The Allure of Lemuria

I recently set my freshman composition students the task of writing an essay based on each writer’s choice of a topic from a list of two hundred topics. I urged especially that writer-respondents to the assignment should strive to find interest in whatever topics they might select and that they should seek to discover the meanings in their topics. To prove that it could be done, I wrote the following essay on one topic from my own list – “Lemuria.” I append my list at the end of the essay. (TFB)

The poet and fantasist Clark Ashton Smith (1893 – 1961) wrote of “enormous gongs of stone” and of “griffins whose angry gold, and fervid / store of sapphires [were] wrenched from mountain-plungèd mines,” which exist in a long-lost provenance, inaccessible except in dreams or by ecstatic witness.  Contemplating the vision, and beseeching the reader in his opening line, the monologist of Smith’s sonnet asks the portentous question, “Rememberest thou?” Ah, remembrance! Plato’s “unforgetting”! Smith called his poem “Lemuria,” after the fabled counterpart in the Pacific Ocean of Plato’s Atlantis, the legendarily unfortunate continent, home to a high but wayward civilization, which vanished beneath the waves in a great and world-implicating catastrophe some ten thousand years ago and more. The traces of Atlantis are such geographical entities as the Canary Islands, the Azores, and the submerged Mid-Atlantic Range. Lemuria’s fragments, as enthusiasts purport, are the scattered atolls, their enigmatic monuments, as at Ponape or Easter Island, and a tissue of myth that the poetic sensibility might cherish, but that stern rationality gruffly and aggressively dismisses. Rational or not, plausible or not, the “Legend of Lost Lemuria,” like the “Story of Atlantis,” speaks to a need – or rather to a gnawing hunger – that afflicts the modern soul: To believe in the fabled, in the scientifically unsanctioned, and in the remoteness-cum-greatness of a past age that mocks the modern pretension of self-sufficiency. The allure of Lemuria, like the allure of Atlantis, responds to the vapidity and parochialism of the rational world’s priggish self-perception.

Clark Ashton Smith

Lemuria is supposed to be as old as Atlantis (the measure of its age varies from author to author), but, as a story, it is newer than Atlantis. The story of Atlantis, the island-continent beyond the Pillars of Hercules whose people, grown decadent and greedy, attempted world-conquest only to suffer heavenly chastisement in a cataclysm that obliterated them and their homeland, goes back to Plato (428 – 347 BC). In Plato’s linked dialogues Timaeus and Critias, the Legend of the Sunken Continent figures centrally. Plato offers the Atlantis narrative as a “likely story,” whose meaning is largely symbolic and whose imagery the reader should take care not to interpret literally. Nevertheless, the tendency since Plato, especially in the Late-Nineteenth Century and again in the early Twentieth Century, was to take it literally. Lemuria only becomes a topic in the Nineteenth Century, a proposal of zoologists and ethnographers seeking to explain uniformities in the zoology of the Pacific archipelagos and in the myths and legends of their people.

De Camp

According to L. Sprague de Camp (1907 – 2000), writing in Lost Continents (1948; revised 1970), the Nineteenth Century German biologist Ernst Haeckel (1834 – 1919) speculated in the 1880s about the “distribution of lemurs,” sub-primate creatures that appear “in Madagascar… in Africa, India, and the Malay Archipelago.” Lemurs must have originated, Haeckel thought, somewhere between these places, perhaps on a now-submerged “Indo-Madagascan Peninsula.” As de Camp reports, “The English zoologist Philip L. Sclater suggested the name ‘Lemuria’ for this land bridge.” According to de Camp, Haeckel himself “in a burst of exuberance… went on to suggest that this sunken land might be the original home of man.” Haeckel’s suggestion took fire in wilder imaginations because in the 1881 the Atlantis story had gained popularity in a book by the American Ignatius T. Donnelly (1831 – 1901), his Atlantis – the Antediluvian World. Donnelly, seeking to explain cultural similarities in the Old and New Worlds, had invoked Plato’s mid-Atlantic continent as the native ground of human civilization.

