Monday, February 18th, 2013

I suspect many of us have experienced (and probably enacted) one of the standard put-downs of intellectual life. It may be a seminar paper, a student presentation, a conference lecture, but at some point or other someone will ask: ‘have you read such and such?’

Given the veneer of respectability that surrounds such events, you usually have two options: say yes, you have, and cut the person off; say no, and give up the high ground completely.

So, after discussing this with Christina, let me make a few alternative suggestions for how to respond:

1. ‘Given that your suggestion is a blatant effort at one-upmanship, I’m not going to engage in your desperate game’.

2. ‘Isn’t word association a wonderful thing! Obviously, a word I said has triggered something in your cerebral cortex, and out pops a suggestion for a book’.

3. ‘Could you say a bit more? … No, I’m afraid that’s completely irrelevant to my work and I have no idea why you brought it up, you tool’.

4. ‘I bow to your superior knowledge and wide reading …’

An ancient Mesopotamia, the transfer of part of a dwelling (never a whole dwelling) was accompanied by much brouhaha. All manner of officials prepared for and attended the event, barley was tossed over the floor, wet clay tablets were incised, the grog flowed … Yet the most important figure present was the enigmatic ‘Great One of the Peg’. It seems as though he or she had something to do with a cone, which may or may not have been hammered in a wall. On one level, this is where we really reach the limits of our ability to imagine what the hell went on in many cases in the ANE. On another level, we really need to recover the ‘Great One of the Peg’. Not quite sure what this person would do, but that matters little.