MY DINNER WITH MIKHAIL BAKHTIN
[We see the ‘father-of-global-warming”, James Hansen, walk out of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in downtown New York City. James has a blank expression. We hear his voice commenting on the action, as the narrator would. This narrating voice will be labeled “JAMES’ NARRATION” to distinguish it from James Hansen’s actual words within the story.]
JAMES’ NARRATION: The life of a preeminent climatologist is tough. You waste away your youth studying advanced math and physics, hunker down in a university library, eat only cereal, write a dissertation on the atmosphere of Venus, slave the next thirty years away on computer models, determine that your home planet is catastrophically being affected by climate change, and then when you try to tell people about all this, they arrest you with Daryl Hannah outside a coal factory. The worst part of it all is that I’ve become the focal point of a recent college graduate’s eccentric imagination – one which he forces me to have dinner with Russian philosopher and semiotician Mikhail Bakhtin – if only to see if he can help me in my quest to find the most effective rhetoric for engaging the public. I never studied this man Bakhtin in college and darned if I could tell you what semiotics entails. Philosophers of science rarely meet up with dead Russian rhetoricians – I’ve found that we have different tastes in movies. But if this kid thinks Bakhtin can help me with my public speaking, well, I’m all ears. [He walks into the restaurant and checks his coat.]
MIKHAIL: James, how do you do.
JAMES: Why, hello Mr. Bakhtin. It’s a pleasure to meet you. How are you?
MIKHAIL: Please, Mikhail. I am fine. Please take seat. We have much to discuss.
JAMES: Yes, absolutely. First off, why does this loony twenty-something think you can help me spread the word on global warming? This is a scientific question and Mikhail, as far as I know, you have no credentials in the scientific community.
MIKHAIL: What? Science? Mr. Hansen, I love science. I try much to apply science to literary criticism, eh, what you say, to give it “scientific footing.” And as for your “ideology” based on empirical studies, I can help you with that.
JAMES: You apply science to literature? Check, please. [Looks for waiter.]
MIKHAIL: No, no! You must listen. There is no “literature.” Your scientific papers, you know, the ones that no one but other scientists read. That is literature. My ticket stub to the Yankees game, that is literature. Look, give your papers to me, I’ll have my friend publish them – put you top of the charts in New York Times Book Review. Hah? James, it’s all about dialogue. What you’re doing now with Daryl Hannah and the activism, it’s the same thing as when you publish in Science or when you go testify in front of Congress. Only different audience, you see?
JAMES: Sure, but I think I’m doing a very fine job explaining my case to the public.
MIKHAIL: Then why must you bring up Holocaust, yes? Why?
JAMES: [Coughs.] Ahem, yes, that was an unfortunate metaphor – but I really do think…
MIKHAIL: Wrong words. They do not care what you think. Look, spreading this “global warming” ideology – you see, I know it’s hard. But you really must use rhetoric…
JAMES: I don’t buy into bells and whistles.
MIKHAIL: No, no! Not bells and whistles, signs and images! See, you must be like me, Russian formalist. I will tell you.
JAMES: Mikhail, we are heading towards a certain destruction of our environment. Reason has to win out, here. Soon, the oceans turn to an acid strong enough to burn the skin from our bones, our ice caps will melt into pools of water, deeper than the unfathomable depths of our souls, our…
MIKHAIL: Good! Metaphor, wonderful. Let me show you first lesson, you see?
JAMES: [Grudgingly] Fine. What have you got.
MIKHAIL: At next conference, you see, I want you to try something.
JAMES: Yes? I’m all ears, Mikhail. What possibly have you got for me.
MIKHAIL: Yes, this time, before you get arrested, I want you to paint your belly red and scream gibberish at the top of your lungs.
JAMES: What?! Are you stark raving mad?
MIKHAIL: No, not in least. Look, I tell you what – I’ll join you on stage.
JAMES: Well, that sounds reasonable.
MIKHAIL: It would be no worry. Lenin and I, this is how we became good friends.
JAMES: You knew Lenin?
MIKHAIL: No, not really. But that is beside point. The point is we must convince others of your ideology.
JAMES: I take offense to that. You speak like I’m some sort of Marxist, some crazed Communist.
MIKHAIL: No, no. Wrong ideology. Look, we all have an ideology. It is not bad word. I, for one, believe that this kid who brought us here is nutcase.
JAMES: Yes, I’ve heard many have told him so…
MIKHAIL: Who does he think he is? Woody Allen?
JAMES: Probably some combination of Woody Allen and Andre Gregory. Have you ever seen My Dinner With Andre? This is like a terrible remake. But then again, things are getting strange in the world. Why was I arrested with Daryl Hannah? I mean, Blade Runner was great – don’t get me wrong – but no one wants to see an aging climatologist and a dead Russian philosopher talk about science and rhetoric together. That’s like combining peanut butter and toothpaste.
MIKHAIL: Ah, but you need both to get stains out of t-shirts.
JAMES: I suppose. But still, who mixes the two?
MIKHAIL: Stalin did once. Right before he exiled me to Serbia.
JAMES: Wow, what was that like?
MIKHAIL: Have you seen The Day After Tomorrow?
MIKHAIL: Well, imagine Dennis Quaid in a bathing suit trying to rescue his son.
JAMES: That cold?
MIKHAIL: No, not cold. Just strange.
JAMES: Hm, I’ll buy that.
(The two continue eating, discussing Stalin’s little quirks, climate science, and potential prank calls to Senator James Inhofe.)