The Donnelly-theory of Atlantis soon found favor with observers curious about widespread cultural similarities in the Pacific, who transferred the reasoning of The Antediluvian World to a new environment. The occultist Helena P. Blavatsky incorporated both Atlantis and Lemuria in her encyclopedic Secret Doctrine (1888). De Camp remarks how Blavatsky’s artificial myth articulates, if rather incoherently, “a vast synthesis of Eastern and Western magic and myth about the seven planes of existence, the seven-fold cycles through which everything evolves, the seven Root races of mankind,” and other bits of baroque fantasy and delusion. In Blavatsky’s Theosophical speculation, Lemuria was the home-continent of an early “Root-Race” possessed of telepathic ability and clairvoyance, whose people corrupted themselves by experimenting in black magic and whose endeavors led to the break-up and submergence of their island. In Blavatsky’s version of history, Atlantis came after Lemuria, and represented a later stage in spiritual evolution.

Lemur of Madagascar

Donnelly had written of Atlantis, in a far more sober tone than Blavatsky, as a place that “once existed in the Atlantic Ocean, opposite the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea, a large island, which was the remnant of an Atlantic continent.” The Antediluvian World argued that Atlantis was “the region where man first rose from a state of barbarism to civilization,” and that when it sank, “a few persons escaped in ships and on rafts, and carried [with them] to the nations east and west the tidings of the appalling catastrophe, which has survived to our own time in the Flood and Deluge legends of the different nations of the old and new worlds.” James Churchward (1851 – 1936), less sober than Donnelly but less fantastic than Blavatsky, wrote copiously about Lemuria, which he called “Mu,” in the 1920s and 30s. Among Churchward’s titles are: The Children of Mu (1931), The Lost Continent of Mu – Motherland of Mankind (1931), and Cosmic Forces of Mu (1934). As Donnelly argued about Atlantis, so Churchward argued about “Mu”: It was the Ur-Civilization, a high Bronze-Age society, which ended in catastrophe and in the Diaspora of its survivors. In The Lost Continent, Churchward wrote: “The civilizations of India, Babylonia, Persia, Egypt and Yucatan were but the dying embers of this great past civilization.”

The context of these seemingly outrageous claims should be taken in consideration. The second half of the Nineteenth Century saw remarkable discoveries in archeology. Fabled places long thought to be purely legendary or fantastic exposed themselves to the digger’s spade. Most famously at the hill called Hissarlik in Northwestern Turkey, Heinrich Schliemann (1822 – 1890) in 1876 revealed the existence of a late-Bronze-Age city that he identified (and whose identification has long been certified) as the Troy of Homer’s epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey. Sir Arthur Evans (1851 – 1941) excavated the fabled Palace of King Minos at Knossos in Crete between 1900 and 1903. These and other events seemed, to many people, to confirm the reality of legend and folklore; at the same time, and by extension, they called into question the standing version of history. To discover Troy or Knossos was to pluck at many a stuck-up beard – a rare pleasure ardently sought after by a gadfly type of person. To validate Atlantis or Lemuria would be even better yet.

Spence 07

Central to any discussion of Lemuria as a pseudo-archeological fact is the authorship of the Scotsman, and Scots nationalist, Lewis Spence (1874 – 1955), better-known as a folklorist, an advocate of the case for Atlantis, but also, in two books, an exponent of the reality of the lost continent of the Pacific. In The Problem of Lemuria: The Sunken Continent of the Pacific (1932), Spence wrote of his surprise, on collating the evidence, that “the myth of Lemuria in its Polynesian form, and the Myth of Atlantis as told by Plato, have a common basis.” Spence wrote indeed of an “Atlantis culture-complex” that he had detected in archeology and myth, “from Spain to the Sandwich Island,” that is to say, Hawaii. The Problem of Lemuria, like the same author’s Problem of Atlantis (1924), marshals abundant geological, archeological, and mythological evidence to support the claim that the existing islands and cultures of the Pacific stem from a geologically and culturally unified, and very ancient, mid-oceanic landmass.

Some of Spence’s chapter-titles are: “Arguments from Archeology”; “The Testimony of Tradition”; “Evidence from Myth and Magic”; and “The Geology of Lemuria.” In the chapter on “The Catastrophe and its results,” Spence paints a tragic and awesome picture of a doomed people scrambling to save their society as the quite un-metaphorical ground-under-their-feet slips away into the salty abyss. Spence also paints the moral picture of a society that had fallen into the corruptions of avarice, arbitrary class-divisions, and various forms of practical wickedness, which undoubtedly exacerbated the natural catastrophe and perhaps even precipitated it. “That wholesale destruction of life occurred in certain areas we cannot doubt, having regard to the quite recent geological history of Japan, where earthquake has accounted for hundreds of square miles, and horrified beholders on vessels at sea have witnessed the collapse and engulfment into ocean of entire countrysides with their houses, farms, animals and populations complete.”

