The inauguration of Lagado University’s new campus in Plagho-Plaguo, the capital of Dismailia, is generating great excitement throughout the Diversity Community. As President Bleatley has said, LU’s “Semester in Dismailia” is guaranteed to challenge Eurocentric cultural values on every level and at every turn. It centers the Other, presents the Absent, privileges Multiplicity, and promises new perspectives on nearly everything. It would be inappropriate to disparage the diversitarian struggles of other universities, but facts arc facts and there is nothing to be gained by deception: its competitors talk the talk, Lagado walks the walk. No other semester abroad offers such a complete escape from Western cultural hegemony, and none even attempt it. The Plagho-Plaguo facility is no Florentine villa, Kentish country house, or Bavarian Schloss. It is not an effete, cocacolarized, postcolonial, pseudo-Eurovenue situated in the cool highlands of some “Lesser Developed Country.” Lagado University smashes the mold of the overseas campus. Simply to land on Dismailia’s coast is an education in itself. Its flora and climatic conditions resemble nothing seen in Europe or North America since the Lower Carboniferous Epoch. Its dynamic fauna take the traveler into a different world. Its insects are astounding. Its microbes must be experienced to be believed. Impressive as this ecological authenticity is, it is far less important to the Dismailian Experience than the comprehensiveness of Cultural Difference. Here the visitor will discover scarcely a trace or taint of familiar Eurocapitalist materialism. No multinational corporation has ever been tempted by the country’s meager, inaccessible resources. Its dense, contradictory, and arcane commercial codes have squelched the enthusiasm of the most adventurous entrepreneurs. The craftiest of Western speculators withdraw, baffled, before the elliptical and enigmatic Dismailian etiquette of official corruption. Apart from a lively and intelligent interest in Uzis, V-61 Skorpions, Kakishnikovs, and M-16s, the population is indifferent to Western consumer goods and amenities. Commodification is so much hocus-pocus for a people whose precapitalist economic transactions are conducted entirely by barter or at gunpoint.
Nor does the country’s history bear the stains of colonialist intrusion. The onK imperial adventure ever directed its way, the landing by a Royal Bulgarian Army expedition on the Serpent Coast in 1911, ended on its second day when the surviving troops shot their officers and fled across the border into Hocsuntleonis. The few Christian missionaries who ventured into Dismailian territory during the last century were all fricasseed within a fortnight of their arrival. Wholly unspoiled by syncretic accretions, the aboriginal religion displays features unseen in or near Europe since the fall of Nineveh.
The culture is uncorrupted by those neocolonial phenomena which invariably blight the Celebration of Difference in less-favored territories. Visitors will look in vain for “golden arches” on the streets of Plagho-Plaguo. Those desiring fast food must satisfy themselves with the authentic indigenous slugburgers and grilled grubs available on every street corner—during the seasons when they are not under water. Western sports have no foothold in Dismailia: the first and last soccer game, in 1948, prompted a civil war which continues to the present day in the remote valleys of the Mordor Range. The country is ignorant of any “Doors” but those hung before the women’s lavatories in the Grand Panjandral Palace. No Sinatra or Strauss, neither Bach nor Beatle, can be heard within its borders, but only the wailing of the native nostril-flute ensembles and the bellowing of the bell-and-spigot horn bands, variously accompanied by the flutings of castrati or tormented shrieks of small furry animals. VCRs are unknown. “Boom boxes” are shot on sight.
Plagho-Plaguo is without a foreign presence of any kind. Even the Quai d’Orsay extends no diplomatic tendril to vex the somnolent offices of the Ministry of Infidel Affairs. The only two Anglophones in the population speak varieties of pidgin unintelligible even to each other. The prepotent Dismailian Jujulatric Guild has thwarted all attempts by the greeds- and officious Western medical establishment to subvert native therapies and imperil its members’ livelihoods. The most hardened anthropologists desert their research projects in revulsion after a few months’ exposure to Dismailian customs. In a rare show of Cold War harmony, the KGB and CIA agreed in 1951 to assign Infiltration Priority URANUS to the country, a status it shares only with Antarctica’s Ronne Ice Shelf.
