The Greatest of All Time
Διογένης ὁ Κυνικός
There's absolutely no debating this.
If you are interested in the arguments, in chapter 6 of this book I try to spell out exactly why this is the case. But the short version is that Diogenes was everything good about philosophy that Socrates was not. Diogenes was an anarchist who refused to be a part of institutions, called Socrates and Plato out for their elitist and totalitarian tendencies, did not allow himself to live a life judged by the standards of the masses, rejected private property, scorned the idea of a state (or polis) creating money so intensely that he might very well have been banished from Sinope for having counterfeited their coins (not to gain riches, but to create havoc in the system of exchange), lived happily like a dog, and when he was asked where the best place to spit is when you are forced to be in a rich person's home, answered that you spit in the dirtiest place you can find there: the homeowner's face.
Gaspare Diziani (1689–1767); Alexander and Diogenes (c. 1740-50); oil on canvas; 32.6 x 22.4 in.
c. 405 - 323 BCE
Seriously. What's not to love? Today, Diogenes is sometimes called the first Internet troll—the first Internet troll before there was even an Internet to troll. And it's true that he did seem to enjoy upsetting the canonical Ancient Greek philosophers of Athens. (He said that before he entered Plato's home, he would always be sure to walk through mud just so he could make Plato's carpets and floors dirty.) But this misses the most important part of who Diogenes was. He didn't just troll the rich and powerful for fun. He used what we would today call performance art (and certainly comedy) in order to make deep philosophical points. If Socrates was lecturing (in all of his false modesty as the self-proclaimed least-wise man of Athens) on the distinctive nature of the human, defining humans as featherless bipeds, Diogenes would come back the next day with a live plucked chicken. No further argument needed. Drop the chicken in the agora and drop the mic. When Plato later took up the mantle and lectured publicly on the idea that Truth could only be found in an abstract realm far distanced from our own material life, it is said that Diogenes began to squat, lifted his toga, and pooped. But truly, what else could better pull us back to the reality of the present—to the political, moral, ethical, concrete commitments such a metaphysic always makes but pretends not to make, to the complicated filth and materiality of our shared existence—than the excrement of the dog, the argument that has suddenly become carnal and cannot be tossed aside with a bunch of fancy words, the fecund fact of our public embodiment suddenly exposed and made impossible to ignore?
As someone who has been known to show up to a philosophy talk with a guitar, a Tesla coil, a tray of cookies, and a dance troupe, you can imagine that I have a lot of respect for the first philosphical performance-lecturer in the West.
That's Diogenes. And that dude is The Greatest Of All Time.
Sure, it's a prime number. But let's face it: prime numbers are a dime a dozen these days. What
makes 37 truly wonderful is its diversity and general awesomeness. Let's put aside for the moment
that it is your body temperature in celsius, that it's the atomic number of rubidium (the element that is
used in fireworks to make them purple [HOT!] and is used to cool lasers [COLD!]), and that it is the number
used to designate M37—the coolest-ever open cluster that is about half-a-billion light years from us and contains at least half-a-million stars (that's right, I said the coolest-ever open cluster, so shut up Pleiades, with your wannabe M45 label, and let the people who know what they're talking about have a conversation). Yes,
let's forget all of the great things that have been assigned the label of "37" (and we'll even put aside for the moment that roulette wheels stop at the number 36—a travesty; and that the Green Monster at Fenway park is 37' tall—another travesty), and let's just concentrate on the pure mathematical greatness of 37.
37 is a Størmer number, an irregular prime, a star number, and a unique prime.
37 x (1+1+1) = 111
37 x (2+2+2) = 222
37 x (3+3+3) = 333
37 x (4+4+4) = 444
37 x (5+5+5) = 555
37 x (6+6+6) = 666
37 x (7+7+7) = 777
37 x (8+8+8) = 888
37 x (9+9+9) = 999
(There's a cool pattern for [10+10+10] and onward, too. Do it yourself and discover the awesomeness. I sometimes keep the pattern going in my head in order to try to fall asleep when I can't stop my mind from racing with other things while I'm in bed fighting the insomnia—which is pretty much every night.)
Bonus fact: In a TV Guide survey from June 1997, readers voted the episode of "The Brady Bunch" in which Marcia gets Davy Jones to come to her prom as the 37th Greatest [episode of any TV show] Of All Time.
Bonus bonus fact: Paul Newman's prison number in Cool Hand Luke is 37.
Bonus bonus bonus fact: I'm not old. And my name is Dennis.
Bonus bonus bonus bonus fact: If a fertile biological-man and a fertile biological-women have sex once every day for a month, there is a 37% chance of pregnancy occurring. Statistics. Sexy statistics.
All true. But check this out. I think that 37 is the Greatest Of All Time because it has so many interesting hidden patterns built into its mathematical structure. These are not easy to see. But the table here will give you a good idea of one such hidden structure. Can you figure out what's going on here? Can you deal with the awesomeness at work?
