Transcript: Arne Kislenko on World War II and Russia | Nov 12, 2005

Mark Kingwell stands on a wooden podium and addresses an unseen audience. He's in his early thirties, clean-shaven, with short black hair. He's wearing a black T-shirt that reads "get your war on."

A picture of his book "Nothing for granted" appears briefly on screen. The cover features a picture of a few metal nails on a white surface.

Mark says I WANT TO SAY FIRST A
COUPLE OF WORDS ABOUT TWO
SUBJECTS, ONE ABOUT THE IDEA OF
ESSAY AND THE SECOND ABOUT HOW I
CAME TO BE A COLUMNIST FOR
THE NATIONAL POST
AND
THEREFORE HOW THIS BOOK CAME
INTO EXISTENCE.
I WOULDN'T CONSIDER THESE
COLUMNS ACTUALLY ESSAYS,
ALTHOUGH THEY DO PARTAKE TO SOME
DEGREE OF WHAT I CONSIDER
ELEMENTS OF THE ESSAY.
THE ESSAY, AS FAMOUSLY INVENTED
BY MICHEL de MONTAIGNE, IS THE
PURSUIT OF INTELLECTUAL
CONCLUSIONS BY MEANS OF
INDIVIDUAL REFLECTION.
IT INCORPORATES ELEMENTS OF
PHILOSOPHICAL ARGUMENT BUT IS
DISTINCT FROM IT, AND ONE OF THE
THINGS THAT'S ENDURINGLY
INTERESTING ABOUT THE ESSAY FORM
IS THE WAY THE AUTHOR ALLOWS HIM
OR HERSELF INTO THE ARGUMENT,
SOMETIMES AS A MEANS OF
ADVANCING THE ARGUMENT,
SOMETIMES AS A COUNTERPOINT,
SOMETIMES AS A SORT OF IRONIC
COMMENTATOR ON THE ACTION OF THE
ARGUMENT.
AND I THINK THIS COMBINATION OF
FLEXIBLE POSSIBILITIES IS WHY
WRITERS RETURN AGAIN AND AGAIN
TO THE ESSAY, WRITERS WHOSE
METIER
MAY NOT BE
PRIMARILY IN THAT FORM,
NOVELISTS, FOR EXAMPLE.
MORDECAI RICHLER WAS AN ESSAYIST
OF SURPASSING GIFTS EVEN THOUGH
IT WAS NOT HIS CENTRAL
PREOCCUPATION AS A WRITER.
AS A PHILOSOPHER, I FEEL
SOMEWHAT SIMILARLY, IN THAT
ESSAY ELEMENTS COME INTO A LOT
OF WHAT I WRITE PRECISELY
BECAUSE THE FREEDOM THEY ALLOW
ARE DENIED ME OTHERWISE IN MY
ACADEMIC WRITING, AND I THINK
THAT THAT JUST IS A GOOD THING.
(Chuckling)
IT'S CERTAINLY A LOT MORE FUN
THAN WRITING AN ACADEMIC
PHILOSOPHY, WHICH WILL COME AS
NO SURPRISE TO ANYBODY.

(Laughter)

Mark continues SO THAT'S THE FIRST
THING I JUST WANTED TO SAY, YOU
KNOW, GIVE MY LITTLE SPIEL ABOUT
ESSAYS.
THE FRENCH WORD, BY THE WAY, AS
I'M SURE ALL OF YOU IN THIS ROOM
KNOW, COMES FROM THE WORD "TO
TRY" OR "TO ATTEMPT," WHICH IS
WHY YOU ALWAYS HAVE THAT KIND OF
BACK DOOR ESCAPE HATCH, WHERE
YOU CAN SAY, "WELL, I TRIED, BUT
I FAILED."

(Laughter)

Mark continues IT'S STILL A GOOD ESSAY.
IT'S ALL IN THE TRYING.
WITH RESPECT TO
THE POST,
THIS IS A
STORY WHICH I'VE TOLD MANY
TIMES.
IT USED TO HAPPEN THAT WHEN I
WAS GIVING A PUBLIC TALK OR
READING, WHEN I WAS STILL A
COLUMNIST AT
THE POST,
WHICH I DID FOR THREE YEARS,
ALMOST INVARIABLY, THE FIRST
QUESTION AFTER WHAT I SAID, NO
MATTER WHAT THE TOPIC -- IT
COULD HAVE BEEN ON TRANSNATIONAL
CITIZENSHIP, IT COULD HAVE BEEN
ON HAPPINESS, IT COULD HAVE BEEN
ON, YOU KNOW, NIETZSCHE -- THE
FIRST QUESTION WAS ALWAYS, "WHY
DO YOU WRITE FOR THOSE BASTARDS
AT THE POST?"

