Would you down this bottle in the name of rhetorical excellence?

Would you down this bottle in the name of rhetorical excellence?

In past years, not many people knew about The Philolexian Society, deemed “The Oldest Student Group at Columbia.” This year, however, with increased membership, The Philolexian Society has significantly grown in campus presence. Join Bwog Staff Writer Gabrielle Kloppers as she attends a typical Philolexian meeting.

Philolexian isn’t something most people know about. It may give off an aura of impenetrable prestige when you consider its Wikipedia page, which includes a list of notable members that surpasses several scrolls (a list which includes Allen Ginsberg). However, when one attends a meeting, it becomes clear that this is far from the expected stuffy literary society.

Upon entering Hamilton 603, a sea of faces jump out at me from the seats, many of which I recognized from altogether unexpected places. Many of these participants are “Full Philolexian Members”  (meaning they can hold positions of leadership within the society), but just as many are casual attendees, eager to see what the hype is about. Most Philolexian meetings are structured as casual, absurdist debates. Topics range from the serious to the rather insane- this week’s topic is “Milk in the context of cereal is a sauce.” Everyone is chattering away, but as the meeting begins, there is some modicum of silence.

The meeting itself starts with almost 20 minutes of ritual, led by a moderator. Included among these are a variety of set phrases, which almost seem like responsive prayer at times. Furthermore, there is a vague introduction of the mission of the society. When the meeting proper finally starts, it is with a “literary exercise,” in which anyone can perform a piece they have written themselves. This week, this takes the form of a rather strange poem, which is then criticized by other members of the society.

Finally the debate begins. First time attendees can be quite rattled by the immense ritualization of the debate, where speakers must first flatter the moderator before being allowed to speak. Another intimidating element is the hissing that follows speakers to the stage, as well as heckling throughout the speeches. After each speech, audience members are allowed to ask the speaker questions, which are only allowed to be jokes.

As the topic of this week’s debate suggests, it all is somewhat of a joke. Notable speeches included the impression of a crazed professor, drawing theorems out across the blackboard of Hamilton as to why milk should be called a sauce, and various new participants coming up and trying to fit into the zany atmosphere. There is, however, some element of actual debate, with a particularly eloquent speech actually giving real arguments about why milk is a sauce that didn’t devolve into vegan treatises. Despite the more serious tone of this speech, it nonetheless ended with the speaker being asked whether he would drink a sauce as one would milk. In response, someone brought to the stage a bottle of Tabasco sauce, which the speaker promptly downed.

All in all, the Philolexian experience seems rather intense, especially when a meeting runs over two hours, as this one did. However, all is done in the name of good fun, and once attendees realize the tone of the debate, all seem somewhat at ease. That is, until someone pulls out a bottle of Tabasco.

Tabasco sauce via Wikimedia Commons