UR-ICF 1: Carlyle, Montagu, Nock

I’ve decided to invent a new sport here at UR, the Intellectual Cagefight or ICF.

The idea of the ICF is pretty simple. The goal is to resurrect dead intellectuals. Normally this is done with the Ouija-Board, Leyden jars or laudanum, but I do not have any of these (though I suppose I probably should. I mean, is it really possible to blog without laudanum? Should it even be allowed?), and so instead I will have to recruit you, the reader.

Who will almost certainly fail to cooperate. Sparing us from the brutal sight of these undead luminaries smashing each other with their skeletal karate-chops and gangrenous leg sweeps. Ideally this will be the result, because in fact, I don’t want these fights to happen. I don’t think they should happen. I don’t think anyone should participate in this sad and ugly contest, I would not recommend it to my worst enemy, I merely express my willingness to moderate it.

The rules of the Intellectual Cagefight are simple. The goal is to produce a dialogue, in the good old Galilean style, but using real people who just happen to be dead. However, they should speak as if they were living, had perfectly good Internet connections, and knew everything that you (the actual author) do. One can imagine that some of their views on some subjects may have changed a little, but remember that they were generally pretty old when they died. And old people tend to be set in their ways.

The game pieces in an Intellectual Cagefight are three dead intellectuals. In UR-ICF #1, for example, they are Ashley Montagu, Thomas Carlyle, and Albert Jay Nock. They should in some way express the eternal trinity of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The exact situation is that these individuals have not in fact died. Instead they have wound up in their own little separate versions of Dave’s room in 2001, sitting there and sipping generic “Repo Man” beer. For information, however, they have a sort of magic ultimate security camera, which can know anything that has ever been so, read anything that has ever been published, hear anything that has ever been said, etc., etc. But they have no social life at all. All they get to do is sit there and fume, and scribble in their little notebooks.

Today, in 2007, we bring them together. They may discuss any subject they find interesting. However, their motivations are to mock, hurt and humiliate each other. If there is any camaraderie, it is purely satirical. These men hate each other with the passion of true heavyweights, and no blogger’s code of ethics, no Hague convention of rhetoric, no conceivable version of political correctness, can restrain them. And they can also force each other to read any book or essay, or watch any video, that is publicly available on the Internet.

Think of yourself as a screenwriter. You are presenting these men as they would wish to be presented. You should do your best to write as they would write, to express the actual opinions they would express in this bizarre science-fiction scenario, to animate them in their own voices and with their own literary styles. If you are not up to this task, you should not have entered the cage!

Ideally, two of the combatants will defeat the third and then face off against each other. There will be a sudden spasm of rhetorical combat, black teeth or moldy shocks of hair will go flying, and a winner will emerge—a new intellectual champion for the 21st century. The prize in this battle is the praise of the ages, the eternal adoration of generations of freshmen. The penalty is intellectual humiliation and permanent obscurity, even actual opprobrium. The actual corpses of these unfortunate losers may yet be dug up and hanged like Cromwell. It’s not out of the question at all. I personally feel I would get quite a kick out of any such ritual, and if enough others feel likewise, surely we can do something about it.

To keep it somewhat under control, however, I take the liberty of declaring a program for the event. ICF #1 will occur in four rounds. Round 1, just to get us warmed up, is “The Jewish Question.” Round 2 is “The State of Letters,” round 3 is “The African Problem,” and round 4 is “Chto Delat?” If you don’t feel up to going all four rounds, feel free to write as few as one.

Entries should be posted to your own blog (please drop me a note) or submitted to me in email. The contest is open until I declare it closed, which will probably be never.

The above, of course, is only the first round. After the first round closes, we move to the special deathmatch endgame. In this savage battle, for which strong anonymity is strongly recommended, the writers who have supplied the best impressions of Carlyle, Montagu and Nock will go head to head against each other, pulling no punches and with no set program, intellectual combat to continue until all but one have bowed out of the contest. The winner will then be decided by Internet poll, probably the most unscientific mechanism on the planet, but one a true Intellectual Cagefight champion should know how to manipulate.