He remembered that it was dark there. He remembered it was cold, and he could hardly see anything. There wasn’t much visible, but he could clearly see one thing: a pedestal, there–in that vision place.
More details about the experience started to become clear…and the pedestal before him held a shallow pool of eerily luminescent liquid. Yes, he was there again now–beyond this, there are shrouded forms gathered around. As he is approaching the dark pedestal the dark seer feels compelled to gaze upon the protean liquid contained within.
There, he began to see bizarre forms coalescing…he sees shapes: of people, and of strange places. He sees the Earth, serene, and comfortingly familiar amongst such a terrifying place, and suspended like a fragile blue-green ball amongst starry black outer- space, the vision images of the liquid pool are quickly replacing themselves, swirling into fresh images with a new series: of the space streakings a of an enormous asteroid.
Relative to Earth standards, it must be the size of a small continent…
An impact by an asteroid of that size would have unimaginable consequences to the Earth. The rock hurtling through outer space, with intricate crystalline structures protruding from the rocky surface also has two massive buildings. The images emanating from the cauldron are glowing a low yellowish light as the perspective of the imageries were zooming in on these twin sister structures: a large perimeter but both quite squat since the majority of the structures’ cubic space is in the foundation. The superstructures of the blue-steel Towers were hardly even existent. They were enormously wide–but not very tall. Stylistically, they are two steel structures, like New York City skyscrapers.
Before he, the dreamer, could contemplate this imagery, and what it might meant, the vision reverts once more to the precious, fragile Earth amidst the cold blackness…He gazes in horror, as ghostly, grey, worm-like figures begin to permeate the Amazon basin, consuming the continent totally with their wiggling, writhing forms–it was ‘so much’ grayness.
And a lifeless gray–a cold void, reminding him of death.
Spreading and replicating as it integrates itself throughout the whole planet, the swarm of worms chokes a once verdant world within its deathly grip.
Abruptly, then, the chamber becomes dark and he is falling back, away, into nothingness–into the dreamer’s oblivion…
Clearly not ready to start his day—never feeling entirely ready--Gordon Frosty struggles to start his morning rounds of coffee and ritualistic consumption of greasy bacon. Coffee and bacon get him up in the morning, and, admittedly, often they are his sole reason for getting up--the egg or two are added for his guilt. These brave steps mark the harrowing first events of “A Day in the Life” of Gordon Frosty. The television is blaring, pre-programmed along with automated lighting throughout his home to awaken alongside him at this time each morning. As is often the case, there are no surprises to be found this particular morning, as the politically slanted news show has maintained its implacable slant, and all is yet right in this world. He stumbles about, preparing for his morning transition from the sanctity of his house to the bee-hive world outside. “It all sounds right to me,” Frosty mutters to himself as he sips his coffee. Frosty stares blankly for a while, barely perceiving the content on the television screen. The spin masters talk in pixilated floating heads. There are a couple of political pundits on a talkshow vigorously debating some political point or another for the umpteenth time. Frosty enjoys the dialogue but ultimately doesn’t side with one or the other. To him, politics is a game where it doesn’t really matter to whom the ball gets tossed, it still remains that same red rubber ball anyway--that red ball that’s always hurting, or at least interesting to watch, when tossed directly at the face...“Hmm…I must be a bit off this morning.” As the discussion on the show grew more heated, he thinks to himself: “Spinning their threads..yes, as if threads... of ‘such-called truth,’ decorating these mesmerizing narratives; of fixed patterns; of bias; they do as their interests command—can you hardly blame them?” Frosty takes pride in his pursuit of a “lack of slant” position, noting, dubiously, that all men’s perspectives are flawed, and microscopic, in scope of the enormous totality in which we are daily steeped. Before Frosty can continue his thought, he feels a slight vibration in his skull as a notification message pops up on his contact lense HUD. “[Reminder: you have to report to work in 35 minutes],” it displays. “Duty calls,” Frosty mutters as he begins to ready himself for the day. He buckles his belt as the very last act of the morning ritual—seconds before any other human might have opportunity to observe him. While trying to clasp the belt buckle over his protruding stomach, he says to himself “I need to get my thinking straight. I should have less interest in politics today...” And the debate indeed moves on without him. As he continues to prepare for the day, he hears a familiar mewing of protest. Frosty’s cats encircle him, upset by some vague dissatisfaction. He glances at the felines as he struggles to get dressed; it’s apparent his uniform is a little too small for his pudgy frame. It almost seemed as if he were clinging, stubbornly, to past glory days. There’s a certain pride a man has in his uniform—and it seems it could be ‘any’ uniform, so long as there’s a uniform involved. People are comforted by the appearance of organization. The wants and desires of the felines follow him around, encircling Frosty and continuing their cries of protest. Frosty ignores their complaints and enters the kitchen with the remnants