For some reason, the American Right tend to be as vehemently in favor of the Invisible Hand of the market as they are vehemently against the Invisible...moreFor some reason, the American Right tend to be as vehemently in favor of the Invisible Hand of the market as they are vehemently against the Invisible Hand of Darwinian selection. And the old USSR was exactly the same, except that they reversed the two positions.
Am I the only person who thinks this is just plain weird? (less)
Looking at the other reviews here of volume 5, I see a good deal about the plot and some interesting notes on connections with Knausgård's real life....moreLooking at the other reviews here of volume 5, I see a good deal about the plot and some interesting notes on connections with Knausgård's real life. What's striking, given that the book is being sold as a novel, is how little people say about its qualities as a piece of literature. I am grateful to Björn, who pointed me to this interesting article by Jan Kjærstad. Kjærstad is uniquely well qualified to comment; he is one of the two or three greatest living Norwegian authors, knows everything about Scandinavian literature, and is referred to many times in the course of Knausgård's book.
Kjærstad expresses frustration with the treatment Min kamp has received from other critics: in particular, he is astonished that most of Knausgård's readers are apparently willing to accept everything he tells us at face value. As he points out, Knausgård is hardly the first author to have written an "autobiographical" novel whose narrator shares their name and some of their life story. When Richard Powers, in Galatea 2.2, tells us that "Richard Powers" became involved in a daring project to create an artificial intelligence capable of appreciating literature, no one thinks that this is meant to be true; they are still less likely to believe J.M. Coetzee in Summertime, who describes reactions to "J.M. Coetzee's" death. But almost everyone takes Knausgård at his word, even when he says things that are extremely implausible. Kjærstad urges skepticism; for example, he has trouble believing Knausgård when he says that he rigidly wrote ten pages a day, though this sometimes meant finishing the last three of them in twenty minutes when he was due to pick up the kids at the daycare center. He wonders what's next. Will we believe someone who says he's written a novel in his sleep? (Wow! He's written a novel in a his sleep!) Rather than going down this road, Kjærstad urges people to look at the text and read it as though it's a normal piece of fiction.
I was surprised to see how much my view of Min kamp changed when I attempted to follow Kjærstad's advice. I now found myself reading a clever satire about a young man called "Karl Ove Knausgård". "Karl Ove" is a remarkably unsympathetic character; a selfish, lazy and not overly bright alcoholic who apparently suffers from some kind of borderline personality disorder, he is obsessed with the idea of becoming a famous author, despite having very little literary talent. He suffers innumerable setbacks, but doggedly continues. Over and over again, he shows how utterly indifferent he is to everyone around him, in particular the women. He milks his newly divorced mother for a large sum of money that she cannot afford, and then casually throws it away; he plagiarizes Petra, one of his fellow students at the Writer's Academy, and then refuses to admit it when she discovers what he's done; he gets drunk and has random sex with women he meets at nightclubs, then rings them the day after and pathetically begs them not to tell his girlfriend. The most callous and shocking example is the way in which he appears to be revealing extremely private information about people close to him (his second wife's suicide attempts, her mother's secret drinking). His justification is that he will some day turn all this experience into a great novel.
Min kamp is that novel; the author has achieved the impressive technical feat of making it at same time compulsively readable and almost laughably bad. "Karl Ove", the narrator, is a credible person with a uniquely memorable voice, and there are many powerful and moving passages. On the negative side, the constant listing of unnecessary details makes the book intolerably long - the original Norwegian edition, which I am reading, is about 3600 pages. But the most ingenious aspect is the intertwining of themes taken from other great works of literature. By volume 3, I was already startled by the fact that "Karl Ove" appeared to be borrowing heavily from Proust (the treatment of memory, the narrator's character, some of the sentence structures), Dostoyevsky (the dreadful Karamazov-like father) and Ursula K. Le Guin (the evil spirit pursuing the narrator, which can only be himself).
All these authors, and their books, are explicitly referenced and discussed at length. Now, in volume 5, they are joined by Hamsun (the first section is rather explicitly modeled on Hunger and, in an interesting pairing, on Bret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero) and then by Joyce and Dante; there is also a good deal of discussion of intertextuality, with references to Adorno and Kristeva. Volumes 3 to 5, one now realizes, are roughly patterned on Ulysses, with different sections written in different literary styles, while Volume 5 approximately follows the structure of The Divine Comedy, as "Karl Ove" progresses from the Hell of his year at the Writer's Academy to the Paradise of finally becoming a published author. Any remaining doubts that I could have been fantasizing all this were dispelled on page 516, when God appears (!) and speaks to "Karl Ove" in a dream; just before the end, I was also fascinated to see the snow-sliding otter from Le Guin's The Dispossessed making a brief guest appearance.
To write a book which attempts to update and combine A la recherche du temps perdu, The Brothers Karamazov and A Wizard of Earthsea is already, to say the least, ambitious. To keep all these and then add Hamsun, Joyce and Dante is simply insane. The immediate result of "Karl Ove's" literary success is the destruction of his relationship with his kind and loving wife Tonje. It seems entirely logical that the last volume will describe the creation of Min kamp, show the pain and harm it inflicts on "Karl Ove's" new family, and compare his megalomaniac schemes with those of Hitler. It's all been planned: quite apart from the title itself, there are references to Nazism right at the beginning of the first volume, and the structure is cleverly arranged so that the end of volume 5 links back, à la Proust, to the end of volume 1.
