New from Paperbark Press (June 2012): The Philosopher: a Novel
‘The Philosopher’ (John Hazzard), all the way from Australia, or some other God forsaken place, arrives in a small Pacific North Western town armed only with his wit, his radical vision of Philosophy, and his foreign accent.
His mission? To challenge the community’s cherished values, traditions, politics and religious fundamentalism.
‘The Philosopher’ soon attracts many enemies in town, and becomes the target of death threats and attacks on his property. A modern day Socrates, he is accused of ‘mocking the gods’ and of ‘corrupting the youth.’
Structured as a series of lectures, and full of Philosophical conundrums, thought experiments, and debates about God, Sex, Drugs, Pornography, Art, War, Animal rights, the Soul, and the Unconscious, this novel enlivens contemporary philosophical debates and crystalizes them in the ambitions of a man’s struggle to transcend the mundane and escape Plato’s dark cave of shadows.
The Sheriff raised his eyebrows. “Why would someone want to kill you?”
“I’m the philosophy instructor, remember. I was beaten up at the Rodeo. My car has been vandalized, my house broken into, my mail box bashed up, and the press inflames the public against me. I’d be surprised if no one wanted to kill me.”
The truck was far below him on the next bend. He squealed around the corner at 60 miles per hour, marveling at the engineering of these roads. The banks of the hill were wired up, to stop rock slides, he guessed, and he noticed poles to measure height of snow drift, presumably. Snow had banked up in the shade, and the road gleamed in the weak sun. He was going much too fast, all of a sudden, so he tapped the brakes. Easy. Easy. The speedometer inched up further. The gradient was steeper than he thought. The brakes were not working well on the ice, he thought. If he jumped on them, he’d spin out of control. He tapped them gently again, but as there was no response, he began to pump them slowly. Nothing happened. He pushed the pedal hard, foot flat, and then stamped on it. Still nothing happened. The car was now hurtling around the wide bend, and there was a steeper gradient coming up: the freeway had been cut through a narrow gorge of the mountain, and approaching fast. He wouldn’t make the turn at this speed. He had to think of other ways to slow down. If he had been in a stick shift, he would have ground the gears down to third, second, first and this would have done the trick, like the truck ahead, now out of sight, whining in protest at being restricted to its lowest gears. And his wasn’t a heavy car: it was a Dodge Omni, for God’s sake; he could even push start it when the battery was flat. But now it was a bullet. He had only three options: Park, Neutral and Drive. Neutral would speed the car more; park would crash it. Wait: there was a 1 and a 2 he’d never used. He tried to shift into 2 but he had to disengage, and in neutral the car sped up, deliriously fast. In second, the car revved high but didn’t slow down. It began to spin as he turned the corner. The steering wobbled. Seventy five. My God. He couldn’t hold it. Maybe he’d glide down the pass and then smooth into the reservation, then into Wild horse Casino he could see below him, but there were two vicious bends and nothing to stop him. Could he drive off the road through those flimsy barriers and onto the gravel? Would that stop him? But beyond the short tract of gravel was a long two thousand foot drop to the Umatilla Valley. He kept the car doggedly on the road, in the center yellow line.
His heart beat hard as he suddenly realized the truth. This was no accident. Brakes don’t suddenly fail without cause.
Someone wanted him dead.
Scrap is a student-led college e-newspaper (not affiliated with any department, and whose views are not necessarily endorsed by PCC). In its quest for truth, all interviews published in its e-paper are transcribed from actual audio recordings and not edited in any way.
PHILOSOPHY PROF VOTED MOST POPULAR IN HISTORY OF COLLEGE
‘First, Prof, everyone would like to know where you get that cool accent.’
‘I don’t have an accent- you do.’
‘So Prof, what’s it like to be the most popular professor on campus?’
‘If what you call popularity is having my tires let down, my car key-scratched, my mail box baseball-batted, my house toilet papered, then I don’t think much of it.’
LOL. ‘There’s a waiting list of forty to get into every one of your classes. On Rateyourteacher.com you made the highest score ever for this college.’
‘I’m flattered, I guess. Philosophy is the one subject where you get to unpack all your assumptions about how you think about life and the universe.’
‘It’s you, Prof. Before you came, the Philosophy classes were empty.’
‘Well, that’s flattering – though I’m not trying deliberately to please students–or customers as they call them here. That’s no guarantee of good teaching at all. I’m not a fan of McDonald’s education: popular, convenient, yet malnourishing. I hope I give my students real things to chew on.’
PHILOSOPHER ENCOURAGES LIFE OF SEX AND HEDONISM: INTERVIEW
‘People have called you many things, Mr. Philosopher, but the latest is a Hedonist. I quote a letter from the Pendletonian, where ‘Hedonist’ is used in the pejorative. Any comments? Are you a hedonist? And if so what is a hedonist, and are students to be encouraged to follow in your footsteps?’
‘Yes, I suppose we should all follow our bliss, to quote Joseph Campbell.’
‘Rumor has it that all you talk about in your class is sex. That you make students watch naked pictures and discuss Porn.’
‘Sex? Naked pictures? Porn? The only way to find that out is if you take my class. When are you going to sign up?’
‘I can’t. Your classes are full with waiting lists until next year, Professor.’
PHILOSOPHY PROF: DEMOCRACY IS BAD 4 U
‘Prof, do you mind me asking you what’ s that tattoo on your forearm?’
‘Sure, go ahead.’
‘It’s so cool that our prof has tats. When did you have it done?’
‘Too long ago.’
‘Is it the sign for anarchy?’
‘Some people think so, yes.’
‘You’re an anarchist?’
‘The unfortunate thing about tattoos is that they indelibly label you at a phase of your life you later tend to regret. Like the girl who made an ugly face in the wind and stayed that way forever.’
‘So you are an anarchist once?’
‘Anarchists don’t believe in government of any sort. The State is a bully in our playground. Why do we let the bully continue to stalk our playground?’
‘What about democracy?’
‘There’s no such thing. That’s the biggest fallacy of all. ‘
‘You still haven’t answered my question. Are you, or are you an anarchist?’
‘A politician is an arse upon which everyone has sat except a man.’
‘LOL. What does it mean?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Cool accent. Arse sounds so much better than ass.’
‘Actually if you want to know the truth, the A on my arm has nothing to do with anarchy. I had it done after I studied Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter in Honors English. Way back when people still studied literature and actually read books.’
‘The Scarlet Letter? I don’t know it.’
‘A was the scarlet letter branded on the girl Hester Prynne for having adultery in an early New England settlement. Hester wore her badge of courage proudly. It subsequently turned out that her principal accuser and punisher, the preacher Dimmesdale was the culprit.’
‘The A on your arm stands for adultery?’
‘Adulterer, but also for Anarchist, for America, for Alpha…’
‘Whatever you want. Anything.’
PHILOSOPHER PROF DISDAINFUL OF SOCRATIC METHOD
‘Prof, many have accused you of an authoritarian style in your classes. At the beginning of every semester you talk about Socratic dialogue, how you want students to teach you, but then your students complain that your classes are lecture based and very authoritarian.’
‘People misunderstand Socratic dialogue. Socrates believed that his students had all the answers, and all he had to do was prod these answers out of them. But if you read Plato’s dialogues, they consist mostly of Socrates’ voice droning on and on. His students function as mere stooges agreeing with him, as mouthpieces for theories he wished to prove wrong.’
‘I see. And you model yourself on these dialogues?’
‘No. You model yourself on these dialogues.’
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