of his breakfast. His dog sits docilely in front of the warm exhaust vent at the bottom of the refrigerator, man’s best friend. A black and white kitchen-tile floor betrays an ordinary sense of style reasonably fitting for an ordinary man. After all, Gordon Frosty just wants to be normal, and to pay his rent with enough left over for his grocery bill, which is growing considerable. As he exits the kitchen, he recalls he needs to adjust his HUD lenses for the week. A few eye drops later, Frosty’s lenses are re-calibrated and ready to operate. The political talking heads drone on while Frosty adds the finishing touches to his appearance. As Frosty’s hair inevitably falls to the left side of his neatly-combed hair, the pudgy white flesh of his neck is thankfully pulled down, a bit, by his collar. Frosty throws over his uniform jacket: “Looking good,” he says to himself in the mirror, not sure whether he believes in his delusion today, or if others might... As he inspects himself, his lenses begin to reboot their operating system and return to function. His vision begins to change accordingly. A thin line appears in the center of his field of vision, red at first, which quickly cools into a light-blue, and begins to calibrate his peripheral vision as a rectangular screen manifests into view. Upon rebooting, the lenses immediately vibrate once again as they display a message: “[Alarm expired: Feed the Animals]”. “I already fed the animals.” Frosty exclaims as the reminder text fades away from view. Frosty then walks back over to the kitchen to inspect the fridge once more before departing, a common morning ritual of his. As he scans the various items in the fridge, text displays appear in his HUD and relay statistical information about the sustenance contained within. “[Purchased Last Thursday.]” The lens sorts out pertinent information, informing him, but not overloading him, amongst a quick glance.” [est. expiration: end of the month.]” Frosty picks out his day’s lunch. Nutritious slop—a sandwich for reward. Frosty starts off his day on an optimistic diet. He drifts away from this mindset, also daily, at about noon, when he orders a cheeseburger and fries--or some such nonsense. Something to satiate his unconscious craving for preservatives and genetically modified tastes. [“Daily Reminder: Gordon, take medication within 15 minutes. Remember to ingest with food”]. “I’m taking it,” Frosty responds laboriously, like a child toward a nagging parent. The good thing about simulated intelligences is that they don’t take personal offense when you’re being short with them. [“Query: taking what?] “My medication, I’m taking my medication.” Sometimes the computer needed clarification on abstract statements. Computers lack the ability to read and perceive context. The message prompt floats away from his field of vision, as if understanding his frustration. Assembling his effects, Frosty opens the door and steps out into the world. His pudgy, cold body is used to long spans on couches and computer chairs. Walking along a small hallway out to the platform where Adobe Tower’s transportation system will send him an automated vehicle, he exhales. “Thank God…” Gordon Frosty sits within the driverless vehicle, engrossing himself by sorting out his calendar on a visual plane manifested by his lenses. Text-messages, system notifications, reminders, etc. are sorted through by a small device which tracks minimal movements by his thumb, while Frosty patiently awaits transportation up the towers Helix transport system, to the upper levels. He realizes as he glances at his calendar that he has a lunch meeting with an old friend and colleague, Andrianna, this afternoon. “It has been a long time, hopefully it is nothing serious and she merely wants to reminisce,” Frosty thinks to himself as the vehicle continues its ascent up the “Adobe” tower. Inside the car, the details of his destination are instantly messaged to the on-board computer. No one need say a word. Frosty’s primary computer processing kernel, located on his ring, and the transport computer perform all the communication that is required. The personal home transport pod spirals up within the structure of the building, the Helix they call it, snaking out toward branching transport platforms and then disappearing back again into the inside skeleton of the structure. Transporters go up one pillar of the Helix, and down the other. Horizontal bars intersect the vertically moving pathways, spiraling themselves, just like the nucleic acid chains that make up as strand of DNA. As the transport reaches its destination and lands on a transportation platform, Gordon steps off and walks towards the terminal. As he approaches the entrance to his department, his view is bombarded by names, ranks, and friendship statuses, which appear over co-workers and individuals he knows while passing them by. Some of them smile and wave to him. It is instantly apparent that Frosty is rather popular. In fact, it seems mostly by women, but rather not in some flirtatious way, and rather more in a: “he’s harmless, and such a good listener” sort of way. That position amongst the females in his life, typically called the “friend zone,” was satisfactory for Gordon Frosty—at least they weren’t disgusted by him, like he often was of himself. He enjoyed letting other people do the talking, patient and genuine, he was skilled at making others feel, if only for just a moment, a sense of importance. That was altruism enough, in Gordon Frosty’s eyes. A name in blue appears within a silver and opaque border, “[Richard: Security Officer],” as he approaches an armed guard working in his particular section of Adobe Tower. Richard is actually one of Frosty’s few male friends. “Beautiful day, eh, Frosty?”, Richard exclaims