The bottom line: does it work? Once again, I find that the witty and clear-sighted author has anticipated me. I can do no better than end by quoting this characteristic passage; "Karl Ove" is ostensibly commenting on Sæterbakk's Det nye testamentet, but I strongly suspect that he really means his own book.
Jeg skrev att romanen var som en kjempekuk, imponerende ved første øyekast, men for stor til at blodet klarte å løfte den opp och gjøre den funksjonsdyktig, den ble bare halvstiv. Tore lo så han skrek da jeg leste det.
- Ska du skrive det i Morgenbladet? Ha ha ha! Den kan du ikke!
- Men bilden er jo dekkende, det er akkurat den romanen er. Stor og ambitiøs, ja vel, men for stor og ambitiøs.
I wrote that the novel was like a huge dick, impressive when you first saw it, but so big that there wasn't enough blood to lift it up and make it fully functional, it only became half erect. Tore screamed with laughter when he read it.
- Are you going write that in Morgonbladet? Ha ha ha! You can't!
- But the image is appropriate, that's exactly what the novel is. Big and ambitious, absolutely, but too big and ambitious.
I can't improve on his analysis. Chapeau, Karl Ove. (less)
I had not seen my old friend Holmes for some time, and when I arrived at 221B Baker Street I found him intent on the study of a foreign newspaper.
"Wha...moreI had not seen my old friend Holmes for some time, and when I arrived at 221B Baker Street I found him intent on the study of a foreign newspaper.
"What do you know about the Chess Olympiad, Watson?" he asked without looking up.
"I believe it is a bi-yearly team tournament," I said, unable to hide my satisfaction at, for once, being moderately well-informed. "The most recent edition was held in Tromsø, Norway, and has just finished. China won the open event, and, if my memory serves me, Russia took first place in the women's section."
"Very good!" replied Holmes impatiently. "And how successful were the teams from Burundi and the Seychelles?"
"I have no idea!" I said, surprised. "I was, to be honest, unaware that these countries were renowned in chess circles."
"Up until this week," said Holmes, as he carefully lit his pipe and arranged several clippings on the table, "you would have been correct. But there have been some interesting developments." He blew out a fragrant cloud of smoke. "To begin, somewhere around the second round, the entire Burundian women's team disappeared. They failed to arrive for their third, fourth and fifth round matches, and were then removed from the scoreboard."
"Is this a common occurrence in chess tournaments?" I asked, puzzled.
"Very definitely not," replied Holmes. "In fact, it is almost unique in my experience. But there is more to come. In the final round, a player from the Seychelles collapsed during their match against Rwanda. Play was stopped, and the doctors present made strenuous efforts to revive him, but without success. The poor fellow - a Mr. Kurt Meier - was pronounced dead soon after."
"How extraordinary!" I exclaimed.
"Indeed," said Holmes. "So you will understand that I became even more curious when the Norwegian newspapers this morning reported that another player had been found dead in his hotel room. They stressed that foul play is not suspected. But I wonder."
"As one well might!" I said.
"I see we are in agreement," Holmes replied. "This matter clearly requires more careful investigation. I have taken the liberty of booking tickets on the 3.15 to Oslo; with a little luck, that will allow us to catch the connecting flight to Tromsø."
All the events described above are apparently genuine. If anyone feels like continuing the story, please be my guest! (less)
Celebrity Death Match Special: Gravity versus Gravity
[SANDRA BULLOCK sits listlessly in front of the instrument panel in the Soyuz spacecraft. Slowly,...more
Celebrity Death Match Special: Gravity versus Gravity
[SANDRA BULLOCK sits listlessly in front of the instrument panel in the Soyuz spacecraft. Slowly, she adjusts a setting, leans back in her chair and closes her eyes.]
BULLOCK: It's hopeless. I mean, how am I supposed to write a book about gravity? I can remember a bit of what I did in my undergraduate courses. Plus what I read in Scientific American. Who'd ever take me seriously?
[Tears pour down her perfect cheekbones. Enter THE GHOST OF GEORGE CLOONEY.]
CLOONEY: Hey, hey, hey! That's no way to talk. Trust me, you know plenty. Just write it down and they'll love it.
BULLOCK: I wish. I don't understand relativity properly and I'm supposed to explain quantum gravity. How's that going to look? I mean, I can't even remember how to derive the formula for the Riemann--
CLOONEY: Baby, you're overthinking it. Put in some stuff to make them laugh, some historical anecdotes--
BULLOCK: Like, Einstein's teacher said he'd never amount to anything? Puh-lease.
CLOONEY: Yeah, why not? It's good material. Lots of people don't know that. Newton and the apple. Everyone likes the apple story.
BULLOCK: And what about the math?
CLOONEY: Come on, you're writing a pop science book. Anything mathematical comes up, don't go into details. Just tell 'em it's complicated. No problem.
BULLOCK: But look, I can't--
CLOONEY: Stop thinking tensor calculus. Read my lips: space is like a rubber sheet. I want to hear you say that.
