From the Issue: About The Author

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From the October issue of The Blue and White, we bring you Alexandra Muhler’s profile of the mysterious “Butler Marxist.” Or, as he wishes to be known, “The Author.”

On Thursday nights, the crowd in Butler Café is small and dispersed. From a central table in the quiet lounge, one voice booms, fighting its way out of the biggest, most billowing beard in the room. The Butler Marxist is holding court. Though he insists he does visit other cafés and libraries throughout the city, his nightly appearance in Butler is practically guaranteed. With his mane of dandruff-laden black hair, leather-fringed apparel, and extra-long thumbnails, he has become famous, and is the subject of rampant speculation by the café’s less vocal locals.

This lounge loiterer remains a mystery even to longtime observers. He is just as suspicious of you as you are of him. “A lot of people can’t tell the difference between spirits and real people,” he explains. “So the first time you see a person they might be an apparition. Then, you start to ask some questions, and if they respond appropriately, then you realize that they’re not just spirits, but an actuality.” For the purposes of this publication, the Marxist will remain a step removed from actuality. He’s bound by non-disclosure agreements with two corporate clients, you see. No identifying marks, no names, and much biographical vagueness. To the readers of The Blue and White, he wishes to be known only as the Author.

The Author also considered adopting the alias the Moviemaker. In fact, he is a mid-90s graduate of Columbia’s film school, and the bevy of characters who surround him are also alumni, for the most part. His girlfriend, the Economist, recently completed a degree in the College after eight years of study. She met the Author about two years ago—in the café, of course.

The crew has grown formidably from spontaneous meetings, much like the Economist and the Author’s union. “They all glom around the Author,” explains the Economist. There are regular appearances by the portly, mustachioed Architect, the aged China Scholar, and a giggly man whose unwieldy pseudonym is the-Black-and-the-White. The salon is informal, and includes countless more Sociologists, Area Specialists, Ecologists, Theorists, and, intriguingly, established Professors.

But this is certainly no cult of the Author. “All my associates have their own opinions, and we have all kinds of wild disagreements,” he counters. Their group is driven by the spirit of intellectual inquiry, in the continental style, and could not exist without the lounge. “Where is a 24/7 café-salon that New York runs?” he wonders. “Columbia runs the Butler,” he says, as if “the Butler” were an after-hours cocktail bar.

Apparently, it is unusual to find such a vital café culture in an American research institution, but “a lot of bibliothèques, as they call them in Europe, have this kind of place,” says the Author. Just a decade ago, the lounge in Butler was a math and science library. It was a “dead space,” laments the Architect.

When the Author and his comrades are in session, the room comes alive. Over the murmur of keystrokes and idle gossip, the Author expounds on his subject of inquiry, a theory of the Cool and the Uncool. “What about the uncouth?” interjects the-Black-and-the-White, before sliding away with a silly laugh. Here, the academic discourse is fierce, but the punning is fiercer.

As his associates mosey off, the Author turns to the hard work at hand. He extracts his books from an enormous, radiation-proof (so he says) Swiss Army knapsack, then stacks the table with volumes of Benjamin, Pushkin, Cervantes, Proust, de Sade— all in their respective original languages. Tonight, he will require the assistance of no fewer than three pocket dictionaries.

Other than English, he speaks a minimum of seven languages, including Yaqui, the language of his American Indian ancestors. He picked up Yaqui by participating in religious ceremonies, but he didn’t grow up in the tribe’s Sonoran desert homeland—he’s a Los Angeles native. At UCLA, he minored in Slavic Studies and learned Russian. This, the autodidact insists, segued quite naturally into a working knowledge of German, Dutch, French, Italian, and Spanish.

The Author’s fluency in Russian may explain some of the lounge gossip that encircles him. Is he, as his moniker suggests, a Marxist? Darker rumors suggest he is a revisionist historian of the Stalinist camp. There’s no doubt he’s a contrarian. “You convince me of horrible things!” accuses the Economist. But she’s hinting at something milder than a pro-Stalin agenda. “As a form of personal entertainment, he finds very disturbing newspaper articles and makes me read them,” she confides.