Appropriate theoretical strategies are fully developed. The campus is in readiness. All that now remains is to find some people willing to take advantage of the opportunity. It had been assumed that Dr. Kwasiuro Ahrglu-Barghlu, LU’s professor of Postcolonial Literature Theory, would be glad to return to his native land to undertake the duties of Dean, but he declines the opportunity with puzzling vehemence. Professor Ahrglu-Barghlu is adamant that his post of multicultural duty is in Kafka, South Dakota, home of LU, where the population requires reorientation away from its arrogant assumptions of Western cultural superiority. The Lagado faculties are showing a sudden and unprecedented burst of scholarly activity which preempts their schedules well into the next millennium. Only professors Lemuel Bungarus of the Herpatology Institute and Hopalong Spong, the English Department’s filmist and South Dakota’s most devout and outspoken High Church Relativist, have so far been willing to accept positions at the new facility. Assuming the deanship with his customary enthusiasm, Professor Spong left for Plagho-Plaguo early in September, eager to celebrate the Dismailian Difference and full of the v/ill to tolerate. Professor Bungarus followed shortly after with his equipment.
Regrettably, a major problem arose in November when Professor Spong abandoned his position to return home halfway through the semester, a shockingly changed man. A casual glance might overlook the 75 pounds (including three fingers) he had left in Dismailia, but even the most fleeting glimpse could not fail to detect the twitches, the tics and tremors, the abrupt gothic grimaces and chronic spasms that so altered his once bland and cheerful countenance. The appalled attention of his family and social acquaintances was variously fixed on the novel purple-and-puce tint in his hair, the protuberant greenish arabesques that pulsed on his cheeks and forehead, and the fitful yellow lambency in his irises which so excited the Center for Tropical Disease Control; but the deeper horror was left to his colleagues. Although a small thing physically, members of the English Department saw it at once. It filled them with a nameless dread. It was there on his lapel. An American flag.
To get Spong to lighten up, his loyal colleagues made the supreme sacrifice: they invited him to present a film and slide show of his stay in Plagho-Plaguo. The event was a disaster. It immediately became clear that the “Ping” Spong whose tolerance and openness to Otherness had been an example to all was no longer among them. Of the man who had often driven hundreds of miles out of his way to experience something new to tolerate, no trace lingered. The pan-sensitivitarian cosmopolite who would travel across an ocean and a continent at the drop of a fez, sombrero, or kaffiyeh to acquaint himself with perspectives of diverse groups who were busily shredding, burning, or defecating on American flags had been replaced by a crabbed chauvinist.
The changeling’s presentation failed to depict a single positive aspect of Dismailian culture. His commentary on that nation’s dress, diet, art, architecture, literature, medical profession, government, religion, ethics, and customs was an embarrassing string of slurs, complaints, and sneers interspersed with violent expletives, nasty sniggers, and animal snarls. Every slide and frame, every anecdote, description, and statistic, was represented as further proof that Dismailia was the “litter box of the Cosmos.” The litter box of the Cosmos!—an ethnocentric aspersion that the merest lay mammal, taken at random from the streets of Kafka, would have recognized immediately as insensitive— and this strange new Spong employed it no fewer than 33 times in a 45-minute talk! Definitely the wrong Spong.
Not even Dismailian wildlife escaped his blanket condemnation. Indeed, a slide of the Sylvilagus palustris carnivoris provoked in the lecturer a chattering rage which suggested some association with his missing digits. Members of PETA could not believe their ears. Here was a creature as cute and cuddly as a Panda, a prominent member of the United Nations endangered species list, the only breed of flesh-eating swamp rabbit known to science, and the founder of their Lagado chapter was positively gloating at the prospect of its early extinction. Had they not been intimidated by the New Spong’s inflamed mood, they would have walked out in a body.
The worst came at the end when Hopalong Spong turned on the lights, then turned on his colleagues. He furiously denounced the English Department as a nest of heathenish and treasonous perverts, flung his resignation down on the conference table, and stalked off to begin a new career as media director of Real Americans for Jesus Christ the Avenger. His erstwhile colleagues sat in appalled silence as the fanatic’s booming rendition of “America the Beautiful” receded down the hallway. Then Harry Glibb summed it up: what had happened was all too clear. Hopalong Spong’s diversitarian convictions had failed to stand the test of the Dismailian Difference.