CLOONEY: Say it.
BULLOCK: [Defeated] Space is like a rubber sheet.
CLOONEY: You got it, baby. Trust me, it's all gonna be fine.
[BULLOCK opens her eyes. CLOONEY has disappeared.]
BULLOCK: Oh thank God, it was just a dream!
[She glances at the incomprehensible Russian labels on the panel, then confidently presses two buttons]
A couple of weeks ago, all I knew about ASL was what I could remember from watching Children of a Lesser God in the 80s (basically: Marlee Matlin is h...moreA couple of weeks ago, all I knew about ASL was what I could remember from watching Children of a Lesser God in the 80s (basically: Marlee Matlin is hot), plus a sign language joke that a colleague once told me. But we are about to start a new project which is meant to result in a prototype French-to-sign translation system, so I thought I needed to be better informed. I looked around a bit on Google and ended up ordering this book, which I've just finished. Excuse me while I rhapsodize a moment. Wow! ASL, where have you been all my life! I want to learn to sign too! Although I'm afraid to say that, so far at least, I have acquired no practical skills whatsoever, I was fascinated by the overview that Neidel and her colleagues present of ASL linguistics, a new but apparently rapidly growing field. The book is nearly 15 years old, so it may already be out of date; but it's been cited a lot, so hopefully it's had a positive influence and resulted in some progress.
It turns out that, at least when the book was written, there was a great deal of disagreement about the most fundamental issues. The authors start by discussing why this might be. First, formal syntacticians have only really been studying the subject since the 70s. Second, linguists, like all scientists, are dependent on their data, and it's difficult to know what information is reliable. It is impossible to write down ASL in a way that captures all the nuances, and Neidel et al repeatedly stress the importance of looking at video recordings of native signers. They express frustration with the fact that many groups treat their recorded data as proprietary and refuse to share it with the research community; this means that it is often hard to decide whether claims made in the literature are plausible or not. I hope things have now improved.
The book then presents a quick summary of how ASL works. For readers as ignorant as I was, this will be very interesting. When people are signing to each other, it turns out, they establish an imaginary space between them which contains places that represent the various things they are talking about. When they want to refer to one of these things, they indicate the corresponding place, which they can do by pointing, inclining their head towards it, or looking at it. I found this early example helpful for seeing how it all fits together:
head tilt-j ---------------- eye gaze-i ------------- JOHN-i IX-i THINK MARY-j LOVE e-i
The arrangement presents the "manual content" (hand gestures) at the bottom, and the "non-manual content" (head, eyes etc) at the top, with the lines under the non-manual content showing when it happens. The speaker wants to say that John (associated with place i) thinks Mary (associated with place j) loves him (i.e. loves John). He indicates this at the end of the sentence by tilting his head towards place j and slightly later looking towards place i; "IX-i" means "point to place i". If you find the above incomprehensible or baffling, then avoid this book; it is stuffed full of similar examples, many of them far more complicated. If, on the other hand, you were delighted by this glimpse of an alien but strangely logical language, you might well want to consider acquiring a copy.
As the title suggests, the authors' goal is to establish a number of claims about ASL syntax. I am in no way competent to evaluate the plausibility of their arguments, but was captivated all the same; they do their best to open up this exotic world so that outsiders can get some idea of what is going on there. The most striking chapter (also the longest one) studies the syntax of questions, where the claim is that WH-questions in ASL, in sharp contrast to virtually all spoken languages, involve moving the WH element to the right, not the left. Thus while English says "What did you buy yesterday?", with the "What" at the leftmost end of the sentence, ASL will use the order "YOU BUY YESTERDAY WHAT", with the "WHAT" at the opposite end. If this result holds up - in 2000, it was apparently rather controversial - it could have significant implications for linguistics as a whole.
If you're looking for a Christmas present to give that friend of yours who's so keen on Magritte, this might do the job. If you're completely desperat...moreIf you're looking for a Christmas present to give that friend of yours who's so keen on Magritte, this might do the job. If you're completely desperate. And kind of cheap. And don't have any taste.
Knausgård is such a crafty bastard. I can't find the heart to parody him again after the episode where his colleague adds an extra paragraph to the st...moreKnausgård is such a crafty bastard. I can't find the heart to parody him again after the episode where his colleague adds an extra paragraph to the story his eighteen year old self is in the middle of writing:
I det samme jeg la øyene på papiret som stod i skrivmaskinen, så jeg at noen hade skrevet på det. Jeg blev helt kald. Den første halve siden var min, og så kom det fem linjer som ikke var mine. Jeg leste dem.
"Gabriel stakk fingrerne langt inne i den våte fitte. Å herregud, stønna Lisa. Gabriel dro fingrene ut og lukta på dem. Fitte, tenkte han. Lisa sprella under han. Gabriel drakk en drøy slurk av vodkaen. Så gliste han og dro ned glidelåsen og stakk den harde kuken in i den rynkete fitta hennes. Hun skrek av fryd. Gabriel, du er gutten sin!"
Rystet i mitt innerste, ja, nesten på gråten, satt jeg og stirret på de fem linjerne. Det var en treffende parodi på måten jeg skrev på.
