M.G. Piety

Once Upon a Time in Denmark…

In Once Upon a Time in Denmark on January 5, 2011 at 8:50 am

Once upon a time, or to be more precise, back in 1996, when I was still living in Denmark, the English novelist David Lodge gave a lecture on Kierkegaard in Copenhagen. This event, if my memory serves me correctly, was part of the festivities connected with Copenhagen’s status as the official “Culture Capital of Europe” for that year. Lodge’s book Therapy, where both Kierkegaard and Copenhagen figure prominently, had come out the year before.

I don’t remember much about Lodge’s talk except that it was well attended and that Lodge bore a striking resemblance to Roy Orbison.

Both Anthony Rudd and I gave papers that summer at a conference entitled “The Brain and Self” in Elsinore. The conference appeared to have been geared primarily toward people in the medical profession, so the registration was expensive. One of my close friends in Copenhagen (who shall remain nameless for reasons that will become clear below), wanted to attend the conference but couldn’t afford the cost of the registration. He decided, therefore, to crash the conference by forging a name badge.

This, as you can understand, made me extremely uncomfortable. I implored my friend to at least keep a low profile. We were required to introduce ourselves and to mention our institutional affiliation before asking a question of any of the speakers. It was thus important, I explained to him, that he not ask any questions. One of the conference organizers appeared, in fact, to be carrying around a list of the officially registered participants and to be checking the names of attendees against the list. Of course my friend ignored me, to both my consternation and that of the organizer who scanned his list with increasingly obvious anxiety every time my friend stood and held forth on what he perceived to be a problem with the speaker’s position.

Anthony, who is one of the most ethical people I know, was none too happy with this situation either. Tensions in our little group were thus running high when my friend came to us with the revelation that he had seen David Lodge among the conference participants. David Lodge speaking on Kierkegaard was one thing, but David Lodge at a medical conference was something else. Had he seen Elvis too? We had a great deal of fun teasing our friend about his “visions.” We were forced to apologize, however, when, toward the end of the conference, Lodge did indeed appear as speaker. The most memorable thing about Lodge’s second public appearance in Denmark within the space of a year was that he appeared to be reading his presentation. That is, he was looking down at his papers so the moderator could not get his attention and, after repeated attempts to indicate discretely that he was going overtime, began to march back and forth in front of him, dipping and weaving, in vain attempts to attract Lodge’s attention to the sign he had made that must have said something like “Stop!”

This spectacle was so amusing, that it went a long way toward helping Anthony and me get over the guilt we felt at having failed to believe our friend.

I have since then been in the position myself of having to indicate to speakers when they were going overtime. If after the standard “5” “3” “1” “0” warnings, the speaker is still going strong, I’ve found that a quickly sketched scull and crossbones usually does the trick.

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