in greeting as Frosty approaches the checkpoint. Sometimes it was a bit trying, with Richard always waiting, there, by his transport junction, like that. It seemed to Frosty, on instinct, like his daily routine was making him entirely too predictable. However, that was another time. Now he has the luxury of being as routine, and scheduled as he’d like. Besides, most of the time it was sort of nice to be greeted by an excited friend. Frosty glances at the windowless hallway in which they are standing, “how can you tell?” he asks jovial security officer, jovially and with a slight smirk on his face. “You’re overthinking it, my friend, how are you doing today?” “Hot,” Frosty replies with slight exasperation “sweating in my uniform. I suppose the additional padding doesn’t help things much” he says, gesturing towards his stomach. “I see,” the officer responds “well, you know can always join the security team; we stay in pretty good shape. But, on second thought I think you Strategos prefer your offices and your larger paychecks.” “If you don’t like the pay, you could try asteroid cracking, I hear it’s a lucrative business,” Frosty responds with a slight smile. “Personally, I’m afraid of heights,” Richard says as the two friends share a laugh. Frosty and Richard’s morning banter is interrupted as the arc-evator arrives to transport them to the upper levels. The myriad of strangers with them are the usual awkward and silent types, more interested in pretending to tinker with their personal computers than notice their new companions. The passengers stiffen and brace themselves visibly as the doors shut in front of them. The movement of the arc-evator can be jarring, since the pod circles in an arc diagonally, instead of up and down like a typical elevator. “Just as well”, Frosty thinks to himself, “Richard is the only person I can spare the energy to converse with this early in the morning.” A mix of sadness and overall disinterest radiates from the woman with bee-hived blonde hair; the other woman, brunette, is rarely seen with her eyes not completely fixated on the computer pad, sorting messages, researching...whatever one in her circumstances researches, Frosty wonders if it were exciting social correspondences; lastly, a very serious-looking man stares intently ahead at the reflective door of the arc-evator, his brown-bowler cap and thick moustache making him look like a man out of time. His humble, flat-gray suit seem like something plucked straight from another era. “Strange man,” both Richard and Frosty think as they notice the presence of the man. “An inspector, of some sort,” they each privately gather, “though I haven’t put my finger on what he might be inspecting here...” The arc-evator continues its ascent as the passengers listen in slightly uncomfortable silence to the woefully insipid music piping through the transport. After what seems an eternity, the arc-evator halts its movement and the doors slide open with a crisp *ding* to accompany their arrival. Within a fraction of a second, the vessel begins its descent arc down the spire to the security checkpoint below, whipping around the upper tower structure at tremendous speeds. Frosty observes its movements, thinking to himself how incredible it is that one feels such a smooth ride when in the arc-evator. Looking at it from the outside it’s a wonder everyone within the vessel doesn’t suffer from massive abrasions, lacerations, or blunt force trauma. “If you don’t like the pay, you could try asteroid cracking, I hear it’s a lucrative business,” Frosty says with a slight smile. The topic often would arise, anyway, while talking to Richard. “Personally, I’m afraid of heights,” Richard says as the two friends share a laugh. “I tell ya’ Frosty, these new Asteroid mining missions are where the money’s going to be at.” “You know Rich, I would love to show you a spreadsheet of the costs involved in setting up an automated mining crew. The A.I. isn’t where you’d think it is, they make a lot of mistakes out there—expensive ones.” “Yes I heard…but that’s just now, I mean, isn’t it!?” Gordon notices that regularly, the security officer regurgitates buzz-terms often used in 2040: “You’re caught up in that ‘linear progression mindset, man,’” being one such instance of those colloquial terms, Frosty’s ceaseless mind flags as an example and therefore a justification. “Technology never progresses linearly, remember?” Gordon has to admire the zeal at which his friend asks this rhetorical question. “We’ve seen this proven over and over again.” Frosty smiles. His friend, although self-understandingly ‘blue-collar,’ often had a great argument in pointing to this, and this was indeed some fact of progress that Gordon’s modeling of the future maybe too often overlooks. “Why do all the high-up officers ignore that?” Here again, while he is designating the positions of surplus power, the man himself self-categorizes his status as a layman--further solidifying the factual substance of his inquiry. “Haven’t you noticed that?” Gordon cannot help but notice these subtextuals. Instead of delving into the man’s point of logic...He tries to shake the habitual notion--of writing men off, and the deconstructionist propensity--to limit--out of his head altogether. It was in this focusing on the ways in which men make-up imagined shackles, voluntarily limitations, upon himself, that...what was that William Blake quote? ‘The Mind forg’d manacles…’ “I think you’re right Rich. It’s just that…well it is my job to make sure that Adobe Tower doesn’t go bankrupt financing risky missions like these.” Drinking his coffee, Frosty suddenly begins to feel a slight vibration in his skull, but oddly no notifications or alerts are populating in his HUD lenses. He bends his wrist to look at his ring