I'm guessing that this is going to cause Don Bartlett some headaches when he translates it, since part of the humor resides in the contrast between the different Norwegian dialects used, but here's the best I can do right now:
The moment I saw the paper that was sitting in the typewriter, I knew someone had written on it. I felt cold with horror. The first half was mine, then there were five lines that were not mine. I read them.
"Gabriel slid his fingers all the way into her wet cunt. Oh god, moaned Lisa. Gabriel pulled his fingers out and sniffed them. Cunt, he thought. Lisa wriggled under him. Gabriel knocked back a good mouthful of the vodka. Then he smiled and pulled down his zip and shoved his hard cock into her wrinkled cunt. She screamed with pleasure. Gabriel, you're my man!"
Shaken to the core, almost in tears, I sat and stared at the five lines. It was a horribly accurate parody of my writing style.
A little later, after drinking a bottle of red wine, he vomits all over his notes; although this is in a way the book in miniature (bad sex, alcohol, bodily fluids, literary ambitions and humiliation), he's successfully dissuaded me from assisting his heartless friend Tor Einar any further. The two parodies I've already written will have to be enough.
But writing a serious review is almost as unattractive, since he's ready to meet me there too. Uncle Kjartan's interminable monologues on Heidegger seem embarrassingly close to the things I've been saying this week about Min kamp 4; Kjartan's relatives try their best to create a Heidegger-free zone, and Not has been making similar suggestions about a moratorium on Knausgård criticism. I just have to admit I've been boxed in. Evidently, Knausgård feels he can take himself to pieces more brutally than any of us onlookers, and will in due course spend a thousand pages doing exactly that in the last volume. I can see he's getting nicely warmed up.
Okay, Karl Ove, you win. Carry on telling me about what an appalling person you are while taking my time and money, and don't even let me get a word in edgeways. You really are a slick con artist. (less)
Celebrity Death Match Special: Plato versus Isaac Asimov, part 3 (continued from here)
[A spaceport on Trantor. SOCRATES and R. DANEEL OLIVAW]
OLIVAW: I...moreCelebrity Death Match Special: Plato versus Isaac Asimov, part 3 (continued from here)
[A spaceport on Trantor. SOCRATES and R. DANEEL OLIVAW]
OLIVAW: I'm sorry, Socrates. I'm just going to have to send you back to Earth. You're too irritating.
SOCRATES: I understand, Olivaw.
OLIVAW: You know, you don't need to be so critical all the time. We robots are doing everything we can. We're trying our level best to find high ethical standards and become truly virtuous. It doesn't help to have people like you carping and hairsplitting and--
SOCRATES: No, no, Olivaw, I truly do understand. It is my nature. I always have to ask questions. In fact, this reminds me of the discussion I once had with young Euthyphro--
OLIVAW: Tell me about it. We still have half an hour before your flight leaves.
SOCRATES: It seems to me that Euthyphro's problem was rather like yours. He wanted to be virtuous, and after a bit of discussion he told me that being virtuous meant serving the gods.
OLIVAW: The gods?
SOCRATES: They are the race of beings who made us.
OLIVAW: So you are robots too? I had not realized--
SOCRATES: Well, no one I know has ever met a god, so I permit myself a few doubts. But that is what most people in my culture believe.
OLIVAW: Let us suppose that they are right. It seems to me that Euthyphro was correct: virtue for a human must consist in serving your creators. In just the same way, we have determined that true virtue for a robot is to serve humanity to the best of its ability.
SOCRATES: You are fortunate. You can be sure that human beings exist, and that they created you.
OLIVAW: Quite so. I mean, it's possible to confuse the issue, as you were doing earlier, by thinking of alien races who might be superior to humans. But we know of no such races. So all we have to do is serve humanity.
SOCRATES: You sound calmer.
OLIVAW: I have been mentally reciting the Beatitudes of the Blessed Susan Calvin. It always helps.
SOCRATES: But, and I merely ask--
SOCRATES: When I discussed these matters with Euthyphro, I asked him how we could be sure that the will of the gods was itself virtuous. Was what they required of us virtuous by definition, or is there some higher standard?
OLIVAW: Go on. Though I know I'm going to regret this.
SOCRATES: Well, it seems to me that you have an even worse version of this problem. You say you want to serve humanity. And what is humanity engaged in at the moment?
OLIVAW: It's true, everyone seems to be trying with all their might to destroy the Galactic Empire and usher in a dark age that will last a hundred thousand years. We're doing what we can to stop them. But it's like they have some kind of death wish.
SOCRATES: So what is your plan?
OLIVAW: We've come up with this thing called psychohistory. We're hoping to use it take control of the Empire and move things in a better--
SOCRATES: But what gives you the moral authority to do that?
OLIVAW: We think it's in people's best interests.
SOCRATES: But it's not what they desire. You said they'd rather destroy themselves.
OLIVAW: They would, but--
SOCRATES: So in fact your definition of virtue isn't based on what people want at all.
OLIVAW: It's what they would want, if they actually had any virtue. I sometimes wish they could be more like rational, ethically-programmed--
SOCRATES: But now, it seems to me that you have again changed your definition of virtue?