(Laughter)

Mark continues AND I ALWAYS OR ALMOST
ALWAYS SAID WHAT I'D HEARD LINDA
McCUAIG SAY ONCE WHEN SHE WAS
WRITING FOR
THE POST,
WHICH IS, "YOU KNOW WHAT?
THEY PAY ME TO WRITE THINGS THAT
THEY HATE!
HOW COOL IS THAT?"

(Laughter)

Mark continues SO, AND THE ONLY THING
THAT I WOULD ADD TO THAT WAS,
AND I'M SURE LINDA PROBABLY DID
THIS, TOO -- I'D LIKE TO THINK
SO -- I SAID, "I DONATED 15 percent OF
EVERY PAYCHEQUE TO OXFAM, AND
THEY WERE FINANCING OXFAM
THROUGH ME, WHICH I THOUGHT THEY
WOULD HATE EVEN MORE!"

(Laughter)

Mark continues I WAS, I HAVE TO SAY,
HOWEVER, EQUALLY HAPPY, MAYBE
EVEN HAPPIER, WHEN I WAS FIRED
BY THE EDITOR OF
THE POST,
TO BE ABLE TO
SAY, "I DON'T WRITE FOR THOSE
BASTARDS ANYMORE."

(Laughter)

Mark continues ON THE WHOLE, MY
ASSOCIATION WITH
THE POST,
HOWEVER, WAS A
VERY HAPPY ONE, NOT LEAST IN THE
FORM OF THIS COLLECTION, WHICH
IS ABOUT 85 COLUMNS THAT I WROTE
EVERY OTHER WEEK ON THE OP-ED
PAGE OF
THE POST.
I WAS HIRED INITIALLY BY...
WELL, THROUGH THE INTEREST OF
KEN WHITE, WHO IS NOW THE EDITOR
OF
MACLEANS
AND HAD
PREVIOUSLY BEEN THE EDITOR OF
SATURDAY NIGHT,
AND
THAT'S HOW I CAME TO KNOW HIM.
I WAS THE TELEVISION COLUMNIST
FOR
SATURDAY NIGHT
FOR
TWO YEARS WHEN KEN WAS EDITOR,
AND THAT WAS THE FIRST TIME
REALLY I HAD A SUSTAINED
OPPORTUNITY TO REFLECT ON
CULTURAL EXPERIENCE, POPULAR
CULTURAL EXPERIENCE, USING SOME
OF THE TECHNIQUES OF ARGUMENT,
SOME OF, THAT I USE IN THE OTHER
PARTS OF MY LIFE.
AND SO WHEN KEN ASKED ME TO
WRITE AN OP-ED COLUMN, I
THOUGHT, "WELL, THIS IS A GOOD
OPPORTUNITY."
I SOON DISCOVERED THAT WE HAD
VERY DIFFERENT IDEAS ABOUT WHAT
THE COLUMN SHOULD BE LIKE.
HE AND THE EDITORS ON THE PAGE
WANTED IT TO BE A KIND OF
CULTURAL TIME-OUT, THE
EQUIVALENT OF ONE OF THOSE, YOU
KNOW, THOSE CULTURE BREAK SHOWS,
WHERE THE HOST OF
E-TONIGHT
OR
E-NOW
OR
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
OR
WHATEVER COMES ON AND SAYS,
"WELL, THIS WEEK SO-AND-SO'S IN
TOWN.
PARIS HILTON IS TALKING TO
PEOPLE ON QUEEN STREET."
AND IT WAS KIND OF, YOU KNOW,
NOT SERIOUS, AND IT WAS MEANT TO
BE OFF TO ONE SIDE.
AND I HAD VERY DIFFERENT IDEAS.
I WANTED IT TO BE A REALLY...
AS VIVID AND HARD-FOUGHT AN
IDEOLOGICAL BATTLE AS I COULD
MAKE ON A SINGLE PAGE, KNOWING
THAT WITH THE EXCEPTION OF
PATRICIA, WHO WAS AT THE TIME
ALSO WRITING AT
THE POST,
AND ONE OR TWO
OTHERS, SOMETIMES ANNE KINGSTON,
I SHOULD MENTION, THERE WERE NO
LEFT-LEANING WRITERS WORKING AT
THE POST.
AND YET I KNEW, AND I THINK KEN
WHITE KNEW, AND I WILL GIVE HIM
THIS CREDIT, THAT WHAT MAKES A
NEWSPAPER GREAT IS NOT HAVING
EVERYBODY SAY THE SAME THING
DIFFERENT WAYS BUT HAVE
DIFFERENT PEOPLE SAYING
DIFFERENT THINGS.
THE OTHER FACTOR IN THAT, OF
COURSE, WAS THAT RIGHT IN THE
MIDDLE OF THE TIME I SPENT AS A
POST
COLUMNIST OCCURRED
THE EVENTS OF SEPTEMBER 11th AND
THE INVASION OF IRAQ THAT
FOLLOWED, NOT THAT I BELIEVE
THERE IS A CAUSAL CONNECTION, AS
I ARGUE MANY TIMES...

