Introducing Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major
by David Kennedy Bird
Abstract: In which we are, at long last, formally introduced to one of the more important characters on this blog, that champion of truth, the honorable Mr. Elvis Wu: The Last Philosophy Major.
If you’ve been following for any length of time, you’ll recall that in one of the early posts to this blog, there appeared a character named ‘Elvis Wu.’ In that episode, he related a story about a zen philosopher named Bodhifarma (which apparently means ‘the knowledge of agriculture’). Sound familiar?
Well. You are now about to be formally introduced to him.
“Elvis, meet my readers. Readers, please give a warm welcome to Mister Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major.”
[scattered polite applause]
“Hey, look, guys, you can do better’n that! I said let’s have a vigorous round of applause for Mister Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major!”
[nobody claps this time except for one greasy-looking guy in a blue and grey flannel shirt and a Pillsbury baseball cap, about three rows from the back]
“Jeepers, fine, whatever.”
Elvis Wu: It’s really all okay, Blogger. Why don’t you just go on, and they can applaud at the end if they want to.
The Blogger: But it’s the principle of the thing, Wu. This is just unacceptable behavior. It’s as if all sense of decorum or public civility has completely evaporated.
Elvis Wu: Another possibility you’ve failed to mention, is that hardly anybody actually reads your blog.
The Blogger: Ahem, so now i think it’s time that i shared with the assembled throng, the teeming masses, some of the main points of your biography.
Elvis Wu: Sure, you do that! Tell the assembled throng what you think they ought to know about me.
The Blogger: Terrific. I think i’ll do just that.
How he and i first met
Elvis Wu and i first met at a philosophy congress in Atlanta about 20 years ago. In the opening session, Wu was sitting in the row ahead of me, and i noticed that he would nod vigorously, or shake his head violently, when he agreed or disagreed with whatever the person on the stage was saying. I also noticed that his disagreements tended to come about five times as often as his positive appraisals. I grabbed him after the first morning session and made him sit down to lunch with me. What i discovered was a man deeply disaffected with the way philosophy and truth are being approached in the modern academy; and i was able to plot out some of my own misgivings alongside his. It was a significant moment in my own “coming of age” as a philosopher.
I tell the story of my creating him to teach my students philosophy
Well, that story about the philosophy conference… was on one level of reality.
The ‘Origin Story,’ as it were.
[the blogger snickers gleefully]
In a somewhat more real sense, of course, ha ha, Elvis is a creation of my own for this here blog. I invented him about 20 years ago for a philosophy class i was teaching at the time, and he has grown prodigiously since then. Back then, he was an interesting character i used in written dialogues to teach principles of logic. He has, since then, taken on a life of his own! The posts featuring him have been some of the most interesting and challenging ones. He’s among a handful of characters at the very center of the All Flockbinkers world.
Wu counters with an–obviously!–spurious story about me
“Actually, Mister Blogger,” interrupts Wu, with an odd smile on his generally impassive Oriental features, “it was i who created you, to teach philosophy to my students in North Georgia a few years back. Your first appearance was in a dialogue on the topic of ancient Chinese philosophy, built around an extremely clever pun. And you have been among my most popular and successful creations. I like to build you into logical syllogisms, for instance, and create dialogues in which you are one of the chief characters.”
The Blogger: Dang it, i should have guessed that Wu would try to pull something like that. And, owing to the format of this blog post–which, may i emphasize, i am writing and in which he is an entirely fictional character–i’m not really able to respond to the scurrilous accusation. The clever wretch. The dirty dog! Dang him!
A bit about what he does for a living
He’s a private tutor [putatively, that is, since he isn’t actually real, ha ha, ha ha] and offers private classes in various subjects to the home-educating community. He teaches literature, history, cultural studies, and of course, the queen of the sciences: philosophy. Every year he advertises his programs, and every year there ends up being a waiting list ten yards long of kids wanting to get into his classes. He’s an excellent teacher, and has proven to be very good at transmitting a heightened sensitivity to wisdom and truth to the upcoming generation. Putatively speaking, of course, since he doesn’t actually exist, ha ha.
One of Elvis’s favorite songs–not surprisingly–is the Steely Dan classic, “Doctor Wu.”
“Are you with me, Doctor Wu? Are you really just a shadow of the man that i once knew? Are you crazy? Are you high? Or just an ordinary guy? Have you done all you can do? Are you with me, Doctor? Are you with me, Doctor?”
I’ve asked him, more than once, about the personal significance of these lyrics to him, to his life. He just looks at me and smiles in complete silence. Sometimes i wonder if everything going on inside that there noggin is entirely healthy.
A bit about his college studies
Elvis majored in philosophy, in the late 1970s–back when a philosophy major still actually involved–at least, in part–the study of real ideas. He studied metaphysics, ontology, the philosophy of science, philosophy of art, philosophy of language, textual analysis, axiology, epistemology, game theory, truth-value, philosophy of mind, the perennial wisdom, philosophy of culture, philosophy of history… and, of course, logic. You name it–if it was a division of the academic study of philosophy–he took a class in it. According to the records department at the college he attended, he took way more than twice as many philosophy classes as he needed to for the completion of his major.
If you give him space, Wu will wax rhapsodic on the joys of his philosophical training, and the subsequent disappointment he has experienced attending philosophy conferences and seminars. During the past couple of centuries, says Wu, philosophy has been falling on harder and harder times, and has now gotten to the point where it’s getting kind of pointless trying to learn it from philosophy professors. It’s not as if they know anything about wisdom. You just have to know which books to read.
Why Is He “The Last Philosophy Major”
The problem with the field of “philosophy” today is that it has come to be dominated by people who are not really interested in wisdom. They may, of course, be interested in certain models of knowledge or value. They may like the idea of appearing to be part of an intellectual elite. They may be interested in being classed as cutting-edge theorists. They may be interested in being perceived as part of an ongoing “project” of some kind. Many of them are self-conscious about being involved in a discipline that isn’t taken seriously by many practitioners in other fields. The one thing, however, that they are not interested in, is the genuine pursuit of truth. Indeed, they are often the ones in the Academy who are most vociferously denying the very possibility of discovering truth.
The Phuture of Philosophy
According to Mister Wu, the future of philosophy–at least, in formal academic settings–is a somewhat depressing one. As the culture around us deteriorates more and more into a relativistic morass of materialism and self-centeredness, the academic centers of philosophical “research” appear to be falling into step with the program. As Elvis Wu sees it, the real philosophy these days is being done by individuals who are not (typically) associated with the major academic institutions. They quietly search out that which is real and true, they write books, they conduct small seminars tucked away in this or that corner of the social world, they conduct their debates in whispers. They are a vanishing breed. They are the last seekers and defenders of wisdom. They are the last brave individuals willing to take a stand for truth. They are the heroes of our generation.
The Blogger: Well, Wu, how does that sound? Did i set out a pretty good introduction?
Elvis Wu: Golly, it’ll do until a better one comes along.
The Blogger: Ha ha, i’m not exactly sure what that meant.
Elvis Wu: [smiles mysteriously, and says nothing]
The Blogger: No, man, seriously, i have no idea what you meant by that.
Elvis Wu: [continues smiling mysteriously]
The Blogger: Oh, come on, Wu, you’re kind of freakin’ me out, here.
Elvis Wu: [continues smiling mysteriously]