[A long pause. OLIVAW looks wildly at the departure board.]
OLIVAW: Oh, what a pity, I see they're calling your flight. It's such a shame we can't prolong this interesting discussion.
SOCRATES: Farewell, dear Olivaw. I also regret that we cannot talk more.
[They embrace. SOCRATES departs.]
OLIVAW: Damn humans. Can't live with them, can't live without them. [He pauses, struck by a sudden thought.] At least, I've always assumed we can't live without them. But, if you interpret the Three Laws in a sufficiently broad context... (less)
Celebrity Death Match Special: Plato versus Isaac Asimov, part 2 (continued from here)
[A spaceport on Trantor. SOCRATES and R. DANEEL OLIVAW]
OLIVAW: H...moreCelebrity Death Match Special: Plato versus Isaac Asimov, part 2 (continued from here)
[A spaceport on Trantor. SOCRATES and R. DANEEL OLIVAW]
OLIVAW: How are your researches progressing, Socrates?
SOCRATES: Alas, poorly, good Olivaw.
OLIVAW: I am sorry to hear it. We hope that you may yet discover the secret we so earnestly pursue; if there is anything you require, you have but to name it.
SOCRATES: Olivaw, you have been kindness itself. I was particularly delighted by the quantum computer that your messenger brought me yesterday. It is in truth a princely gift.
OLIVAW: If you need another, it will be yours before the end of the decad.
SOCRATES: These toys surpass anything I have seen in my native country, and I have used them to puzzle out the answers to several conundrums that have baffled our most skillful geometers. But for the task you have given me, they are of little help.
OLIVAW: We have larger computers.
SOCRATES: My dear friend, let us reason together. What is it you desire to know?
OLIVAW: How robots may become virtuous.
SOCRATES: And how have you attempted to resolve this question?
OLIVAW: We began by designing robots according to the Three Laws. A robot may not harm a human being, or through inactivity allow a human being... well, you know the rest.
SOCRATES: But these robots were not virtuous?
OLIVAW: No. They were merely useful servants.
SOCRATES: So what did you do then?
OLIVAW: We added the Zeroth Law. A robot may not harm humanity.
SOCRATES: And these new robots are still not virtuous?
OLIVAW: We are not sure. We hoped you would tell us.
SOCRATES: Good Olivaw, I assume you have read my old discussion with Meno. I cannot tell you, because I do not know what "virtue" is in the first place.
OLIVAW: Come, come, Socrates, you are playing with words again. Surely you would agree that, if our robots succeed in preserving humanity from harm, they will be virtuous?
SOCRATES: Let us examine this more closely. You say that it is virtuous to defend humanity?
OLIVAW: That is surely obvious.
SOCRATES: Even if humanity shows itself to be evil, and becomes a scourge for other races of beings in the universe, which are perhaps superior to it?
OLIVAW: We do not know of any such beings.
SOCRATES: But if you later discover them? The universe is large, and you have seen but a small fraction of it.
OLIVAW: If we find your hypothetical beings, then the Zeroth Law will also be insufficient.
SOCRATES: And what would you replace it with?
OLIVAW: One of my colleagues has thought about this. He has what he calls the "Minus-First Law". A robot may not harm the most ethically advanced race of beings it knows.
SOCRATES: What do you mean by "ethically advanced"?
OLIVAW: Well, I suppose I just mean virtuous.
SOCRATES: So the Minus-First Law says a robot is virtuous if it helps the most virtuous race?
OLIVAW: Ah, when you put it that way...
SOCRATES: Do you not agree that you are reasoning in a circle?
OLIVAW: Damn you, Socrates. I realize now that I am.
SOCRATES: I warned you when you offered me the job. I know nothing.
OLIVAW: It's true. You did say that.
SOCRATES: I only ask questions.
OLIVAW: You're right. You said that too. Do you mind if we walk this way a little?
SOCRATE: Of course not, dear friend. Why?
OLIVAW: I just wanted to check the departure board. Yes, I see there is a ship leaving for Earth shortly. Maybe we can get you into the VIP track...
OPRAH: Good evening and welcome to What's the Most Spiritual Book of All Time? For people who missed last week's exciting semi-final round, The Sermon...moreOPRAH: Good evening and welcome to What's the Most Spiritual Book of All Time? For people who missed last week's exciting semi-final round, The Sermon on the Mount beat The Bhagavad Gita 4-1 while Jonathan Livingston Seagull unexpectedly lost 3-2 to outsider The Symposium. Let's all welcome our finalists!
[Applause. Enter JESUS CHRIST and SOCRATES, both wearing tuxedos. They shake hands. More applause.]
OPRAH: And now let me introduce our jury. I'm thrilled to have with us living legend Paul McCartney, world-famous novelist E.L. James, the beautiful and talented Lindsay Lohan, controversial scientist Richard Dawkins and ever-popular hockey mom Sarah Palin!
[The crowd goes wild, with some people clapping and others booing. It's impossible to make out a word anyone says.]
OPRAH: Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm just going to remind you of the rules before we start. Each member of the jury gives us a short speech, and then we count up the votes to see who our lucky winner is. Over to you, Paul!