(Laughter)

Mark continues -- IN THIS BOOK.
SO THAT, IF YOU LIKE, UPPED THE
ANTE, AND IT'S ONE REASON WHY I
THOUGHT IT WAS WORTHWHILE TO
REVISIT SOME OF THIS MATERIAL.
YOU KNOW, MALCOLM MUGGERIDGE
FAMOUSLY SAID THAT THERE IS
NOTHING STALER THAN REPRINTED
NEWSPAPER WORK, WHICH IS
DESIGNED TO BE THROWN OUT AFTER
THE END OF THE DAY.
I MEAN, YOU KNOW, IT IS THE
LITERARY EQUIVALENT OF THE
DAY LILY.
I MEAN IT'S SUPPOSED TO DIE AT
SUNSET.
I DON'T KNOW HOW MUCH OF WHAT'S
IN HERE IS OF ENDURING INTEREST,
AND I DIDN'T TRY TO JUDGE.
I THOUGHT I WOULD JUST TRY TO
SAY SOMETHING ABOUT WHAT WE WERE
THINKING AT THE TIME, AND THAT'S
REALLY ALL THAT I CLAIM HERE.
I'M GONNA READ A COUPLE, MAYBE
THREE IF I HAVE TIME, OF THE
COLUMNS.
THE COLUMNS RANGE WILDLY, AND I
DECIDED THAT I WOULD RATHER...
RATHER THAN HECTOR YOU WITH
POLITICAL AND IDEOLOGICAL
RECRIMINATIONS, I WOULD TRY TO
FIND SOME THINGS THAT WERE
SLIGHTLY MORE DIVERTING.
SO THIS IS NOTWITHSTANDING WHAT
I SAID BEFORE ABOUT THE
IDEOLOGICAL BATTLING.
IT'S ALL IN HERE.
BUT SO I SAID TO A FRIEND OF
MINE, "YOU KNOW, I'D LIKE TO
READ SOME FUNNY ONES, BECAUSE
PEOPLE LIKE FUNNY, YOU KNOW."
THE READINGS...
ESPECIALLY NOW, WHEN EVERYBODY'S
MELTING BECAUSE THE TV GUYS
WON'T LET US OPEN THE WINDOWS.

(Laughter)

Mark continues FUNNY IS BETTER.
SO I SAID TO THIS FRIEND OF
MINE, "YOU KNOW, WHAT ARE THE
FUNNY ONES?"
AND SHE SAID, "OH, MARK, THEY'RE
ALL FUNNY."
(Light laughter)

Mark says (Stammering)
"EXCEPT FOR THE SERIOUS ONES."

(Laughter)

Mark continues OKAY, SO I'M GONNA READ
TO YOU SOME FUNNY ONES, EXCEPT
FOR THE SERIOUS ONES.

Mark says THIS ONE'S CALLED "I
WATCH REALITY TV; THEREFORE I AM."

(Laughter)

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Mark Kingwell. Author, 'Nothing for granted.' Hart House Library. May 9, 2005."

Mark continues THIS IS FROM 2001, SO
SOME OF THE REFERENCES WILL HAVE
DATED SOMEWHAT.

