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Thursday, 13 August 2015

Pass me the Tums

Last night on a BBC4 programme about Socrates the name of the pre-christian Athenian general, Pericles, cropped up. I wondered if Shakespeare would have been surprised that one of his characters had figured in a reasonably serious nationwide discussion on philosophy. Wished I could have told him, watched his face.

In The Guardian, celebrity interviews are often presented in a standardised Q&A form, one question being: who would you invite to dinner. I've always had Graham Greene on my list (Yes, I know he's dead.) but now I've dropped him. The risks of my appearing too naive are just too great.

But time-travelled world greats do present amusing opportunities. I wouldn't bother with Beethoven: he always knew he was great and wouldn't be surprised that crowds assemble for the Waldstein. But how would Mozart react to the fact that Cosi is staged in Tokyo with Japanese sub-titles?

And fame can also go backwards. John Galsworthy (incredibly!) won the Nobel Prize and would be depressed to find he now depended mainly on TV drama adaptations. Mind you, I'd hate to point this out; a lousy trick on a dinner guest.

I'm not sure Kafka is read recreationally these days but did Franz expect this to be the case? I'd leave him off the dinner list; I feel 99% convinced he'd have obscure dietary requirements.

Quisling was executed in 1945 for betraying Norway during WW2. He’d sit far down the table (mine accommodates ten with both leaves installed), not talking. "Hey Vidkun," I'd say. "Your name lives on." Still morose, he’d demand more wine.

But suppose Isaac Newton  (a bit of a social bastard) asked: “And so, RR, what have you done with your life?”  Guess I too would reach for the decanter.


  1. I'm reading the Robert Harris books on Cicero. He might be good company at dinner. He'd most likely want watered down wine though.

  2. Jesus might be interesting.

  3. RW (zS): I fear I've had to Wiki him. Now I have I think he might have wished to dominate to dinner table since he was more or less good at everything. His politics (said to be Optimate) now seems to have re-emerged as a battery charger; I suspect this wouldn't have pleased him. Another heavy wine drinker.

    MikeM: Surely he'd see me as a Phillistine. Or at best a hedonist. As I've previously mentioned before on Tone Deaf a devout Catholic of my acquaintance, wriggling away from my curiosity about the nature of Heaven, said: we cannot know the mind of God. I'd turn this into a question and if Jesus confirmed the statement (I've always regarded it as something of a cop-out) I'd have made my excuses and asked Werner Heisenberg for a 25-word summary of the Uncertainty Principle, after which I'd have had a long chat with Leos Janacek, a late-life enthusiasm. Skirting round the opera, Jenufa, however.

  4. Heisenberg, who did not write the Wikipedia entry on the Uncertainty Principle, might still have said "The more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa." Would you have then insisted he add another three words?
    I wasn't particularly thinking of Jesus as The Word Incarnate being the guest, though if he showed up as that, so much the better. It would be interesting to have a personal visit from a man who sparked such hub-bub. Are gospel and gossip from the same root?

  5. MikeM: Rather than resurrect Werner from the Land Of The Recently Dead, with all the form-filling and guarantees that would necessitate, perhaps you - still happily this side of the terminal barrier - would care to stand in for him. Even as I write my mind is toying with an appropriate wine for the dinner and a pinot noir from Central Otago is a likely contender.

    The roots of gospel are: gōd (OE) - good; spel (OE) - news, a story; bona annuntiatio(Latin); bonus nuntius (Latin); and eungelion (Greek)/evangelium (Latin). These dissolve and reappear as gōdspel (Old English).

    Roots of gossip are: godsibb (OE) - godfather, godmother, baptismal, sponsor; god (E) - God; sibb (OE) - a relative.In ME the sense was ‘a close friend, a person with whom one gossips’,

  6. Socrates has his good points (or so Plato reports) but I don't think I would want him as a dinner guest. Every comment one made, he would ask you to examine!

  7. Socrates...so exasperating they executed him. Thanks for the invitation RR, I've gathered from a quick price check that the Otago is admired, likely finer than any wine I've tasted. A six-pack of pale ale would suffice, but alas, it's the Atlantic I'd have to cross. Dad took the trip once, and I can't recall him saying one nice thing about it. Please ring up Karen Armstrong - I think she's local - and she's surely a more potent conversationalist than me. Here's a sample, where she gets rolling about "the stunning realization of the impotence of speech".


  8. Surely you wouldn't have to worry about providing wine if you had JC along? Though I suppose you might have to ask his mother too just to be sure.

  9. Avus: I suspect he'd have doubts about the Austin Cambridge and the Devon. I see him as a Fireblade man; he was risk-taker and the Fireblade invites you to take risks.

    MikeM: I took a sip of Karen A but my stamina was lacking. If God cannot be encompassed in words, might this invalidate the Bible? Or am I being too slick?

    Speech may be impotent but it's all we've got. In any case speech is not necessarily as limited as KA suggests; poetry allows us to progress via images, metaphors and even invoked emotions. And how about music as a mode of communication? If we may not describe God we may not, as Stephen Fry points out, question why God devised those forms of cancer which only strike down children. More particularly, may we not speculate about God by ourselves - speculation being, as I see it, an internal verbal monologue.

    In the ale sector, I can can do better than pale ale.

    Lucy: The conversion process (from water) was instantaneous. Thus no maturation. Also my conviction (based admittedly on very little evidence) is that it was red wine. To accompany fish?

  10. I'd hit the KA when you're feeling rested RR....she addresses every question you pose in that 90 minute video, the last half being Q+A. Not as nuanced as her book, but more accessible.

  11. MikeM: I would if I wasn't convinced I was playing against a stacked deck. If God is beyond comprehension surely it's reasonable to claim he's beyond my interest; that I'd be better off devising my own form of God.

  12. That even speaking "God" borders on idolotry, the Bible as a "starter kit" of poetry and allegory and myth, its literal interpretation absurd and dangerous. "Liturgy" a practiced ritual (like swimming or driving a car)that helps one into a transcendence akin to the effect of music and the other arts, sex, etc. That every monotheistic religion has...at its core, the "Golden Rule". The absurdity of thinking that our prayers for a better bowel function will be granted when the prayers of six million Jews were not answered at the Holocaust - or during other, larger genocides. In answer to the question "what should we do about people who have fallen away from religion?" her answer is to "Leave them alone"...stop trying to push or pull them into your false and infinitesimally inadequate notions. So she would agree with you. 100% I believe.