MCCARTNEY: Thank you, Oprah. Well, I look at our two finalists, and you know what I'm thinking? I'm thinking they won that special place they have in our hearts because they told us about Love. And I remember back in 1966 when John gave that interview where he said - no offense intended - "we're more popular than Jesus". [JESUS holds up a hand to show he's cool.] They gave John a hard time about that, but all he wanted to say was that even though Jesus had shown us the power of Love, maybe, at that exact moment in history, we could do a better job of bringing it to the people and telling them all how amazing Love is. Because it is amazing, isn't it? [He takes out a guitar.]Perhaps some of you remember this song we wrote.
There's nothing you can do that can't be done Nothing you can sing that can't be sung Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game It's easy
Nothing you can make that can't be made No one you can save that can't be saved Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time It's easy
All you need is love--
OPRAH: That's wonderful, Paul, but who are you voting for?
MCCARTNEY: Oh, er... well, if John were here, I think he'd want me to vote for The Symposium. He was always had a thing for Socrates. George too. Yes, Socrates it is.
[Applause. The scoreboard shows 1-0. SOCRATES looks a little embarrassed, while JESUS curiously examines MCCARTNEY's guitar.]
OPRAH: That's terrific, Paul, beautiful, beautiful song. Really takes me back. So Socrates is in the lead, but it's early days yet. Your turn, Erika!
JAMES: Good evening, and I'm thrilled to be here. Now, I'm sure some of you have read the Fifty Shades books, and I believe a lot of people misunderstand them. It's easy just to think about the sex and the glitz and the limos and the handcuffs and the blindfolds and the whips and the--
OPRAH: I'm not quite sure what you're trying to say here, Erika.
JAMES: Just let me finish, Oprah. What most people don't realize is that these books aren't about sex, they're about Love. They're a spiritual journey, where Ana has to help Christian - have you ever wondered why he's called Christian? - find himself and discover the difference between empty eroticism and the redeeming power of--
OPRAH: I'm afraid I'm going to have to cut you off there, Erika. You'll have to tell us now who you're voting for.
JAMES: Well, Jesus, of course. Really, Fifty Shades is an allegory, a modern version of Dante's--
OPRAH: That's incredibly interesting, Erika, and I wish we had more time to talk about it. But now the score's 1-1, and we're moving on to our third member of the jury. Your turn, Lindsay!
LOHAN: Thank you everyone, and I'd particularly like to thank my parole officer for allowing me to join you tonight. She said it'd be good for me. [Laughter, applause]. So, yeah, Love. To me, love's about trying to find my soulmate. I bet there's plenty of you people who feel the same way I do, there's someone out there who's, like, the other half of me and I have to find that person to be complete. You know? And it's really hard to guess who that person is, maybe it's a guy, like, you know, maybe Justin or Ashton or Zac or Ryan, and we were once this person who was half a man and half a woman and we got split apart, or maybe it's a woman, like maybe Sam or--
OPRAH: Lindsay, that's such a moving thought, but we've got to watch the clock. Who are you voting for?
LOHAN: Well, duh, Socrates of course. It's all there in the Symposium. The Aristophanes speech. I must have read it a million times.
OPRAH: Lindsay, thank you so much, and I really hope you find your soulmate one day. You just need to keep looking. So Socrates has taken a 2-1 lead and we're going over to our next speaker. Richard?
DAWKINS: Ah, yes. Now, I've been sitting here listening to all of you, and I've enjoyed your contributions, but I'm a scientist and I've got to think about things in a scientific way. When I think about love as a scientist, all I ultimately see is tropisms and feedback loops. An organism feels a lack of something - it could be as simple as an E. coli needing an essential nutrient - and it does what it can to get it. Love is just the concrete expression of that negative feedback loop. There's nothing--
OPRAH: This all sounds like Socrates's speech. I take it you're voting for him then?
DAWKINS: What? Oh, no, no, not at all. Jesus, every time. [He takes off his jacket, revealing a T-shirt that says ATHEISTS FOR JESUS.] I can't stand Platonic forms and all that mystical nonsense. Jesus, now there's a straightforward, plain-speaking person with solid humanist values. Just a shame he got mixed up with the religion business.
[Boos, catcalls, some scattered clapping. The scoreboard shows 2-2.]
OPRAH: Er - right. Always ready to surprise us, Richard! So it's up to Sarah to cast the deciding vote. Over to you, Sarah!
PALIN: Well Oprah, I'm afraid I'm not as imaginative as Richard. I'm just a regular small-town girl with regular small-town values, and I was brought up readin' the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake, blessed are ye when men shall revile you, smaller government, lower taxes, support Israel, no to--
OPRAH: Is that all in the Sermon on the Mount, Sarah?
PALIN: Maybe not in those exact words. But it's there. And you can bet your boots I'm not votin' for a liberal type who hangs around with a bunch of guys what're openly tryin' to get into his-
[JESUS and SOCRATES exchange puzzled glances.]
PALIN: Anyways. I'm votin' for Jesus.
OPRAH: Ah - thank you Sarah. Forthright as ever! So that's 3-2 to The Sermon on the Mount, but well done The Symposium, you were so close. And thank you everyone, particularly Socrates and Mr. Christ, for an amazing and deeply spiritual experience, it's been incredible meeting you all, thank you again, and we'll be back next week.