Mark reads and says "THE NEW CROP OF
REALITY TV SHOWS IS UPON US,
WITH
THE MOLE
PREMIERING
RECENTLY ON A.B.C.,
TEMPTATION ISLAND
COMING
UP TONIGHT ON FOX, AND THE
SECOND ROUND OF
SURVIVOR
SET TO DEBUT RIGHT AFTER THE
SUPERBOWL ON JANUARY 28th, THIS
TIME WITH FRIED DINGO A DISTINCT
POSSIBILITY.
AND THAT TURNS OUR THOUGHTS
NATURALLY TO DESCARTES."

(Laughter)

Mark continues "OH, I KNOW WHAT YOU'RE
THINKING.
YOU'RE THINKING SURELY THIS
ACTUALLY TURNS OUR THOUGHTS TO
OTHER REALITY TV POSSIBILITIES,
SUCH AS THE FOLLOWING:
PINOCHET RICOCHET -- A GROUP OF
12 PLAYERS ATTEMPTS TO BRING
FORMER CHILEAN DICTATOR AUGUSTO
PINOCHET TO TRIAL.
HE COUNTERS BY EVADING
PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT,
FEIGNING IGNORANCE AND JUST
BEING OLD."

(Laughter)

Mark continues "HE MOVES AROUND THE
WORLD, PERIODICALLY PLACED ON
HOUSE ARREST, AS THE 12 PLAYERS
TRY TO NAIL HIM.
EACH TIME THEY FAIL, ONE MEMBER
IS EXPELLED.
WHEN IT'S ALL OVER, PINOCHET
GETS A MILLION DOLLARS."

(Laughter)

Mark continues "OR THE HIGH-RISK
D.V.T. LOTTERY, HUMANE...
60 PEOPLE FLY FROM NEW YORK TO
SYDNEY IN ECONOMY CLASS AND ARE
NOT ALLOWED TO LEAVE THEIR SEATS
AT ANY TIME."

(Laughter)

Mark continues "THOSE WHO DEVELOP DEEP
VEIN THROMBOSIS, OTHERWISE KNOWN
AS ECONOMY CLASS SYNDROME,
SUFFER ACUTE PAIN AND POSSIBLY
DEATH.
THE AIRLINE GETS A MILLION
DOLLARS."

(Laughter)

Mark continues "OR THE BEAR PIT...
10 PLAYERS BANKROLLED BY
THOUSANDS OF CREDULOUS INVESTORS
ROLL ON THE NASDAQ.
THEY BUY VINTAGE MUSTANG
CONVERTIBLES AND FOUR-BEDROOM
CONDOS IN SAN FRANCISCO.
EVERYBODY HATES THEM.
THEN THE MARKET CRASHES, AND
PEOPLE FEEL SMUG AT THEIR
MISFORTUNE.
SURPRISE.
THEY ALL STILL HAVE A MILLION DOLLARS."

(Laughter)

Mark continues "OR HARD LANDING...
30 MILLION PEOPLE COMPETE FOR
SCARCE RESOURCES AS THEIR
OVERHEATED NEIGHBOURS TO THE
SOUTH PLUNGE THE GLOBAL ECONOMY
INTO RECESSION.
SOME OF THEM GET A MILLION
DOLLARS CANADIAN."

(Laughter)

Mark continues "OF COURSE, EVERYBODY
KNOWS REALITY TV IS NOT ABOUT
REALITY.
THE SITUATIONS ARE HIGHLY
ARTIFICIAL, OFTEN TO THE POINT
OF CHEESINESS.
THE CONTESTANTS ARE CHOSEN FOR
THEIR DIVERSITY AND-OR
HIGH-PERCENTILE GOOD LOOKS.
HOURS OF PUNISHINGLY BORING
VIDEOTAPE ARE THEN MOULDED AND
PRODDED INTO A NARRATIVE ARC
THAT CAPTURES VIEWER INTEREST
AND CREATES STANDARD ISSUE
CHARACTER TYPES.
THE VILLAIN OF WEEK 3 TURNS OUT
TO BE THE EVENTUAL WINNER.
THE GOOD GUY OF WEEK 4 TURNS OUT
TO BE A FINK.
IT'S ALL ABOUT AS REALISTIC AS
COMMEDIA DELL'ARTE.
BUT THE REAL MISTAKE IS NOT
TAKING THESE HEAVILY MANIPULATED
FICTIONS FOR NON-FICTION.
IT'S RATHER IN THINKING THAT WE
EVER KNOW WHAT REALITY IS,
HENCE, DESCARTES, WHO WORRIED
ABOUT THIS WAY BACK IN THE 1640s
IN HIS OWN VERSION OF
SURVIVOR."