computer to see if there are any issues, but stops suddenly. Slowly, he sees a small, thin blue line form in his HUD lenses, almost imperceivable. “Hmmm, strange, what is thi-?”, his question is suddenly interrupted when the blue line expands into a frantic haze and suddenly Frosty finds himself incapable of perceiving his surroundings. Richard went on, unnoticing: “Well...just, right now…in a few years: besides, they say there’s billions of dollars of just platinum alone, troves of potable water--not to mention all the rest--on that first rock we managed to set up on! Heck, maybe it will even be months, and you’ll see: we’ll be harvesting some of the most precious materials humankind even knows exist! Maybe more than we know exists!” The stores of precious minerals upon these asteroids are something we cannot ignore, but it was also impossible for Gordon to ignore the malfunction in his contact lens, ‘HUD.’ However, Frosty composed himself and continued on: “I just wished these damn robots worked a little better!” For the first time Gordon sounds excitable this morning. Perhaps the imperfection of mankind’s current technology had been placed upon his mind. “I fear we may have jumped the gun in our mass production of what seems to be inferior robotics. You know what happens when a society spends beyond their means.” “Yeah…I think we all do…Eh, we’ll see…I’m gonna grab a coffee. I’ll see you around big guy.” Slapping Frosty on the shoulder--a little stronger of a slap than Frosty’s weak body would absorb easily, the two men stoically suggest a goodbye to one another. Their companions in the arc-evator hadn’t interacted with them, as per usual, and the pair step out into the lobby of the office. The two men gestured to the folks left inside the elevator carriage, satirically communicating that it was ‘good visiting.’ Frosty looks stirred by the physicality, and Richard, smiling, seems a little impish as they continue on toward their respective stations. Frosty begins walking towards the office complex where he fulfills his duties as a Stratego, a high level administrator of the tower, only stopping for the briefest of moments to turn around and offer a casual wave to Richard. Richard returns the gesture with a smile; “have a great day, Gordon!” Richard knows that Gordon is now, inevitably, going to consider his own softening frame, and Richard felt that it was a little bit his duty to make that so. Whatever gets him on the exercise machine. Frosty’s train of thought is interrupted by a reminder from his HUD lenses: [Reminder: you are now 5 minutes late for work. Please head to your terminal station and login as soon as possible.] With a slight sigh, he turns from the arc-evator platform and begins walking past the many interchangeable faces meandering through the primary access causeway and into the tower administration offices. State officials, emissaries, imperial delegates, bureaucrats, lawyers, managers...all of them seemed to blend together into a single amorphous blob after staring at the scene long enough. As he continues his thought, Frosty walks into his office after giving token acknowledgment to secretary what’s-her-name. He shuts the door, sits at his desk for a moment fixing his eyes straight ahead at the wall, ignoring the notification indicators on the large, paper-thin monitor in front of him that serve as portends of the day's work to be done. Frosty enters onto his computer log-in screen. His contact lens blinks white light, the computer recognizes his retinal signature. He sits at his desk, enduring boredom. After a short pause, he activates the monitor and syncs the input source to the computer processors and discrete GPU in his ring. Long has it been since people were required to possess separate processing devices for their technological needs; phones, tablets, desktops, laptops, holographic interfaces, et cetera. Now all one needs is a visual input device like a monitor or HUD lenses and one’s computer ring can seamlessly interface and sync with it. ‘Elegance in simplicity.’ Especially when comparing it to the stone age of computing replete with SCSI adapters and bulky, unstandardized, and separate hardware components. Frosty began sorting through his messages and his calendar, his usual ritual for kickstarting his day at the office. Nothing out of the ordinary here: requisition orders, repair requests requiring attention throughout the lower levels, resource allocation spreadsheets needing to be reviewed and sent to the various supply depots in the tower superstructure. Suddenly, Frosty’s eyebrows raise as he glances at his calendar and realizes he has a lunch appointment with an old friend and colleague of his. “Andrianna,” he mutters to himself as he reviews the meeting details, “been a long time since we last spoke. Will be nice to see her again. Hope this is a personal meeting.”
Quoted from ‘Plato’s Laughter,’ by Sonja Madeleine Tanner
Ridicule has been substituted for a larger whole in Platonic scholarship, and by focusing on ridicule (in what little literature that does so), we have missed examples of laughter that lie beyond its narrow scope. Laughter in this book, then, is intended as a broader construal that encompasses a greater variety of comic and humorous phenomena. It includes not just instances of actual laughter among direct participants in the dialogues, but also jokes, humorous incidents, situations, characterizations, and language, aimed at a broader audience including the dialogue’s readers. Many of these occurrences do not provoke the dialogues’ participants to laugh aloud, but are instead left for the reader to discern and, perhaps, to find funny. Doing so requires sensitivity to laughter beyond ridicule as well as sensitivity to the dramatic dimensions of the dialogues.
