In one of Julie Burchill’s more vitriolic moments – and there have been some scorchers – she described an antagonist as suffering from “severe spotlight depravation”. This is also the malaise suffered by the largest group of academics at conferences. They bounce between sessions, coming alive during question time. Attending for the sole purpose of drawing attention to themselves, their questions rarely carry content, and are always delivered from a standing position, so that they can display their ill-fitting polyester suits and introduce themselves in great detail. Name, title and university affiliation are rarely enough. The audience receives an elevator pitch on the questioner’s fabulousness and depth of knowledge on the topic. Which topic? Well, any topic, really.
I confronted a SSD sufferer recently. I was delivering a keynote. The questioner was not – and his ostentatiously displayed knowledge was as dated as his shiny silver suit. After, he approached me in the lunch room and stated: “It will be great to see how your career develops from here.”
I had published 17 books when he offered that comment. He had not. If I was any more developed, my breasts would occupy two time zones. But the mediocrity of SSD sufferers rarely allows facts to inform the movements of their restless tongues.