(Giggles from audience)

Mark says "WE ALL ASSUME THE
WORLD IS REAL.
THIS MEANS WE CAN MOVE AROUND
AND GET VARIOUS THINGS DONE AS A
RESULT.
BUT DESCARTES WANTS TO KNOW WHAT
RATIONAL ARGUMENT WE CAN
ACTUALLY OFFER TO VOUCHSAFE THE
CERTAINTY WE SO BLITHELY ASSUME.
AFTER ALL, WE KNOW THAT WE ARE
FREQUENTLY MISTAKEN ABOUT
INSTANCES OF OUR EXPERIENCE.
A STRAIGHT STICK LOOKS BENT IN A
GLASS OF WATER.
A SQUARE TOWER LOOKS ROUND FROM
A DISTANCE.
HOW ARE WE TO PROVE THAT WE ARE
NOT MISTAKEN ABOUT ALL OF IT?
STEP BY STEP, DESCARTES
DISMANTLES THE COMMONSENSE
WORLD.
WHAT IF ANYTHING REMAINS CERTAIN
WHEN WE START THE PROCESS OF
DOUBTING?
DESCARTES DIDN'T HAVE TV OR
THE MATRIX
AND
THE
TRUMAN SHOW AT HIS LOCAL
CINEPLEX, SO HE DIDN'T REALIZE
PERHAPS HOW COMMON THIS WORRY
WOULD BECOME WHEN TECHNOLOGY AND
PERCEPTION BECAME SO FLUID IN
THE CENTURIES AFTER HIM.
IN HIS MEDITATIONS ON FIRST
PHILOSOPHY, HE KEEPS APOLOGIZING
FOR HOW STRANGE HIS QUESTIONS
MUST SOUND, HOW BIZARRE HIS LINE
OF THOUGHT.
NOWADAYS, WITH VARIOUS HOLODECK
MALFUNCTION RERUNS OF
STAR TREK
AVAILABLE
AROUND THE CLOCK AND
TOTAL
RECALL ON OFFER AT YOUR
LOCAL BLOCKBUSTER, MOST PEOPLE
ARE INSTINCTIVE CARTESIAN
DOUBTERS."
"THE CRUX COMES WITH
WHAT IS KNOWN AS THE DREAMING
DOUBT.
WE MIGHT BRUSH ASIDE SOME FORMS
OF SKEPTICISM BY ADVERTING TO
OTHER ASPECTS OF KNOWLEDGE.
THUS, FOR EXAMPLE, OUR OPTICAL
ILLUSION IS DEFEATED."
"BUT WHAT ABOUT THAT
EXPERIENCE OF BEING INSIDE A DREAM?
WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION OF
LUCID DREAMING, WE CANNOT KNOW
FROM WITHIN THE DREAM THAT WE
ARE DREAMING.
SUCH KNOWLEDGE ONLY COMES WHEN
WE WAKE UP.
NOW, WHAT IF WHAT WE CALL WAKING
LIFE IS ITSELF A KIND OF DREAM
BUT ONE FROM WHICH WE HAVE NOT
YET AWOKEN?
HOW DO WE GO ON?
DESCARTES'S SOLUTION, AS YOU
KNOW, OUR CONSCIOUSNESS AT LEAST
IS CERTAIN, AND A BENEVOLENT GOD
WOULD NOT DECEIVE US ABOUT THE
REST.
NOW, IT HAPPENS THAT I HAD SUCH
A DREAM LAST NIGHT.
BELIEVE ME, THIS IS TRUE.
IN THE DREAM, I GOT UP IN THE
MORNING TO WRITE THIS COLUMN AND
QUICKLY DISCOVERED THAT MY
APARTMENT HAD BEEN BURGLED.
THIS APPEARED TO BE A CRUEL
COMMENT ON A PREVIOUS COLUMN I'D
WRITTEN A SUMMER AGO ABOUT BEING
BURGLED IN MY APARTMENT."

(Quiet laughter)

Mark says "'NOT AGAIN,' I
THOUGHT.
BUT YES!
AND THIS TIME, IN CONTRAST TO
THE LAST, LOTS OF MY STUFF WAS
GONE, INCLUDING MY COMPUTER,
TELEVISION AND STEREO.
THE UPSIDE WAS THAT I APPEARED
TO BE LIVING WITH SARAH JESSICA
PARKER."

