The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Doug’s Keynote Speechlet

February 26th, 2008 · 2 Comments

With this event, the Ullage Group begins its long and shameful career.  We’ve been meeting in private; now we stand before you, unrepentant and unprepared.

First, what is ullage?

Ullage has two primary meanings: the space at the top of a bottle, and the sediment left after the bottle is emptied.  But dictionaries differ, since they were written by humans who were just bluffing anyway; so there are other meanings: lack, deficiency, the fumes in an engine.  It is, then, the other part, the lost bit: we take it as an emblem of all that is contrarian, forgotten, paradoxical, or stigmatized.

This doesn’t mean that we will haul out a lot of crap just because nobody wants it.  All things contrary are not created equal.  It’s not the same to oppose, say, crony capitalism as to oppose fuzzy kittens, since those two subjects themselves differ, in many respects.  We can pick what we want, and air the ullage that we judge most useful, or amusing, or embarrassing.

We will point out, however, that we live in the USA; which means that the opportunities for ullage are so numerous and luminous that they make your head spin.  It often seems — and I don’t think it’s just me — that our culture is now devoted mostly to greed, religion, guns, sex, celebrities, and xenophobia.  This leaves out many things, including all arts and sciences, history, philosophy, and the rest of the world.  We will have elbow room, out here in the ullage.

And we will also point out that the contrarian can be useful, if for no other reason than sparking fresh ideas.  There is, for example, a lovely story about Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

One day, Rousseau was ambling down the cowpath, when he met his old friend Diderot.  Diderot asked what he was working on; and Rousseau said he was writing an essay for a contest, on the subject of whether civilization had been good for mankind.

“And what will you say?” asked Diderot.

“Why, that it is,” Rousseau replied.

“Oh, everybody will say that,” said Diderot.  “Argue the opposite.”

And so he did, resulting in the French Revolution, the Romantic Movement, and other developments.

Whether our activities will be fruitful or not remains to be seen.  We can start, though, with the ceremonial uncorking of the ullage.  We’ve chosen a bottle of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, since it was the favorite wine of Marsilio Ficino, court scholar to the Medici, and the nice man who translated Plato and kicked off the Renaissance.  Please note: once the cork is removed, the ullage is much larger.

 [Here, I discovered the cork was rotten; it crumbled in extraction.  The audience was quite amused, but the joke was on them, since they didn’t get any.  A week later, I corked another bottle.  Somebody should take this up with the Trebbiano people.] 

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

Tags: Clubs and Associations · Uncategorized

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 winston // Apr 11, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    I had no idea Diderot could talk to himself. This is a rare and admirable skill, particularly useful in philosophers, who often have trouble raising a quorum for discussion. Plato, who invented Socrates and several other characters in order to talk to himself, and Jorge Luis Borges, who admittedly had to go to the other end of a hotel to do so, were also members of this tiny fraternity. And indeed, so is Doug, who is one of the few people I know who could discuss beekeeping in Esperanto with his own right knee. He really could. If he wanted to. But being able to and wanting to, well that’s dangerously close to philosophy, and I’m certainly not getting mixed up in that business without more than my own right knee to talk to. Someone else’s perhaps, but not my own.

  • 2 Doug // Apr 11, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    The idea that Diderot invented Rousseau is intriguing. Please look into this, Winston. (Actually, the man is twitting me for a typo, now corrected.)

    “Beekeeping,” in Esperanto, is “abelogardanda.” The reference to the knee, is, I suppose, an allusion to Diderot’s meeting with Catherine the Great, in which he got so carried away that he put his hand on her knee. She overlooked the gaffe, or, perhaps, liked it.

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