Laughter in Aristophanes’s eleven surviving plays, composing as they do the only intact works of Old Comedy left to posterity, occurs in a variety of forms. Parody, satire, vulgar examples, stock comic characters, bawdy events, puns, and jokes join ridicule in Aristophanes’s various ways of eliciting laughter. When these occur in Platonic dialogues, such as Socrates’s repeatedly playing the comic role of “elderly schoolboy” dedicating himself to study with such dubious figures as Euthydemus and Callicles, there is substantial reason to believe that these may be comical rather than simply “serious” (or, for that matter, merely “ironic”) incidents. Just as we need not assume that anything comical that occurs in Aristophanes is a form of ridicule, we need not assume this in Platonic dialogues either.
The title of this book thus refers to occurrences—both actual and potential—of laughter in various forms in the dialogues. Actual occurrences of laughter in the dialogues are infrequent, but this is entirely consistent with laughter in Greek literature as a whole, where it is more often anticipated than actualized, and so an account of laughter must expand to accommodate this.3 Indeed, laughter can be intensified by being left out, or implied, as I will suggest happens in the Symposium, when the ostentatious Aristophanes undertakes an assortment of “cures” for his hiccups while the speeches in praise of eros proceed. Laughter may also be the appropriate response of another set of participants in the dialogues—their readers, or audience.4 This is where the concept of laughter becomes, perhaps, most difficult. How does one know what ought to induce laughter? Given cultural, social, and historical differences, how do we know what would have made a classical Greek laugh? These are very challenging questions, to this day. Laughter is not reducible to theory, to what one knows, but remains intractable.5 I cannot explain what is funny about something I laugh about by reference to an incongruity, or a sudden flash of feeling superior. Where actual laughter or explicit suggestions that something is ridiculous are omitted, the challenge is providing evidence that at least suggests, if not proves, laughter to be appropriate to the situation. I have taken a conservative approach to this challenge by using as a paradigm of laughter the slightly earlier, Attic literature written in large part to evoke just such a response: Old Comedy.
In Gordon Frosty’s work station, when he’s not in his office, he sits within an open room. Dozens of others sit at the ready, awaiting commands and individually carrying out various logistical components of running the Tower’s central military force. These men direct the spies, emissaries, public speakers, lobbyists and performers. The panel on his computer screen blinked just then, in a most curious way. “Huh? What’s this?” Gordon muttered to himself, nearly dropping his coffee. His station took on a life of its own. A small green box appeared at the upper left-hand corner of his monitor. Amazingly, hitting the space bar rapidly did nothing. He looked behind him. His eyebrow cocked in a quizzical expression, Frosty wasn’t sure if this qualified as an office gag, wondering quickly after if this was perhaps some powerful computer virus. The box was pixilated and archaic. The screen behind the box was blank, all black, as if it had been turned off completely, except for that lone, rectangular box, flashing on and off. He leaned back in his chair, looking behind him again in an even deeper confusion, and trying to see if anyone else’s terminals had undergone similar irregularities. Everyone was working at their terminals and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. “What’s going on here?” The green rectangle slid across the screen to the center of view. Behind him, a Commander patrolled, looking over Frosty’s shoulder, for a moment, and then promptly returning to his rounds. And then—
—An explosion of color, pixilated chaos—it was coalescing into something—an image.
“The Commander…He couldn’t see…” Was this really even happening? He wondered at it. Panic set in as he deduced that this image might have been transmitted directly into his contact lens. That would mean that a hacker had managed to directly link to his HUD screen—no, it wasn’t possible. No one was capable of doing that, were they? The tiny lens in his eye was directed by a simple computer, one capable of fitting into a ring on his finger. The processor was only capable of producing simple graphics, for things like keeping track of appointments, voice-mail messages–the date and time… and just as this skeptical thought had hit him…His office, his monitor, his ring and wrist, his thoughts and casual concerns and gripes, all of it has fallen away as his senses are obstructed in the overwhelming blue light.
A lush green planet appeared on screen. It was filled with exotic plants, vibrant rain-forest colors, rolling green hills, and an enormous mountain shaped like a volcano, miles in the distance. It just appeared there–onto his field of vision. Seemingly sprung up from some MS-DOS prompt, it was like nothing he had seen before. The image had remained restricted to his small computer monitor, for a moment but would soon overtake his sensation of vision and hearing altogether. His mouth hung open in utter bafflement. His coffee had dropped unnoticed as small yellow dinosaurs ran across his screen. His eyes wide, body rendered temporarily inoperable, he realized that this was a video of planet Earth, millions of years ago—well, at least a simulation of that time. These images were of a prehistoric time, when the dinosaurs roamed and the reptile mind had dominated. This was, once and for a very long time, a planet of bloody competition.
“This can’t be… some hacker, could it?” He reasoned to himself, “This is complex stuff… though the graphics are amazing, this is… definitely…not…actual footage.” Though it seemed an obvious observation, he felt that it was important it was said—if only to reassure himself. He was scared at first, but then a type of excitement went through him. He fluttered all around his rather expansive gut, with spirited little butterflies–but was he just imagining a scenario where he could answer the “are we alone in the universe” question, and be the hero? He boyishly fantasized for a minute what it would be like to play an integral part in that process.