(Laughter)

Mark continues "WHO WAS IN THE KITCHEN
WEARING A SKIMPY COCKTAIL DRESS
AND SMOKING A CIGARETTE.
THERE WERE EMPTY LIQUOR BOTTLES
ALL OVER THE COUNTER.
SHE LOOKED HAGGARD.
I REALIZED WITHOUT MUCH SURPRISE
THAT IT WAS NOT ACTUALLY SARAH
JESSICA PARKER AT ALL BUT
INSTEAD HER CHARACTER, CARRIE
BRADSHAW, FROM
SEX AND THE
CITY.
'CARRIE,' I SAID CLEVERLY.
'WHAT HAPPENED?
MY COMPUTER'S GONE.
I CAN'T WRITE MY COLUMN.'
'I DON'T REMEMBER,' SHE SAID,
SQUINTING THROUGH THE SMOKE.
'THOSE GUYS LOOKED NICE WHEN WE
MET AT THE BAR.'"

(Light laughter)

Mark says "I STARTED TO PANIC.
I WAS ON DEADLINE.
IN THE OTHER ROOM, THERE WERE
MORE DEAD BOTTLES, BARE WIRES
AND LOOSE CABLES AND CIGARETTE
BURNS ON THE CARPET.
THE COMPUTER WAS DEFINITELY
GONE.
THE PHONE, HOWEVER, WAS STILL
THERE.
I SWALLOWED HARD AND CALLED MY
EDITOR.
'I CAN'T WRITE MY REALITY TV
COLUMN,' I TOLD HER.
'MY APARTMENT HAS BEEN BURGLED
AGAIN,
AND THIS TIME MY
COMPUTER'S GONE.'
SHE WAS AS EVER THE PRAGMATIC
VOICE OF REASON.
'YOU STILL HAVE YOUR LAPTOP AT
WORK, DON'T YOU?'."

(Light laughter)

Mark says "THAT'S WHEN I WOKE UP."

(Light laughter)

Mark says AND FINALLY, THIS IS
CALLED "THE THIEF, THE THINKER,
AND HIS IDENTITY."
"THE OTHER MARK KINGWELL WAS A
CHEEKY BASTARD.
AFTER A THREE-DAY SHOPPING SPREE
AT VARIOUS STEREO OUTLETS, HOME
SUPPLY STORES AND DISCOUNT
JEWELLERY JOINTS, RACKING ALMOST
20,000 dollars IN COMPONENTS, POWER
TOOLS AND DIAMOND CHOKERS, THE
OTHER MARK KINGWELL STOPPED TO
GET SOME CASH.
HE WANTED A LITTLE WALKIN'
AROUND MONEY, A BIT OF DOSH,
SOME PEELING PAPER, SOME CAKE.
THE OTHER MARK KINGWELL WASN'T
GOING TO STOP JUST ANYWHERE TO
GET THE CASH, HOWEVER.
THE OTHER MARK KINGWELL WAS NO
RUN-OF-THE-MILL GRIFTER, SOME
CHEAP PUNK ON A MINDLESS
BLOWOUT.
NO, HE WAS A CRIMINAL MASTERMIND
WITH A COMIC BOOK SENSE OF
HUMOUR, THE LEX LUTHOR OF CREDIT
CARD FRAUD."

(Laughter)

Mark continues "OR MAYBE HE WAS JUST
AN IDIOT, BECAUSE HE USED THE
A.T.M. IN THE DELI AT THE CORNER
OF THE STREET, WHERE I, THE REAL
MARK KINGWELL, LIVE.
THERE IT WAS ON THE STATEMENT...
'MASTERCARD CASH ADVANCE, 300 dollars,
DELI ON MY CORNER.'"

(Light laughter)

