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Take an IBM machine and feed in a gossip column. Then throw in a couple of back issues of the Congressional Record and several academic mortarboards. There you have The McLandress Dimension, a tongue-in-cheek commentary on contemporary American politics, academia, and society.
Mark Epernay's slim volume of essays is a paeon of praise to the imaginative and eccentric Herschel McLandress, former professor of Psychiatric Measurement at the Harvard Medical School, a genius fated, Mr. Epernay tells us, for a position of honor among the scientific and medical immortals. Not content to mend the tattered psyches of Harvard students and tired of serving as pathfinder to 'Cliffies trying to find themselves, Dr. McLandress devoted himself to applying statistical methods to the analysis of political and economic trends.
His greatest success, according to Mr. Epernay, a faithful Boswell, is the development of the McLandress Dimension, a measurement designed to record the length of time an individual can keep his thoughts centered on subjects other than himself. The unit of measurement is termed the McLandress Coefficient--known to the cognoscenti as the McL-C (pronounced Mack-el-see); a McL-C of 60 minutes, which is above average, means that the subject's thoughts return to himself approximately every hour.
As the Dimension is the highpoint of Dr. McLandress' career, Mr. Epernay's account of the McL-C's of various prominent people is the highpoint of The McLandress Dimension. He seems to delight in sly jabs at the greats as he records these sophisticated, psychological VIP-coated gossip columns.
Each profession tends to have its own characteristic McLandress rating. Elizabeth Taylor and David Susskind have McL-C's of three minutes, which is not surprising among personalities in the entertainment field. Nikita Khrushcher, who has a theatrical flare of his own, also has a three-minue McL-C. In the scientific community, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer has an amazing coefficient of 3 hours, 30 minutes, which may be a cause of his problems as a security risk. President Pusey, on the other hand, has an unspectacular 45-minute McL-C.
Political figures generally have low ratings. President Lyndon Johnson is in the lower minute range. Harold Macmillan's coefficient was 12 minutes, but it may have fallen since the Christine Keeler affair. (Miss Keeler's rating, incidentally, is two hours.) Surprisingly, de Gaulle has a remarkable coefficient of 7 hours, 30 minutes, but this is somewhat misleading. De Gaulle's thoughts are constantly on France, but he has come to identify France with his own personality. Thus, appropriately adjusted, de Gaulle's coefficient is actually one minute, 30 seconds. Similarly, the former American ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith, Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics, has a McL-C of one minute, 51 seconds, the lowest in the Federal government. However, if Richard Nixon should be elected President next year, his three-second coefficient would make a record low.
Despite the humor of this chapter, The McLandress Dimension is not a great success. First of all, its seven essays do not hang together; several seem to have little connection with the others. In a few cases, Mr. Epernay appears to have inserted Dr. McLandress almost as an afterthought into essays in which he plays no real part.
Secondly--and more seriously--the book is by no means consistently funny. The themes of several of the chapters are delightfully imaginative--such as the automation of foreign policy to ensure its continuity or the crusade to eliminate team sports as Communistic and un-American. But the charm of the theme is often lost in its lengthy execution, and the reader finds himself reaching after a soap bubble which has been crushed by a ton of bricks.
Yet there is much in The McLandress Dimension which will appeal to Harvard readers. Mr. Epernay obviously knows a great deal about the University. He speaks of but does not name a certain Harvard professor of Comparative Literature who has a community-wide reputation for absent-mindedness and a penchant for sloppy dressing. He suggests also that if a list of the guests at a faculty cocktail party and a tally of their drinks could be rushed to the Harvard-M.I.T. computer center by 8 P.M., by 8:02 he could determine the exact pattern of conversation, argument, and sexual advances at the party at 9.
Indeed, with such a wealth of reference Harvardiana, some brash readers have gone so far as to suggest that Mark Epernay, described on the cover-flap as "evidently a distinguished observer of politico-economic trends," is really the pseudonym of a Harvard professor. A few have even had the gall to mention--or, rather, whisper--the name of John Kenneth Galbraith. But that is patently ridiculous. Harvard professors are far too intellectual and have too many hour exams to mark, government officials to consult, and ambassadorial duties to attend to, to have the inclination or the time to write facetous fiction.
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