October 18th, 2004


Theological Notebook/Personal: Conference Crazies/Wiped out

Hey folks,

Having a tough time keeping up with all the reading and writing and teaching and such lately: even communication with family and friends is suffering from the current workload: keeping up here is an unimaginable luxury. I type this note as I'm climbing into bed. Sucking up extra portions of time are fun things like Saturday's attendance of the Lumen Christi Institute of the University of Chicago's Reading Augustine, Reading Ourselves conference. A big bonus was that one of the three papers was delivered by John Cavadini, my mentor at Notre Dame and all-around candidate for sainthood. A big minus was that of the three people on the panel to respond to the papers at the end of the day, Professor Barnes (who invited me, Dan Lloyd, and Michael Harris to the conference and who rode down with us) was the only one of the three who turned out to be sane.

The first, a Jesuit priest from Mundelein, started yelling about Augustine being a book-burning Nazi and the paper-reader to whom he was responding being a Communist for having subscribed to the failed collectivist ideal by mentioning at some point some aspect of Augustine's concern for the community over the individual. This was the NeoCon crazy. After raging against his targets and being fantastically insulting to them (Prof. Joe Mueller, SJ of Marquette sat next to me and kept choking through the diatribe) we were then treated (as a matter of strange cosmic balance) to the ragings of a fairly new Ph.D. from Notre Dame who, once she warmed up, I recognized as having been crazy when she started grad school in South Bend back in the mid-90s. She provided strange cosmic balance by yelling largely about the need for a radical feminist re-reading of Genesis 3 (which although Augustine's exegesis of said chapter had profound influence, did not appear in our presented papers) and demanded immediate response on the audiences' part to her call for a crusade against the Patriot Act (again, absent from our earlier discussion of Augustine).

Thus a sort of far-left, far-right harmony was maintained, that being the only harmony. I don't imply that their politics made them crazy, it was just a nice touch. Well, his might have: she actually had a lot more manic behaviours that looked in need of professional help. Everyone was polite in the painfully quiet way you are around people who have made an irrevocably horrible impression. The presenters, who had remained impressively silent (and pained-looking) through about an hour of this, seemed rather relieved when Barnes implicitly conceded that the academic momentum was dead and offered a mere minute detailing two further points he thought worth investigation before concluding the proceedings. I asked Barnes later as we were heading into the Jesuit residence for a dinner reception (very fine, as all Jesuity board tends to be) what it implied that he had been lumped in with these other two as respondants.

I've never seen anything like it. Once in a while you'll get an idiosyncratic response. Very occasionally, a crazy one from some scholar whose reputation had not yet entirely commited suicide, but two crazies? Unheard of.