I first met Sally Mann in 2014. I had admired her work for many years before that, but it wasn’t until she graciously agreed to come to the DePaul Humanities Center during my first year as director that I had the privilege of meeting her in person. What follows is an excerpt from my introduction of her on February 3, 2014. I will not reproduce any of her photographs here for copyright reasons, of course, but encourage you to check out this link and to get to a museum where you can see her work in person, too. Go! Do it! And while we're on the subject, it turns out that Sally Mann isn't
Sally Mann, DePaul Humanities Center, Chicago, IL.
3 February 2014. Photograph by Anna Vaughn Clissold.
just the greatest photographer ever, but also an amazing writer. Have you read her bestselling memoir, Hold Still? It's as amazing to read as it is to take in visually. It is rare for an artist to have such command, such other-worldly talent, in media both linguistic and visual. Rarer still is the artist who puts small, personal, intimate details on display and makes it obvious—without needing to point it out, preach, or philosophize—that the personal is always already the universal. That each Little Moment has Big Meaning. Yet Sally Mann does this with apparent ease. All while making her art and living life on her own terms. All while being one of the coolest people ever to walk on the planet. Dang! There's only one Sally Mann. And she is the Greatest Of All Time.
There is art that seems not to understand that the things themselves, not signs of things, are present in art. Such art struggles, trying to give us an image of the thing rather than the thing. Such art offers up an interpretation of the thing, rather than realizing that the thing will be interpreted already because what it means to be conscious is to be interpreting.
But then there is other art. Rare and inspiring. The sort that takes the world for what it is and realizes that the power of art is not to offer up a fake version, a representation, of the world, but rather to introduce us to the body, the tree, the field, the person that is there. The artistic presentation, then, has the added benefit of being able to show us something about the being of those things we might not have realized before because we now get to see those things, to be in the presence of those things, as presented by the artist. The world is hermeneutically cracked open, ontologically split apart and mended back together again as we come to understand that what we thought we knew was only part of the picture.
Cézanne did this for us, for instance. And so does Sally Mann.
Sally Mann loves the world that she photographs. Every nook and brook and bone and pelt, every innocent and not-so-innocent person, every glorious moment and putrid corner of decay. You can feel it all right there, because it is all right there. She lets it be all right there. It is not merely that there is no forcing, no metaphysical masking, but that the way in which she offers up these people, things, and moments to our consciousness is with an eye that demands we ask ourselves if we really ever knew the truth, really knew what it was to be him, her, it, this, that, now?
How glorious to find out we were wrong! How wonderful to learn we were limited! How lucky we are to meet the world anew, introduced to it by someone who has seen not just how it could be, but how it already is.
How lucky I am to be able to introduce to you that rare mind that brilliantly fleshes out the nature of things and then has the tenacity and the talent to put it in view for the rest of us: the incomparable Sally Mann.
Pontypool (2008) is a deeply philosophical (and existential) look at what happens when a culture is haunted by the lies of the Enlightenment, epecially the false hope we inherited that our language denotes real things and real states of affairs in the world and that truth can be settled by a simple theory of correspondence between language and reality.
Kiss is kill, my friends. And Mrs. French's cat is still missing.
Some have called "Pontypool" a zombie film without zombies. So be it. I just call it "The Greatest Zombie Film of All Time."
Check out these tasty links:
P.S.—Have you seen the sequel, "Dreamland"? No? What's
wrong with you? Go. Go watch
these films now. I'll wait....
Come on now, friends. There's just no debate here. This is a truly excellent film. When you get the great Stephen McHattie and incomparable Lisa Houle saying lines written by wordsmith Tony Burgess all in a film by the man himself, Mr. Bruce McDonald, you know that the magic is about to bombard your peepers.
Calling the Brothers Quay the greatest animators of all time is a little like calling Superman the greatest leaper of all time. Yes, Superman could clear a tall building in a single bound. But to put the label of "leaper" on him is to miss the larger point, to obscure the greatness of his overall being. The Quays took stop-motion animation to the highest level it has ever been taken, showing the world the potential of this art form to be something truly deep and meaningful. They are the greatest animators of all time, for sure. But like the man from Krypton, a single label speaks to just one of their talents. They paint, draw, design, make films with live actors, and generally create. They make art unrestricted by a medium. Superman is a good leaper, Santa Claus has a nice beard, Lucille Ball was a redhead, and the Brother’s Quay are animators. But none of these descriptions does justice to the fullness of the subjects they describe.
I had appreciated, studied, and lectured on their work for years, but what a profound pleasure it was to meet the Quays in 2014 when they visited the DePaul Humanities Center. What follows is a brief excerpt from my introduction to the brothers that evening, with gratitude for all that they have done for me and all that they have brought to enrich our world.
From “The Many Hands of the Brothers Quay”
April 12, 2014
H. Peter Steeves
…There are no lines of ontological demarcation in a Brothers Quay film. The human, the animal, the inanimate, the monster—all are collected together, co-constituting, be-handed. As early as “Street of Crocodiles,” one thinks of the hollow-headed team of tailors, literally brainless, but so mindful, so full of frighteningly talented little hands. One could easily argue that even the screws—eerily busy unscrewing themselves—have hands in this film, each with a mission, with a reason and with reason for being….
