Magical words

Late as usual, I managed to slid into one of the very last remaining places at the back of the lecture hall, at the limit of scrutiny. Opening my notebook and hiding a tiny tape recorder under an array of papers next to it, I turned my attention to the bevy of young women fluttering and twittering in anticipation in the front row. The faithful following.

The door swung open and in strolled Winston, master art theoretician, connoisseur of strange artifacts, specialist of Lacan and other obscure luminaries, and, above all, marathon orator and supreme performer. His jacket flowed out behind him as if he were wearing a cape or one of those gowns that professors used to wear when giving lectures. Rumour had it that the university had snubbed him, refusing to appoint him professor, forcing him to fall back on second best: fine art school. Maybe that explained the cape-like appearance.

Barely glancing at his audience and without the slightest greeting, Winston launched into his lecture like a headstrong diver plunging unheeding into the swirling waves. Taking my cue from him, I started the recorder, hoping no one would notice the click it invariably made when switched on. One of my neighbours, a mature student like myself, an intent-looking woman with a snub nose, glared at me. Recording was proscribed, although from my vantage point I could see several others surreptitiously hooking up devices and turning them on.

Winston had no time for notes or other such crutches like slideshows, instead, he expounded Lacan’s theories from memory, richly illustrated with personal anecdotes, in a tightly woven flow that lasted the regulatory two hours without the slightest pause. No interruptions were tolerated. The unfortunate first-year student who once misguidedly asked a question while Winston was in mid-flight was annihilated with icy scorn and derision.

I tried to take notes, but, as always, failed miserably. The subject was fascinating and thought provoking, but Winston’s lectures had an uncanny way of sparking a wealth of ideas about creative projects that had little or nothing to do with his words. It was those untamed imaginings and selected sketches that filled the pages of my notepad when the lecture was over.

Secretly recording his lectures served to allay my feelings of guilt and dissatisfaction. I would be able to listen to the lecture in the quiet of my studio at home. At least then I would have done my duty as a student and would be able to answer questions about the subject. Unfortunately, even in the absence of the charismatic Winston, the recording had me drifting in a sea of wild ideas and fanciful projects, leaving me with no notion as to what the lecture was about.

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