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19 December 2007 @ 10:38 pm
"Cultural Critics" -- An Entry in the Answers.com Creative Writing Challenge  
Answers.com has sponsored a Creative Writing Challenge, in which one is to write a story, 750 words or less, containing specific words named in the Challenge. Each word is to be linked to the corresponding Answers.com dictionary entry.

As you can see, they didn't choose everyday words. My very short story, only 736 words in length, is called Cultural Critics, and you can read it under the cut: 

Cultural Critics

Attend a party full of cultural critics, came Tamar’s grim thought, and you deserve what you get.

Academic social events were bad enough, but it required no mantic talents to predict that a reception for the Center for Popular Civilization would feature a flood of sneering, rarified, self-congratulatory and deliberately opaque remarks, filling the room to its occupants’ perpetually raised eyebrows. As Tamar expected, each guest seemed to be shouting his or her pet distillation of the zeitgeist in the ear of anyone who would listen, with the result that no one heard anything. This, she realized, smiling wryly at the serendipity of it, could serve as a model for the praxis of the whole benighted department. These were the sort of people who would extol the virtues of the working class while flaunting their superior vocabularies and command of obscure theory no one else read.

Even the refreshments seemed to reflect a nauseating self-consciousness. Pad thai, couscous, blini and dolmades all seemed to proclaim that here was a Multicultural Table For the Ages. A massive, semilunar hunk of halva dominated the center, although Tamar would have wagered a month’s meager salary that there was not a single member of the faculty with any genuine Middle Eastern, Near Eastern or Judaic background. It was just another affectation. Tamar herself had swallowed more halva in her lifetime than she’d care to remember, at endless bar mitzvahs, weddings and even Thanksgiving dinners; with a Jewish father and an Armenian mother, there’d been no way to escape it. So far as she was concerned it had no sapid character at all; its cloying sweetness was only slightly less nauseating than its gritty texture, and in her own home, now that she had one, she had declared it to be contraband

If she was getting personally offended by the choice of desserts then she knew things were getting out of hand. No doubt both her therapist and her yoga instructor would view this as a perfect opportunity for her to cultivate some ataraxia, something for which she had little native talent. Dutifully she closed her eyes and tried to focus on her breathing, imagining each breath as a flow of energy from the world to her body and back again. It didn’t work; she kept imagining a flow of intellectual flatulence instead.

Ellison came gliding across the room towards her. Too slow to connive a way to escape, she rearranged her face into what she barely hoped was a smile.

“Tamar my darling, I just wanted to thank you for that excellent job you did on the slash article. We’ll be sure to think of you next time.” Ellison’s grin displayed all the sincerity of a presidential campaign ad. He’d asked her to write a journal note on “slash” fan fiction as a manifestation of the general alienation of Western readers towards their own affinitive tendencies. As it was a topic which she considered to be nearly perfect nonsense, she’d given it only a lick and a promise – something of which he must surely be aware.

“Why thank you, Henry. It was a pleasure to attack such a relevant, hip theme.”

She hoped he’d wander off to find someone more interesting soon; deliberately falsifying her feelings for more than five minutes always gave her a migraine.

“Well, perhaps you’d consider some really state-of-the art cultural critiques.”

“Such as?” Count backwards from twenty, thinking of the shakras in the head, the eyes, the – 

“Perhaps the whole notion of ‘genocide’ as a cultural marker.” Ellison was looking even more pleased with himself than before.

“What?” Tamar’s eyes refocused.

“Yes, there are such contentions over the concept of ‘genocide.’ The Jews and the Armenians fight over it, we wrangle over it in foreign policy. Such hysterics over a word! What a delightful piece it would make.”

Ellison’s eyes were on hers, narrowed and as shrewd as Ellison ever was, awaiting her reaction.

Tamar stopped just long enough to assure herself that he actually was aware of her ethnic background. She held up a finger for him to wait a moment. Then she marched over to the table and cut a hand-sized slab of halva. Hefting this item, she spun on her heel and returned to Ellison, who was still grinning madly.

“Here, Henry, is a delightful piece of cultural criticism.”

She mashed it into his face.

Current Location: East Bay, Rhode Island
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: Peter Gabriel, music to "The Last Temptation of Christ"
amamama: Cats and rosesamamama on December 20th, 2007 07:54 am (UTC)
ROFL! My God, Ken - you've outdone yourself. What a delightful amount of snarky wittyness, I'm definitely starting my day on a high note now. Halva as a delightful piece of cultural criticism, is something I'll think about the next time I have the chance. I love it, and I have no genuine Middle Eastern, Near Eastern or Judaic background, but my Dad was in UNIFIL and my in-laws lived in Egypt when I became part of the family, so at least there's a cultural interest there. So - had any Halva-related mutterings at home? *snerks*

These were the sort of people who would extol the virtues of the working class while flaunting their superior vocabularies and command of obscure theory no one else read. This is SO good - being the child of two academics, I've heard a bit about that... *grins*

Maybe not your usual style, but delightful. And I am of course befriending you the moment I've finished this comment, I want to make sure I get hold of the gold. This piece sparkled.
Ken: Huxleyken_schneyer on December 20th, 2007 03:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Berte. I'm glad you liked it. The sheer absurdity of using all those hifalutin' words within one 750-word story led me to think of a gathering of cleverer-than-thou academics. I mean, who says "mantic," "zeitgeist" and "praxis" in conversation? Not most of the halva-eaters I've met.

But hopefully I'll be able to use more normal diction and syntax in future stories.
girlspell: silly walkgirlspell on December 20th, 2007 06:57 pm (UTC)
Oh wow...too cute. Needless to say I loved that last line. Liked how you fit in a lick and a promise. I never head of ataraxia, but I love the word now.

LOL she has a Jewish fathe and Armanian mother!

Just loved this story. Its such a sly little story. Yes, the words fit. It did not read as if you had to squeeze the words in. Oh yes, I did friend you.
Ken: Melvilleken_schneyer on December 21st, 2007 03:12 am (UTC)
Hi, Rachel. Thanks!

"Tamar" is one of the few names that has meaning both in Hebrew and in Armenian.
girlspell: LORgirlspell on December 21st, 2007 12:21 pm (UTC)
Ken, I forgot to ask you about the other icon Edwin. I know he was an actor (and a good one). But about his brother. Did he do any acting? Other then target practice (sorry). I always wondered.

I didn't know about Tamar also having meaning in Armanian. Lovely name.
Ken: Boothken_schneyer on January 7th, 2008 05:05 am (UTC)
Somehow I never replied to this one. (I am going to reply to your comments on that other LJ of mine soon, but not tonight -- I have work in the morning.)

Good for you for recognizing the great Edwin Booth. John Wilkes Booth was an actor too, but not nearly so successful or famous as his brother.
Augustaclcb58 on February 1st, 2008 02:20 am (UTC)
Hi Ken,

Just got around to finding this journal. Loved the story. I've been to plenty of those receptions myself. I could see it perfectly. Great job!
Augustaclcb58 on February 1st, 2008 02:51 am (UTC)
Follow up:

I just read the "winners" of the contest. I think yours was better than any of them. :)
Ken: Brelken_schneyer on February 1st, 2008 03:49 am (UTC)
Hi, Augusta. I called you by the wrong name a moment ago; my apologies. But what I said still stands; you're very sweet.