Then again, none of this could be happening. Perhaps he had a brain tumor; perhaps he was dying–and this was a symptom, a hallucination. The next symptom. A hypochondriac in him reasoned, whispered things arduously, that this must be the case. However, Frosty was too sagacious a man not to explore further, even on a superstitious whim.
Before an organized man passes a careless diagnosis, Gordon would buckle up his uniform, and get his facts straight. He did the only thing he could do at the moment for digging out the root to this anomaly: he removed his contact lens. The picture disappeared. He put it back in, and the lush, wild, paradise returned for him alone to witness. Yes, it was indeed the lens.
Suddenly, Frosty is about to see shapes…things…creatures. The blue haze begins to lift and he finds himself viewing Earth, but not an Earth he knows. This place looks wild, untamed, and untouched by the volition of mankind. He sees exotic plants and trees, long extinct and alien looking in his modern world. He sees mountains, rivers, and streams, winding through the landscape without hint of human interference or settlement.
For some odd reason, rather than experiencing near-death by astonishment, Gordon found himself thinking about the practicalities in his career–of all things. As cosmic importances go, this might be a little lower on the totem pole–but one thing was, in fact, dominating his mind: the office setting itself was simply ‘junk’ in comparison.
Out of a bustle of trees an enormous creature emerges; a giant lizard, no…a dinosaur! Frosty marvels at the sheer size of the gargantuan beast, which stretches its neck casually upward to pluck and eat leaves from the trees lining the banks of a river. More creatures of its ilk join it, forming a small pack as pterodactyls soar overhead.
Something about being a bureaucrat changes you it seems, makes you become more bland, beige, standardized. A cog that is designed to perform as specific purpose among a myriad of other cold grey cogs,” he thinks to himself as he strolls casually through the long line of regulation-decorated cubicles and offices.
Frosty: “What does this make me, then?”,
Frosty: “A cog that is self-aware? A cog that understands and accepts its lot in life as a small constituent part of a greater whole?”
A hand landed on Gordon Frosty’s shoulder. Frosty lets loose a short, startled shout, as he feels a hand touch his arm, bringing him back to his office and desk. He jumped a bit in his chair. It was a young man, and part of the Soldier security force: Richard (the earlier acquaintance of Frosty). “I’m sorry, Stratego Frosty, sir,” the young man’s audibly worried voice says as Frosty’s eyes adjust once more to his surroundings. “What happened to your coffee, aye, Gordie?” The video had blinked away immediately, as if sensing the disturbance. He looks frantically around the room before fixing his eyes on the young man who is standing by his side. “I didn’t mean to disturb you sir, I saw the door was closed and knocked, but when I heard no reply, I thought you were out and wanted to leave you these,” the man gestures to the stack of reports under his arm. “I… oh, my coffee… I don’t know… must have knocked it off the table. I—I, uhm… Just an accident—thanks.” His face drained of color. He was trying to control his facial expression, but it was very noticeable that something had shaken Frosty. Questions were piling onto his mind. Though he was in a sense designed for questions (a Stratego), the hawk’s calculations were dominating the appearance upon Frosty’s sweating, panic-stricken face, and nothing was being answered. Frosty hesitated a moment, unsure of whether he was dreaming or not, before saying to the young man “thank you, that will be all….?” “Charles, sir,” the man replied sheepishly, “I’ve only been working under your department for a couple weeks now, so I’m not surprised you don’t recall my name. I’ll just leave these for you here. Sir, are you...all right? You look like you’ve seen a phantom or something.” “I’m fine, that will be all, Charles, thank you,” Frosty interrupted curtly while he gestures for the younger man to exit. Frosty stared ahead at the cup of coffee he had placed on the desk earlier. Sensing the tension in the room, Charles quickly leaves the office and closes the door behind him, stealing a quick glance at Frosty’s fixated gaze as he does so. “What the hell is going on today?” Frosty thought to himself as he struggled to process the imagery he had just witnessed. Richard smiled, observing his rather odd long-time friend. Frosty was always fretting over little things. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost, man. It’s just some damn coffee Frosty.” Gordon was trying to act very busy now, shuffling around some loose papers. “Oh, well, you know how frugal I like to be. Every ground counts!” The security officer smiled casually, reassured that the spilt coffee caused his unsettled demeanor. “Well, shoot, Gordie, I didn’t know you had such butter fingers.” Richard patted him on the back and, Frosty in turn comedically grabbed at his own protruding belly. “Must have been all that butter I ate for lunch.” The security officer paused with a genuine smile. It’s that classic Gordon Frosty wit again--that precious self-deprecating kind. “Butter sticks in the sack lunch, eh? And I bet you’ll still try to convince me that getting married wouldn’t be in your best interest.” Frosty felt sweat beading on his forehead. “Am I dreaming? That impact....that blinding flash and that calamitous explosion...those creatures.” Suddenly the how of the imagery became secondary concern for Frosty, he was intrigued and terrified much more by the prospect of the why. “The dream, or was it nightmare?, that it happened the night before...this vision of doom, and catastrophic events. What does it all mean? What could it all mean? Did someone drug my coffee?” He combed his thin hair over to the side, wiping away the loose moisture. Frosty jumps in his chair as his skull vibrates once more: [Reminder: you have a lunch appointment in 1 hour.] The security officer sighed, humorously, and then chuckled as he walked away. Frosty breathes a heavy sigh, steadies his nerves and continues his analysis. “No, no I remember my HUD lenses, they had some sort of malfunction and then...I was...elsewhere. But how was that even done?” The HUD lenses don’t have any native hardware and the ring computer has two-stage authentication and high level government encryption; it is no simple task to hack it. Hell, even if someone could, that still doesn’t explain the auditory and sensory stimulation; he felt that impact in his very bones. He stands up to leave his office. He had enough of this place. He felt like he was losing his mind.