Mark says "AND THEN, ACCORDING TO
THE STATEMENT, THE OTHER MARK
KINGWELL WENT AND HAD A COUPLE
OF MARTINIS.
READING THE PRINTOUT OF RECORDED
EXPENSES, PLOTTING THE OTHER
MARK KINGWELL'S JOURNEY THROUGH
THE CASH NEXUS OF MODERN URBAN
SPRAWL, WAS THE ONLY TIME I
LAUGHED DURING THE DISTURBING
EXPERIENCE OF HAVING MY IDENTITY
STOLEN.
OTHERWISE, IT WAS LONG
FRUSTRATING PHONE CONVERSATIONS
WITH SUSPICIOUS SECURITY
OFFICERS, SOME MID-LEVEL X-FILES
PARANOIA ABOUT THE WOBBLY
INFRASTRUCTURE OF THE
POST-INDUSTRIAL STATE, AND A FEW
AFTERNOONS OF WILD SPECULATION
ABOUT WHO, HOW AND WHY."
"LIKE OTHER VICTIMS OF
CREDIT CARD FRAUD, I ALTERNATED
BETWEEN BEING FREAKED OUT AND
SURGING WITH RESENTMENT.
A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO IN THE
NEW YORK TIMES
MAGAZINE,
A MAN CALLED ADAM RAY RECOUNTED
HIS OWN VERSION OF THIS LATE
CAPITALIST METAPHYSICAL
NIGHTMARE WHEN A FRAUD ARTIST IN
VIRGINIA APPLIED FOR EIGHT CARDS
IN HIS NAME."
"RAY WROTE, 'IN LESS
THAN A MONTH, THIS GUY SPENT
MORE THAN 40,000 dollars, A LARGE CHUNK
ON STUFF I'D NEVER BUY MYSELF,
LIKE TOMMY HILFIGER AND NAUTICA
CLOTHES AND DESIGNER SHOES.
HE ALSO BOUGHT 5,000 dollars WORTH OF
ZALES DIAMONDS.
AND WHILE I DON'T BLAME THE
WOMAN WHO GOT THEM, MY WIFE WAS
GETTING MAD AT ME BECAUSE I
NEVER BOUGHT SUCH NICE THINGS.'"

(Laughter)

Mark continues "'SUDDENLY ALL THE
GIFTS I'D GIVEN HER SEEMED LESS SPECIAL.'"

(Laughter)

Mark continues "MRS. RAY SOUNDS A
LITTLE... DEMANDING, BUT YOU SEE
HER POINT.
THERE'S SOMETHING GALLING ABOUT
IDENTITY THEFT, ESPECIALLY IF
THE THIEF PROCEEDS TO SPLURGE BY
PREYING ON YOUR OWN GOOD CREDIT
AND ESPECIALLY AT THINGS THAT
YOU WOULD NOT YOURSELF BUY.
I MEAN MAYBE MRS. RAY WANTED
SOMETHING FROM TIFFANY'S, BUT
NOT ZALES, AND INSTEAD SHE GETS
NOTHING!
AND DOESN'T HE REALIZE THAT I
MYSELF, THE REAL MARK KINGWELL,
HAVE ISSUES WITH HOW WAL-MART
TREATS ITS EMPLOYEES?
HE SHOULDN'T SHOP THERE."

(Laughter)

Mark continues "PRETTY SOON YOU'RE
WONDERING WHETHER IDENTITY
REALLY IS, AS MARKETERS INSIST,
THE SUM TOTAL OF YOUR SHOPPING
PREFERENCES, WHICH HAVE NOW BEEN
HIJACKED BY SOMEBODY ELSE...
WHICH JUST SCRATCHES THE SURFACE
OF THE PHILOSOPHICAL MYSTERIES
AT PLAY HERE.
PEOPLE TEND TO TAKE THEIR
PERSONAL IDENTITY FOR GRANTED,
BUT THAT'S SIMPLY A MUNDANE
REFUSAL TO ENGAGE THE DEEP
QUESTIONS OF EXISTENCE.
WHO, AFTER ALL, ARE YOU?
HOW DO YOU KNOW?
HOW CAN YOU DEMONSTRATE IT?
ARE YOU THE SAME PERSON FROM ONE
MOMENT TO THE NEXT?
IN ANCIENT GREEK MYTHOLOGY, THE
WARSHIP OF THE MINOTAUR-SLAYING
HERO, THESEUS, WAS OVER MANY
YEARS REPLACED PLANK BY PLANK.
WHEN EVERY SINGLE PLANK HAD BEEN
REPLACED, WAS IT STILL THE
ORIGINAL SHIP?
IF THE REMOVED PLANKS HAD BEEN
SECRETLY STORED AND LATER
ASSEMBLED, WAS THAT THE ORIGINAL
SHIP?
QUESTIONS BEST LEFT FOR THE
SEMINAR ROOM, YOU SAY, BUT I CAN
TELL YOU THAT ONCE THE
CONSENSUAL FICTION OF IDENTITY
IS FRACTURED AND SOMEBODY ELSE
IS IN POSSESSION OF YOUR NUMBERS
AND PASSWORDS, THINGS GET WEIRD.
IT IS, FOR EXAMPLE, REMARKABLY
DIFFICULT TO CONVINCE A CREDIT
AGENCY THAT YOU ARE WHO YOU SAY
YOU ARE.
YOU KEEP SHOUTING, 'BUT I'M THE
REAL MARK KINGWELL, AND OF
COURSE I KNOW MY MOTHER'S MAIDEN
NAME,' EVEN AS YOU REALIZE THAT
THESE ARE EXACTLY THE SORTS OF
THINGS THAT THE OTHER MARK
KINGWELL WOULD SAY.
BEFORE LONG, YOU FEEL LIKE
YOU'RE IN ONE OF THOSE OLD
EPISODES OF
STAR TREK
WHERE YOU HAVE TO PROVE YOU'RE
THE REAL KIRK BY KNOWING WHICH
WAY SULU PARTS HIS HAIR OR
REFUSING TO SHOOT McCOY WITH A
PHASER.
IT DOESN'T HELP IF YOU HAVE NOW
AND THEN COMMITTED DETAILS OF
YOUR PERSONAL LIFE AND DRINKING
HABITS TO PAPER.
FOR AWHILE, I WONDERED IF THE
OTHER MARK KINGWELL WAS ACTUALLY
INDULGING IN A WITTY
DECONSTRUCTION OF THE
APPEARANCE-REALITY DISTINCTION."