Smith Lemurian Idols

Here Spence in his own words reminds readers of another aspect of the allure of Lemuria, as well as of Atlantis, for both are stories of inescapable destruction that urge from the audience the emotions of pity and fear.

As for the moral contribution of the Lemurians to their own misfortune, Spence contents himself with citing myth, not bothering to dismiss it: “Man must not arrogate to himself the joys of heaven, or imitate its hauteurs” because “human profligacy [has] a direct and blighting effect on the powers and economy of nature.” If so-called primitive people believed that “the wholesale destruction of nations or countries” followed from the indignity of an “outraged deity,” who among modern people, the people who had murdered one another in the trenches in “The War to End War,” could sincerely gainsay the old idea? Indeed, a later book by Spence from 1943 bears the title Will Europe Follow Atlantis? The answer to the titular questions is, probably yes, but if not, then Europe bloody well ought to follow Atlantis, and the sooner the better.

De Camp writes that “Spence’s facts… turn out less impressive than they seem at first,” and dismisses him for “consider[ing] legends more reliable evidence of past changes in the earth’s surface than geology, despite the fact that to change a story he has heard is one of the easiest things for a man to do, while the rocks stay much the same from age to age.” Even conceding that Spence began sanely, de Camp argues, “his own critical sense seems to have declined with the years.” De Camp is especially vicariously embarrassed by Spence’s Will Europe Follow Atlantis? Martin Gardner (1914 – 2010) too in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1952) believes that while Spence began as “one of the sanest” lost-continent advocates, he later “became obsessed with what he thought was a parallel between the decadence of ancient Atlantis [and, of course, Lemuria] and the decadence of modern Europe.” In sum, as Gardner sees it, Spence was one more crank and Lemuria is nothing but crankiness.

Frank Lemuria

Despite so much skepticism, the idea of Lemuria as a fact persists. Frank Joseph, writing in The Lost Civilization of Lemuria – the Rise and Fall of the World’s Oldest Culture (2006), insists that “Lemuria undoubtedly did exist in the past… [and] was the birthplace of [the earliest] civilized humans” whose “mystical principles survived to influence fundamentally some of the world’s major religions.” Frank’s Afterword, “The Real Meaning of Lemuria,” begins with an epigraph from Spence on the decline of the lost continent (whether it be Atlantis or Lemuria) into decadence and unto “utter barbarism”; and  it ends with the declaration that “although her broken remains have lain at the bottom of the sea for the last twenty-three centuries, the Motherland’s spirit is alive in the folk memories and high spirituality of more than a dozen different peoples around the Pacific Rim.” Frank concludes summarily: “In this age where the unnatural is normal, nothing is too good for self-indulgence, and the Earth is pushed to the brink of ecological revolt, we need a different role model from our past.”

Smith Zothique

Frank, in 2006, calls for a “Return to Lemuria,” a phrase that attests the “allure” invoked in these paragraphs from the beginning. Prior voices anticipated Frank’s call by decades. Clark Ashton Smith, already mentioned, wrote at least a dozen “Lemurian” stories for his usual venue, Weird Tales, in the 1930s, only Smith renamed the foundered Pacific continent “Zothique” (as in the French, exotique). Smith, a correspondent and follower of H. P. Lovecraft, felt attracted to the Lemuria-myth because of the aura of decadence that hovered over it, but he relocated his disintegrating insula oceanica from humanity’s dim past to its gray doom in the twilight of the far future. Smith’s Lemurian stories – “The Empire of the Necromancers” (1932), “The Isle of the Torturers” (1933), “Necromancy in Naat” (1933), and “Xeethra” (1934) – depict the Lemurian decadence, as described by Spence and Scott-Elliot, but in the mode of the baroque fable and under the philosophical premises of the French Symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire’s verse-collection The Flowers of Evil (1857). The narrator of “The Empire” begins this way: “I tell the tale as men shall tell it in Zothique, the last continent, beneath a dim sun and sad heavens where the stars come out in terrible brightness before eventide.”