Quoted from ‘Plato’s Laughter,’ by Sonja Madeleine Tanner
Laughter is an ambivalent force for the Greeks; powerful and life-affirming at times, but prone toward excesses and potentially devastating at others. Historically, it undergoes a philosophical change in Plato where Socrates suggests that being laughed at does not matter, whereas for many prior and contemporary tragic figures, the specter of being laughed at can be a fate worse than death.2 Socrates actively defuses laughter’s potency in this regard, and plays up its capacities to promote self-reflection and humility. What is to be feared, for Socrates, is not being laughed at, but lacking the self-knowledge that enables actions and beliefs that are ridiculous, or to be laughed at. Indeed, Socrates presents himself as a comic figure in a number of ways, participates in laughter, and repeatedly suggests himself (and others) to be, in some way, ridiculous. These are striking developments in the social function of laughter, but they are predicated on philosophical shifts in the meanings of laughter, meanings that elude us when we interpret the dialogues as strictly solemn.
Much has been written about Socratic irony, itself a kind of humor. Irony, however, tends to center on the rhetorical and the intellectual. Laughter can arise from a broader range of sources, including the physical, and itself constitutes a potentially corporeal, emotional, and intellectual reaction. It is not eirōneia (nor is it the Latinized irony) that describes the interlocutors’ boisterous jostling of each other on the bench in the opening of the Charmides. And the reaction Socrates describes is not one of ironic detachment from the situation, a sort of laughter from above, but is instead situated, physical, and involving “much laughter” (gelōta polun) (Charmides 155c). Even if we do not go quite as far as Kierkegaard, who deems irony “infinite, absolute negativity,” irony carries with it negative, empty, and destructive connotations that need not be associated with laughter.1 Laughter is more robust and capable, as I will argue, of addressing a fuller range of gelastic occurrences in the Platonic dialogues than is generally recognized.
Introduction [Plato] was so modest [aidemon] and well-regulated [kosmiois] that he was never once seen to laugh excessively [gelon huperagan … komikon]. —Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers Plato is funny. This single conviction immediately puts me and this book at odds with the bulk of almost two millennia of Platonic scholars and literature. It has, with some regularity, raised eyebrows. This book is, in a sense, a defense and explication of this conviction. I am not trying to make the reader laugh, nor am I suggesting that Plato was a comedian, especially not a comedian instead of a philosopher. What I am trying to suggest is that Plato frequently uses and incorporates the comic and laughter in his dialogues in philosophically meaningful ways that have thus far generated scant attention. What have we missed by neglecting these? What if we have simply failed to hear Plato’s laughter? There are a number of ways of answering this question. For one, I will argue that we have overlooked an exuberance in the dialogues that is not necessarily tied to ideological commitments, and that is often missing in how we read Plato and perhaps in our very comportment to philosophy itself. For another, I will argue we have missed all conceptions and uses of laughter other than the one type of laughter that is commonly thought to be recognized by “Plato”: derisive or malicious laughter. In addition, we find instances of what we today might term slapstick, playful joking, farce, parody, plays on words, and satire.
If Socrates is indeed some form of a comical hero, what follows from such a presentation? Socrates plays the comic hero to prove that laughter can and ought to be directed at oneself, and at remedying one’s lack of self-knowledge. The laughter provoked by this is self-directed laughter, and it is through playing the comical hero that the character Socrates helps to establish such laughter. Plato’s Socrates develops a novel, but not entirely unprecedented, conception of laughter in the process.
But this brings up a further puzzle: given Socrates’s allusions to and comparisons with heroes, what kind of hero behaves as Socrates does in the Apology? In other words, what sort of hero is Socrates?
