Turd Ferguson: A Retrospective

Retrieved from the NPR Radio Archives, March 15, 2009-

Turd Ferguson, artist, author, inventor, theologian, and mythologist, popularly hailed "the last great polymath", died of complications from "too much genius" at ten o'clock last night in his Michigan cottage. He is survived by his wife and four children, as well as his spinster sister, Myrtle, all of whom were present at his death bed. Spending the majority of his life abroad, he took up residence in his American abode when the symptoms of the chronic ailment became acute. There he resided for the remaining years of his long and illustrious life.

Today, NPR hopes to in some part give back to the man who gave so much to us, in so many fields.

Born Robert Bruce Chmielewski, Ferguson first achieved international notoriety in '65 when the then 26 year old Turd published his "Anthologicus Multifaricus", a portfolio consisting of a graphic novel, a translation of Marrouf Roussafi's complete works, a patent, and a lengthy treatise nominally pertaining to mythology, but that has since been considered a ground breaking literary, theological, anthropological, philogocial, and philosophical text.

Like Athena, his Anthologicus saw the first light of public awareness fully formed and divine, which the college dropout Ferguson later explained he labored over for 3 years of relative isolation in a number of ignominious African and Near Eastern villages. Though probably most famous for his treatisicus and respected for his definitive mutarjamicus, the other elements of the portfolio show mastery of disciplines outside letters, perhaps most astoundingly his dymaxion home, closely followed by his novel "The Lost Years" which the Chicago Art Institute is currently featuring. By the end of the year, he was being placed between Da Vinci and Goethe. By 30 he was an honorary doctor many times over, as well as an honorary Swede, Nigerian and Jew. And, to the lasting chagrin of many, a millionaire.

This is Turd when he came on Talk of the Nation six years back:

"The Anthologicus nearly killed me. My bouts of genius would sometimes be so severe that I could do nothing but create amazingness for a week straight; only by the grace of God did I make it through. I used the various grants to, among other things, rehabilitate myself and try to avoid relapses. Many of my friends didn't make it out of those years, for me it was just a daze."

The newly financially independent and intentionally sterile Turd moved with his money, a few friends and family members, and new bride to the west coast of Ireland, where he and his father opened the "Caféicus", a ''restaurant devoted to art in all its roundness", specializing in frothed cream, crépes, and olive oil. It became the epicenter for a group of odd characters, a kind of democratic nether Gertrude Stein-esque salon. For Picasso's he had split pea soup and childhood friends for Hemingways. Amongst this motley millieu, the odd name popped up here and there throughout the years, perhaps most notably the polish mythologist, Lezzi, and the Zen Buddhist, Eugene Meatyard, but otherwise no person of note entered or exited the café from its inception. Little did we know that the Anthologicus would be Ferguson's first and last creative output. Some say he threw the rest of his life away. He was always dismissive of the critics.

"Up to '65, I knew what I could do. I did it. To me it still seems, my following years were much more productive. I still can't decide if the Anthologicus was in the end worth the effort. And no Emerson is going to affect my meditations on the matter. Listen, since the Anthologicus, I've made love to a beautiful woman, I've helped give life to four human beings, and I've fed thousands of people. People tend to believe that if something doesn't fit into an University curriculum, it isn't art, or it isn't great, or beautiful, but today, with God's help, I cooked a crépe that my sister Myrtle said was the most beautiful crépe I had ever made. And did she say, Turd, you should frame your crépe and send it to MOMA? No, she said, 'Turd, that crépe you made is almost as beautiful as your father's crépes were, and it looks just as delicious.' And then I fed my next customer with my crépe, with hershey syrup on top."

At this point, he explodes with laughter, and it takes us all a second to grasp his vulgarity.

That was quintessential Turd Ferguson, the ever inscrutable, often absurd, certainly genius enigma, who traveled from utter ignominy to instant fame, and back almost as quickly, occupying the rest of his life with coffee and poop jokes. Perhaps he will be missed. Perhaps future generations will doubt his existence. Perhaps the joke is on us.

- Anderson Cooper
(Anderson Cooper is an award winning journalist and author, best known for his coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.)

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