.


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