Correctly interpreted, this episode will be understood by theorists as emphasizing the importance of the challenge Dismailia presents to those isolated within the context of American ethnoeentrism. It can only increase the Semester in Dismailia’s appeal for progressives determined to break free from that context. At the moment, however, it creates a problem. Professor Spong’s premature return leaves only Professor Lemuel Bungarus in situ. Bungarus has taken over as Dean pro tempore and seems quite happy to remain in Dismailia, but his almost complete indifference to the country’s people and culture—not to mention his loathing for all forms of administrative paperwork—limits his effectiveness in that post. The preferred staffing option would be an Ultra-multicultist Collective drawn from the English, Anthropology, and Sociology departments, but President Bleatley’s appeal for volunteers continues to be stymied by the amazing number and diversity of diversity projects which require the continued presence of those faculties in the United States. The current student enrollment also gives cause for concern. Of those originally signed up for the Semester in Dismailia, the nontraditional student recruited by Harry Glibb was intercepted at the bus station and returned to the Kafka Alzheimer Center; two Remedial Studies majors got lost in Kafka International Airport and have not yet been recovered; two other enrollees adamantly refused to leave the boat at journey’s end; and the whereabouts of the four who reported to the Plagho-Plaguo campus is currently unknown. Enrollment for the spring semester is faltering. In point of fact, it is nonexistent at this writing. The obstinate provincialism of Lagado’s undergraduates was perhaps to be expected, but even zealously diversitarian graduate students have been ostentatiously displaying an unwonted fondness for the climate and ambiance of southern South Dakota. It is not surprising that concept should sometimes get ahead of consciousness in an institution as innovative as LU, but this unresponsiveness is still a little disappointing. For the present there seems nothing to be done except to scatter colorful brochures thickly about the library, the lounges, the student center, and especially the locales where the Remedial Studies majors while away their hours, and hope for the best. It is only fair to mention that, out of respect for the Dismailians’ intense feelings about cameras, the photographs are actually from St. Kitts, Rio de Janeiro, and Acapulco. They are authentic impressions of how the Publicity Office imagines the local scenes should look.
Readers of Chronicles who would like to participate in the Dismailian Experience may write to: Stanley Livingston, Decenter Center, Recondite Quad 010, Lagado University, Kafka, South Dakota 06660-1313. Travel expenses will be paid by the Ford Foundation, but there will be a charge for the kevlar jackets. Applicants must allow at least three months to complete the necessary immunizations and vaccinations. Vegetarians should be aware that the Dismailians are exclusively carnivorous and worship tofu as the flesh of their principal deity. Tobaccophobes are advised to be very polite and sensitive when asking the natives not to smoke. They run no risk of being shot—local usage is very strict on this point—but it is prudent to prepare for selfdefense against edged weapons. Applicants of female cultural construction would do well to brush up on their sign language. In Dismailia, women are not permitted to talk. This may be a little troubling at first, but they have only to remind themselves from time to time that imposition of colonialist-imperialist cultural hegemonism is a really major No-No. If Sappheminists exercise ordinary discretion when performing necessary personal functions, they may hope to escape this restriction. Available information suggests that the natives have no epistemological frame of reference for assigning them a gender of any kind. Intelligent and informed reproductive choice is facilitated by the right of postnatal abortion, but caution is advised in matters of premarital and extramarital sex. Under provisions of the Code of Gnashnarlh the Merciful, female offenders are sentenced to ten minutes in the Grand Panjandral Snake Pits while males suffer confiscation of their reproductive apparatus. Gays will be glad to know that AIDS is unknown in Dismailia and “gay-bashing,” in the literal sense of the term, nonexistent. However, they may wish to reflect whether (with all due respect for the values of the Other) being flayed alive over three days with a flint knife is necessarily to be preferred. Perspective is always important.
Dollars may be exchanged for 7.62mm rounds at the bureau de change hovel on the Beach-of-Entry. Bottled water is optional; there will be plenty of kerosene available on campus for water purification. The Omnium Gatherum of People Unwhite is agitating furiously to compel the insurance companies to abandon actuarial computations which can only be racist in origin, but insurance policies may not be available for some time yet. LU will provide the E-Z Legal Forms “Last Will and Testament Do-It- Yourself Kit” free of charge. Passports and visas are not a problem. Dismailia has very few visitors.
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