The long answer to the Stalin question is difficult to muddle through. The short answer is no—he concedes that “genocide is the extinction of Cool.” In the lexicon of a man devoted to the study of the Cool, this is a stronger assertion than it might seem. Sure, he has studied Marx and Stalin extensively, but there’s little he hasn’t studied.

The Economist offers a parallel vindication of her own work. Though she is employed by a major financial institution, she has what she deems “big time” ethical concernsabout standard accounting practices. Nevertheless, she explains, “if someone’s blood is poisoned, the answer is not to try and drain all their blood.” Rather, she continues, “if you’re going to fix something from the outside, you still have to know how it works.”

This does not mean that the Author is an activist. Neither is he a simple researcher or philosopher. “You might call me,” he proposes, “a critical artist.” Like Sartre, he is weaving his critical theory into novel form. Three years after a joint book-andmovie deal fell through, he’s embarking on a final draft with the help of an editor from a publishing house he won’t name.

The novel is about “two twins at the center of an international cult and pop sensation,” he explains. His theory directs the plot as the “characters grapple with the Cool in various ways, and they try their own approaches to the Cool, some naïve, some savvy, and in that Cool is created a Cool revolution, basically.” With the help of an international crime syndicate, the twins launch a Europop “gag” on an unsuspecting world.

As our present world unsuspectingly awaits the novel’s publication, the Author digs into his cushioned booth. He knows you see him, and invites you to join. “I’m a crazy guy,” he admits. Let loose, his cackle echoes through the lounge.

– Alexandra Muhler

Illustration by Lorraine White

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  1. a disciple  

    I went to into Butler once to do some reading for LitHum, and there were (as usual) no open tables. I pulled a lone chair up to the area near the trash that acts as a kind of platform so that I could put my coffee down. This platform was in the direct vicinity of The Author, and he looked surprised as I sat. As I asked if I could sit, and he immediately smiled and invited me to join him, I realized he was the "Marxist" I had heard about.

    Little happened for a few minutes. Then I realized he was observing me read. He said, "You look so happy doing that. Are you thinking about doing that with your life?" which made me smile. And we talked about the Odyssey, and it was a lovely conversation.

    Every time I see him, now, I give him a secret smile, but I doubt that he remembers our encounter.

  2. from boredatbutler  

    "best library characters? hmmm existentialist guy with the long hair. the black turtleneck, the beard and the foreign-language philosophy books who always sits at the butler lounge/cafe talking loudly about sartre is quite the character
    agree: [2]

  3. I've seen this guy  

    what a tosser! this is one of the biggest wastes of space on campus, second only to barnard. I'm glad b&w thought that it would be appropriate to have their writer lied to for a while, so we can embellish the ego of this monstrosity.

  4. disciple2

    this is the very sort of super-senior bearded marxist self-appointed successor to the frankfurt school that one expects to find at columbia. that said, butler would not be the same without him. let's hope he makes good on his promise of satre-dom so that we can each say we knew a legend in his own time.

  5. Anonymous  

    There were some 'mysteries' about this guy which this article failed to answer. Like, why is his voice fifty decibels louder than that of normal people? Why, even though he is neither a Columbia student nor faculty, does he even have access to the library? Every time I'm in the library lounge and this guy comes in, my reading must, therefore, end, because his self-important voice booms out into the echoey room. Why are we encouraging him?

    • easy  

      Alumni can get reading rights for free from the library. So they can't actually check books out, they have to stay in the library with them. This might be why he's around so much, unlike others who get their books and leave to study somewhere more peaceful.

  6. seems  

    disappointingly insubstantial

  7. Yes, he's annoying

    But, really, it is the lounge, no?

    If you want a place for quiet study, go somewhere else. I mean, even when this long-haired nutjob isn't barking with his cabal of kooks at one of the tables, it's still pretty loud in the lounge. Not to mention that it also tends to smell like onions and detritus. Instead of vilifying this emotionally disturbed crackpot for your inability to concentrate in such an unfit setting, go find someplace else. Or put some damn earplugs in.

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