The Apology is exemplary in putting not just Socrates, but philosophy itself, on trial. As Sallis writes, “his defence speech will itself constitute an exemplification of that very practice against which the accusations have been brought.”6 That practice, as the Apology represents it, is infused with comedy. Greene writes that “The Apology is a comic justification of the life lived in the spirit of comedy—the exposure of pretension—at the behest of a god: surely this is piety! The unpopularity of Socrates arises from the fact that the public has no sense of humor …”7 Socrates dramatically exposes the pretension of the jurors voting to convict, exposing their pretense to judge, rather than merely to react emotionally. He does this by giving them something to react to: a marvelous display of comic insolence and philosophical tenacity that is, in and of itself, shocking coming from someone whose life hangs in the balance. It is, however, a display perfectly consistent with the modus operandi of Socrates’s life and practice as “lived in the spirit of comedy.” Greene’s claim is itself provocative: should the jurors have laughed at Socrates rather than sentence him to death? If so, is this the proper response to the Apology for us readers as well?
In discussing forensic rhetoric, or the type of persuasion used in the courtroom, Aristotle articulates the key modes: persuasion may be achieved by the use of argument (logos), by appealing to the audience’s emotions (pathos), or by evincing a favorable persona (ethos).8 Aristotle is clear about the persuasive power of the latter two: “Particularly in deliberative oratory, but also in lawsuits, it adds much to an orator’s influence that his own character should look right and that he should be thought to entertain the right feelings towards his hearers; and also that his hearers should be in just the right frame of mind.”9 The person who lacks these “right feelings” runs punitive risk, according to Aristotle: “When people … feel friendly to the man who comes before them for judgment, they regard him as having done little wrong, if any; when they feel hostile, they take the opposite view.10 These passages are helpful in striking the contrast between Aristotle’s insight and Socrates’s remarkable performance in the Apology to the contrary. Socrates makes explicit that he will not appeal to the audience’s emotions, but in a way, he does just that. By evincing a persona so contrary to what the jury expects, Socrates evokes their anger. For Aristotle, the emotions of the jury or audience changes dependent on the orator’s disposition: “our anger ceases toward those who humble themselves … We also feel calm towards those who are serious when we are serious …”11 Instead of humbling himself, Socrates does the opposite. Rather than appreciating the gravity of his situation, Socrates makes light of it. By demonstrating the effects of what are perceived as the wrong feelings by a majority of his audience, Socrates shows the extent to which emotions can override the faculty of judgment. Those voting for conviction are not judges for Socrates, as evidenced by his varying addresses to those who voted to convict him (“men of Athens”) and those who voted to acquit (the more customary address of “judges”).12 They are emotional responders, convicting on the basis of perceived slights and their own anger, on pathē rather than on the basis of logos.
Whether Socrates himself is committed to such a view or whether he is countering Laches’s definition to undercut Laches’s confidence and expose his ignorance may be ambiguous, but the issue does not remain merely theoretical in the dialogues. In the Symposium, Alcibiades praises Socrates’s courage, giving a vague example of how he saved Alcibiades’s life and retrieved his shield, even though it was Alcibiades who received the medal for bravery (Symposium 220e). Alcibiades says that Socrates saved him and his shield, a shield that is described elsewhere as being made of gold and ivory and depicting Eros about to hurl one of Zeus’s thunderbolts.35 But Alcibiades then gives witness to Socrates’s courage as exemplified by how Socrates retreated from battle at Potidaea, quoting directly from Aristophanes to describe Socrates’s comical withdrawal. Alcibiades’s encomium presents Socrates as a hero, but there are clearly various models to choose from. Just what sort of hero is Plato’s Socrates? The implicit comparison between the dashing Alcibiades, fighting on horseback, and the ugly—even comical—Socrates on foot who saves him, echoes another fragment of Archilochus. I don’t care for your tall general, with his long stride and long hair in locks and beard well trimmed. Show me a stocky man bandy-legged, sure of foot, full of heart.
Socrates is this stout warrior to Alcibiades’s dashing general. Like the comical hero, Socrates represents pragmatic over more strictly aesthetic values. As Alcibiades describes him, Socrates is the hero deserving recognition rather than Alcibiades himself. Socrates’s courage in retreat enables him to save not only Alcibiades, but his beautiful shield as well, seemingly left behind to hasten a retreat, saving him both from the battlefield and the ensuing ill repute stemming from rhipsaspia. Unlike the Archilochean hero, Socrates not only keeps his own shield and his honor, he ensures that his beautiful, young friend does as well. To the extent that a hero’s reception determines what sort of hero she or he is, Socrates is akin to an Archilochean comical hero. He provokes emotions comparable to those elicited by Archilochus’s hero, who abandons his shield, caught in the brush, to flee the battle with his life. Against conventional values, Socrates induces anger and outrage, and so appears comical. Because of this, and quite to the opposite effect, Socrates turns his into a capital trial and loses his life. One might take this to suggest that Socrates appears to be comical only in the perspective of the jurors voting to convict him, but it is not solely his reception that shows his resemblance to a comical hero in the Apology. He shares a great deal else in common with heroes of Old Comedy.
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