Beginning in the March 1945 number of the science fiction pulp magazine Amazing Stories, during the editorship of Raymond Palmer, items began to appear by one Richard Shaver (1907 – 1975) that Palmer declared in his editorial comments to be other than fiction. Shaver, an out-of-work welder who had been institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital, had experienced voices and out-of-body trances that convinced him, as the title of his best-known story phrased it, that I Remember Lemuria. Shaver’s stories of his past life in Lemuria, of the catastrophe that overwhelmed the Lemurian civilization, and of the subterranean survivors of that catastrophe, both benevolent and malevolent, dramatically increased the sales of Amazing until the appearance of the final installment of “The Shaver Mystery” in 1949. In Shaver’s stories, the Lemurian civilization is space-traveling and interplanetary; in this way the old myth absorbs the elements of science fiction.

Shaver I Remember Lemuria

Shaver’s stories link up with a putatively non-fiction book about Lemuria, W. S. Cervé’s Lemuria – Lost Continent of the Pacific (1931), which argues that a Lemurian colony persists in caverns under Mt. Shasta in Northern California. Even Santa Barbara, according to Cervé, is a remnant of Lemuria. Nerds over fifty who read science fiction in their youth might remember the “Thongor” stories of Lin Carter (1930 – 1988), prolific paperback-writer of genre fiction: The Wizard of Lemuria (1965), Thongor of Lemuria (1966), Thongor against the Gods (1967), Thongor in the City of Magicians (1968), Thongor at the End of Time (1968), and Thongor and the Pirates of Tarakus (1970). Carter writes, “Where now the Blue Pacific rolls a thousand miles without a break… there was once, in the dawn of the world, a mighty continent, thronged with glittering cities of marble and gold.” Each paperback installment of the series included a map of Lemuria, drawn by the author.

Science tells us that the world is stable, that progress is steady and assured, and that the present is the summit of humanity’s aspirations. The allure of Lemuria is to doubt all that.

