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“Cultural Critics” — An Entry in the Creative Writing Challenge has sponsored a Creative Writing Challenge, in which one is to write a story, 750 words or less, containing specific words named in the Challenge. Each word is to be linked to the corresponding dictionary entry.

As you can see, they didn’t choose everyday words. My very short story, only 736 words in length, is called Cultural Critics, and you can read it under the cut: 

Cultural Critics

Attend a party full of cultural critics, came Tamar’s grim thought, and you deserve what you get.

Academic social events were bad enough, but it required no mantic talents to predict that a reception for the Center for Popular Civilization would feature a flood of sneering, rarified, self-congratulatory and deliberately opaque remarks, filling the room to its occupants’ perpetually raised eyebrows. As Tamar expected, each guest seemed to be shouting his or her pet distillation of the zeitgeist in the ear of anyone who would listen, with the result that no one heard anything. This, she realized, smiling wryly at the serendipity of it, could serve as a model for the praxis of the whole benighted department. These were the sort of people who would extol the virtues of the working class while flaunting their superior vocabularies and command of obscure theory no one else read.

Even the refreshments seemed to reflect a nauseating self-consciousness. Pad thai, couscous, blini and dolmades all seemed to proclaim that here was a Multicultural Table For the Ages. A massive, semilunar hunk of halva dominated the center, although Tamar would have wagered a month’s meager salary that there was not a single member of the faculty with any genuine Middle Eastern, Near Eastern or Judaic background. It was just another affectation. Tamar herself had swallowed more halva in her lifetime than she’d care to remember, at endless bar mitzvahs, weddings and even Thanksgiving dinners; with a Jewish father and an Armenian mother, there’d been no way to escape it. So far as she was concerned it had no sapid character at all; its cloying sweetness was only slightly less nauseating than its gritty texture, and in her own home, now that she had one, she had declared it to be contraband

If she was getting personally offended by the choice of desserts then she knew things were getting out of hand. No doubt both her therapist and her yoga instructor would view this as a perfect opportunity for her to cultivate some ataraxia, something for which she had little native talent. Dutifully she closed her eyes and tried to focus on her breathing, imagining each breath as a flow of energy from the world to her body and back again. It didn’t work; she kept imagining a flow of intellectual flatulence instead.

Ellison came gliding across the room towards her. Too slow to connive a way to escape, she rearranged her face into what she barely hoped was a smile.

“Tamar my darling, I just wanted to thank you for that excellent job you did on the slash article. We’ll be sure to think of you next time.” Ellison’s grin displayed all the sincerity of a presidential campaign ad. He’d asked her to write a journal note on “slash” fan fiction as a manifestation of the general alienation of Western readers towards their own affinitive tendencies. As it was a topic which she considered to be nearly perfect nonsense, she’d given it only a lick and a promise – something of which he must surely be aware.

“Why thank you, Henry. It was a pleasure to attack such a relevant, hip theme.”

She hoped he’d wander off to find someone more interesting soon; deliberately falsifying her feelings for more than five minutes always gave her a migraine.

“Well, perhaps you’d consider some really state-of-the art cultural critiques.”

“Such as?” Count backwards from twenty, thinking of the shakras in the head, the eyes, the – 

“Perhaps the whole notion of ‘genocide’ as a cultural marker.” Ellison was looking even more pleased with himself than before.

“What?” Tamar’s eyes refocused.

“Yes, there are such contentions over the concept of ‘genocide.’ The Jews and the Armenians fight over it, we wrangle over it in foreign policy. Such hysterics over a word! What a delightful piece it would make.”

Ellison’s eyes were on hers, narrowed and as shrewd as Ellison ever was, awaiting her reaction.

Tamar stopped just long enough to assure herself that he actually was aware of her ethnic background. She held up a finger for him to wait a moment. Then she marched over to the table and cut a hand-sized slab of halva. Hefting this item, she spun on her heel and returned to Ellison, who was still grinning madly.

“Here, Henry, is a delightful piece of cultural criticism.”

She mashed it into his face.


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