In 2000, the Quays filmed “In Absentia” for the BBC…. The twenty-minute film uses a score by avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and depicts a few moments in the life of a woman who lived and wrote to her husband from an asylum, scribbling letters that repeatedly say, in an indecipherable script, “Herzensschatzi komm” (“sweetheart come”). The letters are never sent, but accumulate, instead, inside a grandfather clock, the hands of which are manipulated to keep repeating the same minute over again. Language speaks into an abyss. And writing, our hand-felt attempt to overcome the mortality of time by leaving something that lasts apart from us, must fail. Apart from a few shots of the back of the woman’s head, her presence is felt in the film solely by means of close-ups of her hands, filthy from the work of reason, the dirty demands of rationality. I know of no greater work—in art or in philosophy—that speaks more eloquently and more truthfully about the complicated relationships among writing, desire, irrationality, and the hand.
Part of what Heidegger was suggesting when he argued that only humans have hands—that no other animal, not even other apes, are “handed”—had to do with the way in which we humans control our world. The hand, it is thought, remakes the world through reason, and in so doing has a godlike power. But it is precisely this hubris, this fundamental misunderstanding of power and ontology, that the Quays force us to confront in their films. For if we truly believe that consciousness is in the world, and if we give up the idea that hand is a synonym for power, then we realize that we are taken up by the world even as we take it up. As Jacob, from their 1996 film, Institute Benjamenta, puts it far more beautifully, “We grasp a thing and it is as if it possessed us; not we possess it, but it us.” The spoon takes hold of us, shakes our hand, and we are both together in the world. The pencil falters, just as rationality falters—and the hand makes all of this possible, not by faltering itself but by means of being exactly what it is and should be. The world of the Quays, then, is a world in which the things we take for granted—tools, animals, Others, love, objects we so casually oppose to subjects—each comes to possess us and change us, think with us and within us.
Think now, too, of the brother’s own hands—how many Quay hands are there? Do twins come into the world with two hands or four hands? Can they tell them apart? Or are twin hands exponential in their tasks and their toil? Think, then, of the many hands of the Brothers Quay as they literally work: moving their objects so slowly, exposing them frame by frame—but at the same time being moved by their objects, being exposed by them, frame by frame. All of this movement so loving and perfectly captured for us. A small turn of a doll’s wrist. A click on the shutter. A smaller turn still. Another click. And on, and on.
The lesson of animation is that each little movement, so seemingly insignificant, is what makes the grand story possible, greater than the sum of its parts. And is this not, in the end, the lesson of life? Each little action we undertake adding up to the whole of our existence when the film is finally brought up to speed?
Here, too, is the filmmaker’s alchemy: all of these frames of stillness go on to create movement. But this is a magic only if it is also a realism, for it is always the case that movement is only made possible by stillness, just as talking is only possible with the silence between words, drawing is only possible with the blankness left on the paper, and presence is only made present by means of absence. These are not binaries, not dualisms, not separate—and yet not exactly the same. Let us call them instead: twins.
What the Quays manage to do like no one else is pack all of this truth, all of these profound realizations about what it means to be in the world, into something so amazingly beautiful it sometimes makes me want to pull out my eyes. Without apology, this is a portrait of two true artists who know what it means to be more-than-human, all too more-than-human.
“We've always known that you can think with your hands,” the Quays once said in an interview. “The hand,” they continue, “gives clues and accidents that the brain can never quite anticipate.”
And thus we celebrate the handiwork of the Brothers Quay.
I suppose you could say that Andy was the Diogenes of comedy. Maybe, though, Diogenes was the Andy of philosophy. No matter how you cut it, Andy was a genius. He is one of my childhood heroes, and remains a hero today. I spell it all out here:
But truth be told, reading about Andy's work is like hearing a campfire try to describe the experience of eating spaghetti.
You need to dive in yourself and enjoy it from a first-person perspective.
In the 1970s and early-'80s I obsessively used to watch for any appearance of Andy on television. I remember waiting anxiously for his time hosting "The Midnight Special" and every talk-show appearance—especially when he was on Letterman. I called the 1-900 number trying to save him when SNL voted him off forever. I called over and over....
I was never fortunate enough to meet Andy in person. Sadly, he passed away while I was in high school. But to this day I mourn him and miss him. I know it seems strange to miss someone you actually didn't know. It's a category we reserve for friends and family members—people to whom we were close, personally. Yet that's how I feel.
The spirit of Andy is in everything I do, especially this book and these lecture-performances. I'll never be as good, as true, or as inspiring as Andy was, of course. He was the Greatest Of All Time.
Wouldst thou like the taste of butter?
Then agree with me that Black Phillip is the G.O.A.T.
Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
If thou canst not write thy name, I will guide thy hand.
Great movie. Great director. Great goat.
The Greatest ??? of All Time