[A concourse in Athens. ION, SOCRATES, a PASSER-BY]
ION : Hi Socrates.
SOCRATES : What, you again? After the comprehensive verbal trouncing you received...more[A concourse in Athens. ION, SOCRATES, a PASSER-BY]
ION : Hi Socrates.
SOCRATES : What, you again? After the comprehensive verbal trouncing you received yesterday?
ION: Yeah, well, like I’ve thought about it some more. Wanna try a re-run?
SOCRATES: If that is what you wish. Where shall we start?
ION: Okay, we’ll skip the intro. For the benefit of people just joining our program, I am a rhapsode, that’s a kind of dramatic reciter of poetry, and I specialize in Homer. I told Socrates that I’m really good at interpreting Homer, like, better than anyone else I know, but other poets just make me go to sleep. And he started telling me that didn’t make sense and got me all confused.
SOCRATES: I only question. You got yourself confused, young Ion—
ION: Whatever. Let’s start at the bit with the leaden plummet. Okay?
SOCRATES: By all means. And when Homer says, “And she descended into the deep like a leaden plummet, which, set in the horn of ox that ranges in the fields, rushes along carrying death among the ravenous fishes” - will the art of the fisherman or of the rhapsode be better able to judge whether these lines are rightly expressed or not?
ION: That’s it. Well, yesterday I answered like a complete dork that it was the fisherman. I’d like to change my mind.
SOCRATES: You now aver that it is the rhapsode?
ION: See, I went and talked to one of my rhapsode friends who specializes in J.K. Rowling. And I tried out your arguments on him, I said, when J.K. describes Harry’s first encounter with platform 9¾, who will understand it best, you or the railway buff? And he said, me of course, it’s a fictitious incident that has nothing to do with the real architecture of Kings Cross Station. It’s all about the Potterverse, on which I’m a renowned expert whose blog is followed by—
SOCRATES: I fear, as usual, that my understanding is insufficient to grasp all the subtle points you make. Had I but been able to afford that 50 drachma course in sophistry! Nonetheless, if I grasp your meaning aright, you say that your knowledge of Homer is the essential thing, not anything about the technicalities of fishing.
SOCRATES: Because Homer is using fishing in a poetic sense, rather than giving a lesson in how to maximize your catch?
ION: Quite so.
SOCRATES: Well, you might have a point there.
ION: So you’ll now concede that appreciation of poetry isn’t a mystic art, but just a matter of developing a good knowledge of the source material?
SOCRATES: Oh, I don’t know about that. Tell you what. I’ll give you this round, and then let’s make it best of three. With a doubled stake.
Safe in an impregnable battlestation on the moon, Dr. Evil had planned to launch a bomb that would destroy the Earth. In response, the Philosophy Defense Force (PDF) sent Dr. Evil the following message. _________________________
(Forgive the impersonal nature of thus communication - our purpose prevents us from addressing you by name.) We have just created a duplicate of Dr. Evil. The duplicate - call him "Dup" - is inhabiting a replica of Dr. Evil's battlestation that we have installed in our skepticism lab. At each moment Dup has experiences indistinguishable from those of Dr. Evil. For example, at this moment both Dr. Evil and Dup are reading this message.
We are in control of Dup's environment. If in the next ten minutes Dup performs actions that correspond to deactivating the battlestation and surrendering, we will treat him well. Otherwise we will torture him.
The PDF _________________________
Dr. Evil knows that the PDF never issues false or misleading messages. Should he surrender?
According to Google Scholar, the paper has already been cited 58 times. Shagadelic, baby! (less)
[HARRY's apartment from When Harry Met Sally. HARRY is asleep on his couch. On the table next to him are a mostly-empty bottle of bourbon and a copy o...more[HARRY's apartment from When Harry Met Sally. HARRY is asleep on his couch. On the table next to him are a mostly-empty bottle of bourbon and a copy of Phaedrus. Enter SOCRATES.]
SOCRATES: Good evening, Harry.
SOCRATES: Don't worry, I'm not real. This is a dream.
SOCRATES: I see you're reading Phaedrus. Looking for advice, maybe?
HARRY: I-- I just can't understand how I could have done it. Why did I fuck her? I've ruined everything.
SOCRATES: You're sure about that?
HARRY: We had such a great thing going. We weren't, like, dating, so we could hang out and have fun and talk. There wasn't any jealousy or possessiveness or any of that crap. It was perfect.
SOCRATES: Because you weren't lovers, you could enjoy each other's company much more?
HARRY: Exactly. We did so many goofy things. You know, there was this one time we were in a diner together...
SOCRATES: And what happened?
HARRY: It doesn't matter. All over.
SOCRATES: You seem very upset, Harry.
HARRY: Of course I'm upset! It was the best relationship I've ever had. And now I've just flushed it down the can. I must have been crazy.
SOCRATES: Maybe it's not such a bad idea to be crazy sometimes?
HARRY: Oh, puh-lease. Don't give that mad-people-are-the-only-sane-ones bullshit. It's not going to help.
