Chomsky in ireland 2009
Hundreds of students queue for hours to hear influential academic
By Thomas Molloy
Wednesday November 04 2009
It isn't every day that hundreds of students queue for up to three hours to pay their respects to a man four times their age.
Then again, American academic Noam Chomsky is one of the most influential and complex thinkers of the post-war era.
In an age of Twitter and Facebook it was somewhat comforting to think that the oldest form of communication -- the human voice -- could keep a room with 500 Trinity College students and lecturers on the edge of their seats for 90 minutes.
There was hardly a sound as the frail voice of the 82-year-old told his audience that North and South America had been "conquered by European savagery and filth" and marvelled that the United States had been led until recently by a "lunatic who is waiting for the Second Coming".
Chomsky, who resembles an elderly Woody Allen with hand gestures and a hesitant but compelling delivery, received three standing ovations when the Dublin university's oldest debating society presented a gold medal to the linguistics professor.
He received the medal for "outstanding contribution to public discourse" from the Historical Society, known to generations of Trinity students as "The Hist", amid tumultuous applause.
"Professor Chomsky's ideas have not only transformed political narrative but brought about an entirely new awareness of how the process of public discourse takes place," said 'Hist' auditor Jamie Walsh.
Chomsky, now an honorary professor of linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, spoke of familiar themes -- the abuse of power by the US and Israel and the language used by aggressors to belittle their victims -- but while the students' enthusiasm verged on the reverential, it was often difficult to follow the quietly spoken professor's talk or his answers to questions set by veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk and a handful of students.
Prof Chomsky also revisited another of his oldest themes, which, put at its most basic level, is that history is written by the winners. While acknowledging that the collapse of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago this week was significant, Prof Chomsky challenged his audience to also mark the 20th anniversary next week of the massacre of six Jesuit priests, their co-worker and her teenage daughter in El Salvador. Those killings, which Prof Chomsky believes to have been largely forgotten, marked the end of a revolutionary phase in the Catholic Church's history.
Dressed in a blue jacket, light blue shirt and dark blue tie, and sitting in a large wooden throne, Prof Chomsky looked like a distinguished member of the Establishment he has challenged for most of his life.
He is the author of dozens of books with titles such as 'Topics in the Theory of Generative Grammar', 'The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory' and 'The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism', which have influenced academic and popular debate about US foreign policy.
Robert Fisk, who regularly reports for this newspaper, will also be in conversation with television presenter John Bowman in the National Concert Hall tomorrow evening.
- Thomas Molloy
the man of the week, the top, top man, was Pat Kenny. So energised is he, by Frontline, and by his emergence as the broadcaster that we always wanted him to be
deep inside that vast brain of his, he was probably already preparing a few supplementary questions for his interview with Noam Chomsky in part two.
Not Peter Andre, or the stars of Emmerdale, but Mr Noam Chomsky. And Pat. Two guys who have it all figured out.Stumble It!