Once upon a time, I went to an unusual school. This unusual school had a visiting staff, a Finnish man. He was a good guy. One day it was his birthday and he announced he would give a “birthday lecture.”
We were tickled and intrigued by this concept. It turned about to be about something like peer therapy. Being clever young weisenheimers we didn’t really get into the spirit of the thing like perhaps we should’ve. But the idea stuck with us. We would jokingly suggest to each other to do “birthday lectures” whenever a birthday would come around, etc.
Well, I like an audience, and a birthday is a good occasion to get one. I did several impromptu, improvised birthday lectures, but in 2012 decided I would do a proper one, which I would research beforehand and write out. The only rule is it has to be on something other than my main academic research. The guidelines are it should be between twenty-five and forty-five minutes long, and thus far all of them have been about American intellectual history.
People have been surprisingly receptive towards them. I have an introductory speaker every year, a friend who I consider a colleague, if not always in the formal sense of sharing an institution than in the higher sense of being someone with whom I share my intellectual life. Their remarks aren’t always preserved, but I consider them a sufficiently important part of the process to mention them here.
There are currently four. Presumably, by late August 2016, there will be five. Here are links:
2012: Henry Adams, Builder of Tombs (Who was Henry Adams? Why did people care? Why don’t they anymore? Why do I? Introductory remarks given by Baz Harrigan.)
2013: Call Me Melville (Melville was beloved enough by mainstream scholars to resurrect his career after decades of obscurity… and beloved enough by a New Left bomber that he rechristened himself after the author. Why? Introductory remarks given by Pete Cajka.)
2014: The Long March Through the Human Resources Department (Why does progressive social justice discourse sound so legalistic, and why do both activist and corporate social regulation practices seem so Calvinist? Introductory remarks given by Aaron Goodier.)
2015: The Individualism of the Hamster Wheel Runner (What happens to individualism when it constitutes itself in “cult” form, as represented by movements like Objectivism and Satanism? What does it mean for individualism — one of the basic intellectual currencies of our time — that it takes these forms? Introductory remarks given by Jarib Rahman.)
2016: Lethality and Merit (“Support the Troops” has increasingly been supplemented with a worship of/identification with personal lethality- hence the worship of snipers and other “operators.” I tie this in with the discourse of meritocracy which the operator literature both competes with and partakes in. Introductory remarks given by Drew Flanagan.)
2017: COIN of the Realm (Tracing some of the intellectual lineages and mutations of American counterinsurgency doctrine. Introductory remarks given by Mufasa Vallon.)
2018: tradition and Tradition Amongst the CHUDs (What does “tradition” mean when it’s claimed by Bill O’Reilly, Julius Evola, and fascist zoomers all at the same time? Both more and less than you might think! Introductory remarks given by Matt Johnson.)
2019: The Countercultural Vision of History (How did the counterculture look at the American past and why does it matter? Featuring multiple Ishmaels, both Reed and the supposed “Tribe of” from Indiana. Introductory remarks given by Kit Cali.)
2020: Fear and Loathing in Genre New England (A discussion of what New England “means” and how the question has been mooted and reflected in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Dennis Lehane. Introductory remarks given by Ethan Heilman.)
2021: Alternate History, at the End of History and Beyond (an examination of alternate history fiction at the zenith of its popularity at the “end of history” era, and beyond, and the ways in which our limited ideas of what history is limits our fictions. Introductory remarks given by Ed Golden)