Coffin Liquor

John Lanchester

Monday

I realised that things had gone wrong as soon as I arrived at my hotel. The receptionists spoke no English. Only when I showed them my passport did they seem to accept, with reluctance, that I had a booking. I was given a key and took my own bag upstairs. The room was a cramped, overfurnished space with thin brown walls. On the desk was an envelope of conference materials including a laminated pass on a lanyard and a printed programme. It was at that point that I realised I had been enticed to attend the event under a misleading prospectus. The first talk on the first morning was titled ‘What String Theorists Can Learn from Vlad the Impaler: Narrative, Belief and the Immanence of the Imperceptible’. The other events were given similar names and had the same preposterous emphasis on the idea of an engagement or ‘conversation’ between areas that are manifestly questions of proof and fact, on the one hand, and, on the other side, a degenerate mass of whiffle and nonsense. These acts of intellectual miscegenation were interwoven with outings and excursions to sites of local interest.

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