The List of Topics

  1. Airplane Movies (Only those who have seen ten or more airplane movies should select this topic)
  2. Amusement Parks (the Anthropology of Rides and Attractions)
  3. Anarchism
  4. Andy Hardy Movies (Only those who have seen four or five Andy Hardy movies should select this topic)
  5. Andrei Rublev (Russian Film by Andrei Tarkovsky)
  6. [The] Apollo of the Belvedere
  7. Asteroids or Trans-Neptunian Objects (Someone should write about Quaoar and Sedna)
  8. Atlantis (The Lost Continent)
  9. Barbarism in Modern Life
  10. [The] Baseball Hat (As Sign of Youth-Culture Conformism)
  11. [Charles] Baudelaire (French Poet)
  12. Beavis and Butthead
  13. [The] Best Years of Our Lives (Movie, 1949)
  14. Beauty
  15. Beer as a Civilized Institution
  16. [The] “Big Bang”
  17. “Bow to Your Sensei!”
  18. [Busby] Berkeley: Genius of the Movie Musical (Only those who have seen Berkeley’s movie musicals should select this topic)
  19. Books
  20. Boredom
  21. Brueghel, Elder and Younger (Painters)
  22. Bugs Bunny (His Cultural Meaning)
  23. Bureaucracy
  24. Burlesque
  25. “Calvin and Hobbs” (As Critique of Middle Class Life)
  26. Canned Soup (Its Cultural Meaning)
  27. Cannibalism
  28. Cell Phones and Anti-Social Behavior
  29. Chastity (The Meaning of Chastity)
  30. Chatter (As Philosophical Concept)
  31. Chinese Takeout (Its Cultural Meaning in an American Context)
  32. Chivalry
  33. College Movies Then and Now (Only those who have seen ten or more college movies should select this topic)
  34. College Students: Threat or Menace?
  35. Comedy (Why Modern Comedy is not Funny)
  36. Conformism
  37. Contentment
  38. [On Being] Cool (A Critique)
  39. Courtship
  40. Cthulhu (His Being, His Meaning; see also H. P. Lovecraft)
  41. Cycles of Civilization
  42. Daffy Duck (His Cultural Meaning)
  43. Dance Steps of the 1960s
  44. Dawn (The Spiritual and Metaphysical Meaning of Dawn)
  45. [The] Decline of Civilization (Symptoms, Signs)
  46. Detective Novels (Only those who have read twenty or more detective novels should select this topic)
  47. Difficulty
  48. Diversity (Why it is not, in fact, Diverse)
  49. Dogs and Language (Canines Should Not Select This Topic)
  50. Do Not Select This Topic!
  51. “Dorm Brothel” (Article by Vigen Guroian)
  52. [The] “Dumbing Down” of Culture
  53. Dusk (The Spiritual and Metaphysical Meaning of Dusk)
  54. Early Nineteenth-Century Architecture in Oswego
  55. Electronic Games (Their Destructive Effect on Cognition)
  56. Elegance
  57. [“Duke”] Ellington (The Music of “Duke” Ellington)
  58. [The] End of the World in Popular Culture
  59. Envy and Resentment
  60. Equality (Why, in Fact, People are Not Equal, Except Before the Law)
  61. [M. C.] Escher (Graphic Artist)
  62. Ethnic Humor (A Cultural Justification)
  63. Etiquette
  64. “Every Man Should Stand Equal Before The Law” (Speech by Arnold Bertonneau before the Massachusetts Legislature, 12 April 1864)
  65. [Douglas] Fairbanks: Silent Film Star (Writers selecting this topic will need to watch at least three Douglas Fairbanks movies)
  66. Fairness
  67. False Beauty
  68. [The] Family (As the Foundation of Society)
  69. “[The] Far Side” (Gary Larsson’s Syndicated Cartoon, 1980s)
  70. “Forget U” (Critique of the Contemporary College or University)
  71. “Fun Houses” (A Specific Twist on Amusement Parks)
  72. Gardening (And the Garden of Eden)
  73. Giant Insects (In the Movies)
  74. Gifts and Gift-Giving
  75. Gluttony
  76. Gods (The Ancient Gods – Do They Still Exist?)
  77. Gogh (Vincent van Gogh, Dutch Painter)
  78. Gojira, Kaiju Ichi Ban! [Godzilla] (The Cultural Meaning of Godzilla)
  79. [Benny] Goodman (Jazz Clarinetist and Band Leader)
  80. [Leo] Gorcey (and Hunts Hall)
  81. Happiness
  82. [Françoise] Hardy (French Chanteuse of the 1960s)
  83. Heavy Machinery
  84. Heraclitus (Father of Philosophy)
  85. Heroes and Heroines of the 1930s and 40s
  86. Hierarchy (The Necessity of Hierarchy)
  87. [Hunts] Hall (and Leo Gorcey)
  88. Illiteracy (As a Symptom of Cultural Decline)
  89. Indolence
  90. Interociter (Its Cultural Meaning)
  91. Irony
  92. Klezmer Music
  93. Korean Food (Especially Kimchi)
  94. Kraja (Swedish Folk Quartet)
  95. Krauka (Icelandic Folk-Rock Band)
  96. Language (The Origin of Language)
  97. Lemuria (The Lost Continent)
  98. Liberalism as Totalitarianism
  99. Lies (Are All Prevarications Lies?)
  100. “Like” (In the Modern Patois)
  101. [H. P.] Lovecraft (Not a Sex Book)
  102. Mars (Planet, Its Cultural Significance)
  103. Masculinity
  104. Masks (From an Anthropological Perspective)
  105. Melancholy
  106. Meretricious Behavior
  107. Mesmerism
  108. Messianism
  109. Model Airplanes
  110. Modernity (Against Modernity)
  111. Modesty
  112. Mowgli
  113. [Alphonse] Mucha (Advertising Artist)
  114. Narcissism
  115. Night (The Spiritual and Metaphysical Meaning of Night)
  116. Nihilism
  117. Non-Conformism
  118. Noon (The Spiritual and Metaphysical Meaning of Noon)
  119. No One Should Select This Topic!
  120. Not Doing It
  121. Nudism
  122. Nudniks
  123. “Onty” (Pronounced “Auntie”), the Lake Ontario Plesiosaur
  124. Pilgrimage
  125. Play
  126. Pleistocene Era
  127. Political Correctness and College Life
  128. Polka
  129. Popular Delusions
  130. Prohibitions
  131. Public Houses
  132. Pulp Magazines
  133. Quebec
  134. [Sergey] Rachmaninov (Russian Composer)
  135. Radio (Why it was Better than Television)
  136. Red Army Song and Dance Ensemble
  137. Relativism, Epistemological, Moral, and Cultural (Why It is Philosophically Untenable)
  138. Rembetiko
  139. Renunciation
  140. Rivers (Their Symbolic Significance)
  141. Robots (Reboot of Previous Topic)
  142. Ruins (The Pleasure of Ruins)
  143. Sacred Places
  144. Sacrifice
  145. Sasquatch (His Cultural Meaning)
  146. Science Fiction Novels (Only those who have read twenty or more science fiction novels should select this topic)
  147. Screens (Electronic Screens)
  148. [The] Sea Hawk (Movie, 1940)
  149. Secessionism
  150. Seinfeld (Television Show); or The Big Bang Theory
  151. Selecting a Topic (See Aristotle)
  152. [The] Seven Samurai (Movie, 1954)
  153. [The] Sexualized Society
  154. Ships in the Harbor
  155. [Dmitri] Shostakovich (Fifth Symphony [1937] and Seventh Symphony [1941])
  156. Silence (The Spiritual and Metaphysical Meaning of Silence)
  157. Single-Sex Education
  158. “Slasher” Movies and “Splatter” Movies
  159. Small Town or Small City Life
  160. Smörgåsbord (Its Cultural Meaning)
  161. Social Formality (Manners)
  162. Space Exploration
  163. Standing on One’s Head
  164. Stay Away From This Topic!
  165. Steam Locomotives (The Aesthetics of Steam Locomotion)
  166. Stupidity (The Cult of Stupidity)
  167. [The] Sun (As a Symbol of Divinity)
  168. Sushi (Its Cultural Meaning in an American Context)
  169. “Swing” (Big Band Music of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s)
  170. Tarzan (As Cultural Symbol)
  171. [Henry David] Thoreau on “Spring”
  172. Thunder (As Interpreted by People through the Ages)
  173. Titillation
  174. Tolerance (Its Limitations)
  175. Toys of the 1960s
  176. Transcendent Dental Mediation
  177. Twits
  178. UFOs and “Contactees”
  179. Ugliness (The Cult of Ugliness)
  180. Vampirism and Teen Angst
  181. “Vanishing Cultivated Girl”
  182. Vaudeville
  183. Vegetarianism
  184. Victoria’s Secrets (The Institution’s Cultural Meaning)
  185. Vikings (Medieval Scandinavian Raiders)
  186. Violence (Its Role in Civilization)
  187. Walking by Lake Ontario
  188. [John] Wayne (In the Films Red River, The Quiet Man, and Rio Bravo)
  189. “We are Borg; Resistance is Futile; You Will be Assimilated”
  190. Whaling on Lake Ontario in the Nineteenth Century
  191. Wine as a Civilized Institution
  192. [Henry Clay] Work (American Song-Composer)
  193. World without Men
  194. World without Women
  195. Youth Culture
  196. Zen
  197. Zeppelin Airships
  198. Zippity-Dooh-Dah
  199. Zippy the Pinhead
  200. Zymurgy