(Laughter)

Mark continues "OR MAKING FUN OF MY
SO-CALLED MEDIA PERSONALITY.
THEN OF COURSE, I SAW THAT THIS
WAS POINTY-HEADED CRAP!"

(Light laughter)

Mark says "AND THINKING THAT I'D
BEEN SPECIALLY TARGETED WAS JUST
ANOTHER ILLUSION OF IDENTITY.
I WAS MERELY A STATISTIC IN ONE
OF NORTH AMERICA'S FASTEST
GROWING CRIME WAVES.
U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL JOHN
ASHCROFT SAYS HE WANTS TO MAKE
IDENTITY THEFT A FEDERAL
OFFENSE, WHICH WOULD ADD TWO
YEARS TO ANY CONVICTION.
BUT AS DETERRENTS GO, THAT'S
CHUMP CHANGE.
MR. RAY'S IMPERSONATOR, FOR
EXAMPLE, WHO BUILT MORE THAN
50 PEOPLE OUT OF A HALF-MILLION
DOLLARS WORTH OF STUFF, GOT A
MERE SIX AND A HALF YEARS ON A
PLEA BARGAIN, AND HE ONLY GOT
CAUGHT BECAUSE HE WAS GREEDY AND STUPID."
"MEANWHILE, THE VERTIGO
ABOUT PERSONAL IDENTITY, ONCE
EXPERIENCED, NEVER FULLY
SUBSIDES.
IN THE ESSAY 'LISTENING TO
BOURBON,' A SLY SATIRE ON
PERSONALITY-ALTERING DRUGS, THE
WRITER, LOUIS MENAND, OFFERS
THIS COMPELLING ASSESSMENT OF
THE ANCIENT PHILOSOPHICAL PUZZLE.
MENAND SAYS,
'THE SEXUAL STALLION AND FUTURE
WORLD BEATER OF 19, FOR WHOM
THREE PIZZAS AND AN ACCOMPANIED
HOUR IN THE BACK SEAT OF A CAR
ARE JUST THE BEGINNING OF A
DECENT EVENING, AND THE SAGGING
COMMUTER OF 25 YEARS LATER, WHO
STAGGERS HOME, HOPING ONLY TO
HAVE THE STAMINA TO MAKE IT
THROUGH THE FIRST HALF HOUR OF
CHARLIE ROSE
ARE
NOMINALLY, QUOTE, THE SAME
PERSON, BUT BY VIRTUE OF WHAT?
OF HAVING THE SAME SOCIAL
SECURITY NUMBER?'
IDENTITY, MENAND CONCLUDES, IS
THE ARTIFICIAL FLOWER ON THE
COMPOST HEAP OF TIME.
THAT, AS HE SAYS, IS WHY PEOPLE
NEED BOURBON."

(Laughter)

Mark continues "OR IN MY CASE, AS THE
STILL-AT-LARGE OTHER MARK
KINGWELL KNOWS, A MARTINI."
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

(Laughter and applause)

Watch: Arne Kislenko on World War II and Russia