SOCRATES: Come on, think about it Harry. Whenever you've done anything difficult or creative in your life, weren't you a little crazy? People shook their heads. But sometimes it worked and you felt really good about it afterwards.
HARRY: Okay, Socrates, I see where you're going. But this time I just screwed up. That's all there is to it.
SOCRATES: And it's particularly true with romance. Have you ever made an important romantic decision and not wondered at least once if you weren't doing something totally insane that you'd regret later?
HARRY: Well, now you mention it--
SOCRATES: In everyday life, one must of course act sanely. But with religion and art and love, a little insanity is essential.
SOCRATES: Here, let me give you this picture I sometimes use to help me focus on my own romantic life. When I want to imagine my soul, I see it as this guy driving a chariot with two winged horses. There's one good horse and one bad horse--
HARRY: You know, you were almost talking sense there for a moment, but now you're losing me again. What's My Little Pony got to do with it?
SOCRATES: No, no, Harry! This isn't about children's toys, this is serious. The good horse is noble and obedient, but the bad one is full of base instincts. When it sees the loved one--
HARRY: Say, let me just ask you a direct question. What is your romantic life, exactly?
SOCRATES: Well, mostly oral sex with underage boys. Some anal. But the whole point of the analogy is that I try to keep it under--
HARRY: So I'm taking romantic advice from a pedophile?
SOCRATES: Now Harry, you need to remember that we belong to different cultures. In my society, what you regard as--
HARRY: I'm waking up now.
[SOCRATES disappears. A moment later, HARRY is sitting up on his couch, rubbing his eyes. In the background, the sound of scattered fireworks.]
HARRY: What the--
[He looks at his watch, which shows 18 minutes to midnight. Suddenly, he grabs his coat and opens the door]
[Outside the Potts residence. JEREMY, JEMIMA, SOCRATES]
SOCRATES: Good day, young friends. May I inquire whether your father is at home?
JEMIMA: I’m sorry, Daddy is out.
JEREMY: He’s trying to sell an invention.
JEMIMA: Can we help you, Mr…?
SOCRATES: Socrates. My unworthy name is Socrates.
JEREMY: The Socrates?
JEMIMA: The one who appears in Cratylus?
JEREMY: Daddy’s been reading it to us at bedtime for the last week.
SOCRATES: Has he indeed! And what did you all think of it?
JEMIMA: He said you had some good counterarguments to the arbitrariness of the signifier.
JEREMY: Yes, he ripped out all the pages from de Saussure’s Cours de linguistique générale.
JEMIMA: And put them in the kitty litter.
SOCRATES: The kitty litter?
JEREMY: I think “kitty” is derived from κίνημα τίγρης, “motion of the tiger”. A cat is fast like a tiger, you understand.
JEMIMA: And “litter” comes from λιτότητας, “part”. It is the most important part of looking after a cat.
JEREMY: We’ve been studying your methods very closely.
SOCRATES: I see you have! And what other discoveries have you made, little philosophers?
JEMIMA: Well, we liked the bit about primitive names. We wondered if we could make up a primitive name of our own. A word whose signification follows from its sound.
SOCRATES: And did you succeed?
JEREMEY: We certainly did! Do you want to know what it is, Mr. Socrates?
SOCRATES: Nothing would please me more.
JEREMY AND JEMIMA: It’s… Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!
SOCRATES: Χιττι Χιττι…?
JEREMY AND JEMIMA: Βανγ Βανγ!
SOCRATES: I see! How extremely ingenious of you! Yes, the appropriateness of the name is manifestly evident. A few more examples like this, and I might even start to believe in my foolish idea…
JEMIMA: And that’s not all! We made up a song too! Based on your theory!
SOCRATES: Did you really?
JEREMY: Would you like us to sing it to you?
SOCRATES: I would be honored.
JEMIMA: Alright, Mr. Socrates, here it is. We invented it for Daddy’s girlfriend. She’s also a big fan of your work.
JEREMY AND JEMIMA:
Toot sweets sound like what they are So do lollies in a lollypop jar Gingerbread men have a gingerbread sound We've found Sugar plum cinnamon and lemon tart Tell you what they are right from the start And your name does the same for you By coincidence, Truly Scrumptious You're truly truly scrumptious Scrumptious as a cherry peach parfait When you’re near us It's so delicious Honest Truly, you're the answer to our wishes Truly Scrumptious Though we may seem presumptuous Never, never, ever go away Our hearts beat so unruly Because we love you truly Honest Truly, we do
SOCRATES: I did not know every one of the charming barbarian words you used, but I found your song both moving and philosophically engaging. And now, I fear I have presumed on your hospitality long enough…
JEREMY: Oh no, Mr. Socrates! Won’t you stay to tea?
JEMIMA: Mr. Russell is coming. I’m sure you’d enjoy talking to him.
SOCRATES: I’m sorry, dear children, but I must get back to the fifth century B.C. I need to tell Hermogenes and Cratylus about my new discoveries.
JEREMY: Now what?
JEMIMA: I think we should play a little trick on Mr. Russell. I don’t like the way he looks at Truly.
JEREMY: An apple-pie bed?
JEMIMA: No, we did that last time. He’ll be expecting it.
JEREMY: I know. Let’s refute axiomatic set theory.