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Life Arts    H3'ed 2/10/09

The Body of William Jay

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'Here lies the body of William Jay
Who died maintaining his right of way -
He was right, dead right, as he sped along,
But he's just as dead as if he were wrong.'

We've all attended his funeral; the guy who, in life, was always right, and who knew it. Why, there wasn't a subject under the sun that you couldn't get past William Jay and he'd intercept it, and shoot it dead, and then stuff it and put it on his wall. A subject under the sun? No, sir; every subject even beyond the sun fell in his demesne. His Lor'ship was never wrong.

And then his Lor'ship passes away. Now, the gentlemen get together and bring up all the subjects they hadn't dared to while he was alive. Sometimes, out of sheer habit, they lapse into collective silence precisely at those junctures where he was wont to pounce and hijack the conversation. But the minute passes, as he has passed, and over the evenings they lose the habit. They quit mourning.

William Jay used to get me by my front hair, like in the movies, at arms' length, and I'd go punching the air with both fists without hitting anyone. Even the facts I knew were incontrovertible, straight out of the Encyclopedia, he would find some sneaky, slithery way to eat into and render full of holes. No, it wasn't logic that was his forte. His specialty was psychology.

When I was younger – and I'm sure many young people have had the same experience – I had this naive conviction that reason would win through. Yes, like many young people, I believed in the strength of the intellect. Don't get me wrong; I still do, but I keep it to myself. Over the years, I have found psychology more useful – I didn't say important, just more useful – than logic. Once one acquires a knack for figuring out why a person holds the most inane and contradictory set of views imaginable, one experiences the nirvana of emancipation. Mind you, such a height of enlightenment can only be attained after considerable experience with many a bruise to show for it.

First of all, it requires a solid appreciation of the centrality of money in the lives of the average and the not-so-average. Only a hermit would deny the value of money, but what I mean is money-as-obsession. Now, most young people don't understand money; so they go out and try to overthrow the president for helping himself to a little cash. Silly boys! Naturally, they soon find that his replacement's got his hand in the till as well. But we're not discussing heads of states, here. We're discussing William Jay.

Most people do not hold anti-commonsense notions out of a love of money only, of course. There's the other matter of the career. This is even more difficult for a youngster to understand. After all, money's solid, it's got texture, color, and you can even smell it when it's new. Career? This requires a knowledge of psychology that most sixteen-year-olds just aren't taught in high school.

Now, take the intellectual. Who could mistake him for William Jay? But one's got to appreciate the fact that he, like the office executive, has got a ladder to climb, his very own greasy pole. And his only claim with the public – to dominate them like a maharaja – is to appear omniscient. And how does he do that? With logic? Knowledge? Study? Are you kidding? The filibuster and the braggadocio, the art of abuse and the art of duplicity. Sheer cunning will take a man further than a jackal.

Now, the only way an unarmed human being can handle a jackal is by staying away from it. Maybe I've taken the wrong species of animal. Take the skunk. Why does the grisly avoid the skink? Well, that was just a rhetorical question, so no reply is expected.

My personal reasons for avoiding William Jay are two: abuse, and incoherence. Blessed are the incoherent, for they shall inherit the argument. Now, if a man (or more likely today, a woman) has his (her) entire career staked on an idea, you can bet your last dollar he or she's going to draw so many circles around you, that you can entertain your great-great-grandchildren with hula-hoops! There's never going to be a straight line – straight-as-an-arrow was never our William Jay. And, remember, the gold's always at the end of the rainbow, never at the end of the extra mile.

Being no masochist, I don't like being abused. I take that back. I don't enjoy being abused. But, nowadays, I do like it. I didn't always used to. Like all young men, I was sensitive to criticism. I took it personally. And then realization dawned on me that if William Jay's going to take time out of his lucrative career to criticize a nonentity like me, it must be because I've hit one of those hula-hoops, and knocked the air out of it. Yes, from then on I began treating criticism as praise. Now, it just so happens that people don't fight fair (a statement of the obvious, no doubt). And people – you name it, PhDs, matriculates, civil servants – find it easiest to take the human way out, which is abuse. In Britain, as we all know, the practice of law is divided between solicitors, who prepare the cases for trial, and barristers, who argue or 'plead' the cases in court. On one occasion, a barrister ignored the case completely until the day it was to be presented at the court, depending on the solicitor to investigate the defendant's case and prepare the brief. He arrived at court just a minute before his trial was to begin and was handed his brief by the solicitor. Surprised at its thinness, he glanced inside to find written: "No case; abuse the plaintiff's attorney!"

Again, William Jay had one other human frailty which rendered this one quite innocuous. He loved to dominate the dialogue, if that's the word. And with William Jay all I had to do was sit back, sip my tea, and listen to the harangue – till the cows walked home.

(This is a satirical essay - William Jay is a fictional character.)


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Iftekhar Sayeed teaches English and economics. He was born and lives in Dhaka, ├ éČ┼ŻBangladesh. He has contributed to AXIS OF LOGIC, ENTER TEXT, POSTCOLONIAL ├ éČ┼ŻTEXT, LEFT CURVE, MOBIUS, ERBACCE, THE JOURNAL, and other publications. ├ éČ┼ŻHe (more...)
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