by The Editors of
The Journal of Forbidden Experiments
We’re saddened to report that the world-renowned conversation analyst, Philip Bartholomew ‘Garden in My Wellies’ Geigercounter O’Torque XXVI has been given a suspended jail sentence and struck off from the Association of American, Angolan, Antipodean and Andorran Analysts of Conversation (AAAAAAC) following allegations of impropriety and ethical naughtiness.
Phil O’Torque did his PhD at the University of Lower Back, Paine in Chestershire, UK in 1965. Entitled Man, Woman and Plant: The Couple-to/and-Plant Talk Conversational Underpinnings of Marital Harmony, O’Torque single-handedly created the field of human-floric conversation analysis, which revolutionised CA. Through detailed analysis of over 7 extensive discussions between married couples and plants, O’Torque showed that other-accommodation was significantly higher when a plant was involved in the conversation that in any other kind of marital discourse. This led to a boom in plant sales by married couples. Luckily for Phil, he had just invested heavily in the Dutch cut flower industry and his findings therefore not only made him famous but also fabulously wealthy. (Phil would of course go on to lose the lot in a series of ill-advised investments in oceanic real estate.)
A sudden change in direction in the mid-’80s led to O’Torque’s most lasting contribution—and the one which, ironically, would lead to his downfall. Pillow Talk: Extreme Conversational Banality launched itself on the CA world in 1986; the first extensive CA investigation of pillow talk, Phil O’Torque’s magnum opus argued, through extensive analysis of intimate pillow talk conversations, that the saccharine, gooey platitudes that partners warble at each other before dropping off to sleep was not only almost impossible to read when reproduced in written form, but also challenged constructs of relevance and conversational cohesion, and suggested that three of Grice’s maxims (Relevance, Manner and Quality) were suspended in the vomit-inducing crud that preceded a night’s rest. His most famous extract now follows.
A:Honeybunny (.) my little wonderful, hun-bun-runny-runny, bun-bun.
B:[Giggles] Ooooooooooooooooh. [Blows raspberry]
A:Who’s a honeybunny?
C:Will you please shut up in there, you two. I’ve got an exam tomorrow.
The banality speaks for itself. More than that, this, and other similar extracts, showed that in pillow talk, many of the CA taken-for-granted talk-in-interaction dynamics are suspended. In a first sign of his own obsession with the notion of pillow talk, Phil went perhaps further than many believed the data allowed, and argued that pillow talk was the primary, prototypical category of human interaction and that coherence and relevancy are in fact accidental features imposed on talk by impersonal social structures.
Phil had little truck with his detractors and critics and became increasingly obsessed with the idea of pillow talk. He was relieved of his position at his own alma mater after refusing to adopt any conversational style other than pillow talk in lectures, seminars, PhD supervisions and faculty meetings. This isolation seems to have affected Phil badly, a situation that was compounded after his wife, Penelope, left him for a circus clown with the stage name Big Boots Buffles the Bouncing Buffoon. Penelope would go on to win big on the lottery and buy up all the houses surrounding the former marital home. Her insistence on placing cardboard cutouts of Buffles holding a large pillow in all the gardens of her properties did little for Phil’s self-esteem as he popped to the corner shop to get a pint of milk and a chocolate bar. However, his new-found singlehood did allow Phil the space to develop the construct of pillow self-talk in which a single individual speaks to him/herself in an idiosyncratic adaptation of pillow talk. Although generally met with a frosty reception, some authorities did view the pillow self-talk work as being as ground-breaking as his previous work—if not more so.
The final straw, and the events which led to the recent judicial proceedings and dismissal from AAAAAAC, came when Phil began infiltrating the homes both of couples and individuals living alone in order to record both dyadic and monadic pillow talk. Desperate for more data with which to work, Phil broke into a total of 27 homes hiding under beds and in wardrobes—and eventually, alas, in beds, recording equipment in hand. Despite pleas from his defense counsel that Phil’s actions were ‘in the name of and for the sake of the science of conversation analysis’, Judge Cindy T. Jayell, herself a victim of Phil’s nocturnal data gathering shenanigans, wasted little time in imposing a three-year jail term, suspended for two years. Suspension and later revocation of his AAAAAAC fellowship swiftly followed.
Phil released a YouTube video recently in which he attempted to explain and justify his actions. Not only nonsensical, it was unfortunately framed as a pillow self-talk conversation, and indeed one with all the trimmings of pillow talk that Phil had spent so many years analysing and publishing. Since then, little has been heard of this once great conversational analyst although reports that he may have gotten a job on the night shift of Chestershire’s sprawling staple factory seem to have some credibility to them.
Phil O’Torque stands as a symbol of the power of the science of conversation analysis to dominate and ultimately destroy its practitioners. While never excusing his behaviour, we nevertheless wish Phil well and remember his contributions to science with affection.