12 thoughts on “The Allure of Lemuria

    • Thank you, Sir, for your appreciative remark. I had a good deal of plain fun writing the thing, which I tried to share with my stduents when I read the essay to them in class today. Lewis is Spence is always a refreshing kick in the pants. Bugs Bunny, is it? Very good! I look forward to reading your assignment.

      Sincerely, TFB

  1. This is a great list, and it sounds like a really great class; I wish I could take it. Like so many others I know, I was too busy trying to get good grades to actually enjoy most of my courses. My brother is a college professor, and I often think that, although frustrating, it would also be extremely rewarding and interesting. Academia’s infernal Leftism notwithstanding, how could you *really* not enjoy dwelling on campus for the rest of your days?

    Sorry, how many words did the essay have to be? How many people are in the class (in other words, what is the chance of any topic being selected?)?

    Here are my top ten choices off the list, and directions I might go with them. Some of the topics I would *not* be interested in because we cover them all the time here, e.g. Hierarchy, Diversity, Masculinity. Likewise as a Canadian I would not be interested in Quebec, but it would be interesting to see one of your students pick that.

    () Beavis and Butthead (what they reveal about contemporary male adolescence; whether they had any lasting impact; what they say about male-male relationships and sociosexual power, or in other words, an analysis of why some guys get the chicks and some guys don’t)

    () Boredom: a historical exploration of the concept (did you know there is no biblical Hebrew word for boredom? At least I think this is the case; it might instead be that there is no Koine word)

    () Elegance – not sure exactly, but I might try to take this in the direction of a historical tour of what different societies considered “elegant”, with a view to proving that there is something universal about “elegance”

    () Gardening (And the Garden of Eden) – selected since I personally love gardening, and believe that Man was meant to love gardening ever since the Creation.

    () “Like” (In the Modern Patois) – selected since I love linguistics in general. An exploration of the ways the word is overused (both in the “I like that” sense, and the “so, like, what are you, like, doing tonight?” sense), and what this says about the emptiness and lack of expressiveness of modern language. Also the way that the word has filtered into older generations than just the teens – how did this spread?

    () Rembetiko – because I love Rembetiko!

    () Ruins (The Pleasure of Ruins) – because I love ruins! (And would like to explore the reasons why.)

    () Secessionism – an exploration of the circumstances under which secessionism would be legitimate, and why a people might want to secede.

    () UFOs and “Contactees” – besides a general overview of this pop-topic, it would be an avenue to explore issues of epistemology and why and when it reasonable to believe something or someone.

    () Whaling on Lake Ontario in the Nineteenth Century (!!!!) – because I am a HUGE fan of whaling literature (Moby Dick is my numero deux favourite novel after LOTR) and I had no idea whaling occured on the Great Lakes!

    () Zymurgy – this sounds like an interesting way to blend the arts and sciences

    I counted to double-check and that was actually my top 11. Oh, well.

    • Samson, SUNY Oswego has a rule that freshman-level courses in the “service” category, like Freshman Composition, shall have an enrollment limit of nineteen. I believe that there are eighteen students in the current class. You would think that with eighteen choosers and two hundred choices, there would be no duplication, but this is not so. For example, this time around (I used the same list for the previous assignment), several students chose “Cell Phones and Anti-Social Behavior.” I am pondering the question of how to deal with this, if only because I have no desire to read three essays on the same topic.

      Your enthusiasm is encouraging. This is the struggle that I am having with my students, to get them to overcome their passivity and lack of affect, and to find how to feel interest — or yes, even experience enthusiasm — for things. Their overexposure to “media” has, I fear, deadened their Eros. Their capacity to desire knowledge and wisdom has never really had a chance to emerge, much less strengthen itself through usage.

      Your glosses on the topics are quite provocative and entertaining. Supposing that you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to share them with the students.

      The Koine word for what we call boredom is melancholia.

      Of course, there was no “Whaling on Lake Ontario,” but in my humble judgment there ought to have been. I picture it having been done, moreover, from flat-bottomed, paddle-wheeled steamers, of the kind that used to ply the lake in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Ditto there is no “Nessie” or “Champ” associated with Lake Ontario, but again there ought to be, and “Ontie” (pronounced “Auntie”) seems to me just the right name.

      Thank you for taking the time to respond.


      PS. I offer a bibliographical suggestion, a book called The Pleasure of Ruins by the British novelist Rose McCauley.

  2. For example, this time around (I used the same list for the previous assignment), several students chose “Cell Phones and Anti-Social Behavior.”

    Unfortunately I am not surprised that modern eighteen-year-olds would pick this most boring and trite of all the topics…

    Your enthusiasm is encouraging. This is the struggle that I am having with my students, to get them to overcome their passivity and lack of affect, and to find how to feel interest — or yes, even experience enthusiasm — for things.

    Well, it’s like I said… as an undergrad I was probably not enthusastic either. I’ve often thought that education, like youth, is wasted on the young.

    Your glosses on the topics are quite provocative and entertaining. Supposing that you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to share them with the students.

    Yes, of course, go ahead.

    PS. I offer a bibliographical suggestion, a book called The Pleasure of Ruins by the British novelist Rose McCauley.

    On the list it goes!

  3. And this, my friends, is part of what makes the Orthosphere so great. We have deep, thought-provoking posts from a variety of contributors, with intelligent conversation following in the comments.

    I hope that we can continue in this vein for a long time to come.

    I wish I could have taken courses from Dr. Bertonneau, and will steer my children toward him if he is still teaching when they are ready for college.

  4. Thanks for sharing all this. It’s an impressive list. If kids these days know about Led Zeppelin maybe they could get turned on to the subject by knowing that Robert Plant’s symbol on Zoso was a symbol for Lemuria.

    But whether it’ll be taught in schools in the mainstream is another question. And it’d be a shame if it didn’t because the evidence and proof could be one more way to show how we all share a common background. It could be one more reason for everybody to realize that we’re evolving as one and we should act accordingly. Cheers!

  5. Pingback: Lemuria and Other Essay Topics - Science Fiction Fantasy Chronicles: forums


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