by Andrew Gretes
The headline read: “ECCENTRIC TRILLIONAIRE OPENS CONTROVERSIAL ZOO OF DEAD PHILOSOPHERS.”
The article explained how Yvette Jocasta Remington III (i.e., our eccentric trillionaire) purchased the world’s leading cloning company so she could genetically resuscitate caput philosophers. To quote Yvette: “I find philosophers sexy, in a neurons in a cranial hot-tub sort of way.”
The article ended, “Think Jurassic Park… but togas.”
Within three months, ticket prices plummeted from four to two digits. Waiting for René Descartes to emerge from his seventeenth century canopy-bed so he could begin his skeptical calisthenics… it wasn’t for everyone.
They called it “Socratic Park.” The complex was built on the eastern shore of Delaware and was part of a larger movement to remind citizens that Delaware existed. The park consisted of a series of transparent habitats (i.e., barns), each tailored and decorated to the historical needs of individual tenants.
Did we go? Of course we went. We were philosophy graduate students. We would sell our souls to the god of fallacies for the opportunity to quibble with our heady heroes.
We did our best to refrain from asking questions like… (1) Even if it was possible to extract enough of Aristotle’s genetic sequence to perform a successful cloning, how did Yvette Jocasta Remington III find Aristotle’s unmarked bones? (2) Even if bone-detectors existed, what frequency would be effective for locating abnormally dense dialectical deposits on skeletons?
We knew, at best, they were clones. At worst, a hoax. At ugly, a psychology experiment to test the pathetic gullibility of those destined to spend their adult lives paying off college debts.
Diogenes the Cynic was a fan-favorite. He bit into onions like they were apples and moaned out aphorisms while masturbating. We cheered, “Do the barrel! Do the barrel!” and he reached out his hands, palmed our money, and climbed into a trash-canister like Oscar the Grouch.
A nearby plaque explained how ancient philosophers were prone to typos and elisions in their chemical sequence, making donors a necessity to repair genetic manuscripts that were written Before the Common Era. According to the plaque, Diogenes was spliced with select paragraphs of David Bowie and Salvador Dalí’s DNA before being fermented in a culture of amino acids and coffee.
Friedrich Nietzsche was housed in a glass shed at the bottom of a rubber mountain. The summit of the mountain was perennially dusted with fake snow—potato flakes, white dye, polymers.
We paid extra to hike with “Fred” (he despised the Teutonic ring of “Friedrich”). Some of us even worked up the courage to share our academic papers with our mustachioed idol, reading out passages in which we gave careful (i.e., hairsplitting) analysis of Fred’s unpublished works.
Fred laughed so hard we saw his uvula. He said, “Wow, you didn’t understand a fucking word, did you?”
The first explosion was at the “existential” enclosure: a replica of a postwar French café. The café boarded Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir as they sipped on apricot cocktails and scribbled the meaning of life on madeleine-embroidered napkins.
The shattering of glass and the sudden fog of tear-gas was abrasive but not alarming.
Ever since the park opened, activists had been threatening to stage a prison break for the cloned inmates of Socratic Park.
We took cover in the foam cave of the Zen master, Bodhidharma. We waved hello to the bushy-eyed sage to no avail. A nearby plaque read: “According to legend, the only way disciples could get Bodhidharma’s attention was by lopping off an arm. Blood loss, shock, and fainting meant you were teachable.”
We huddled and listened to the eloquent chaos outside. The whole ordeal sounded like a seminar on the storming of the Bastille.
Bodhidharma didn’t say a word. He just stared at a crack in the foam wall with the intensity of an enlightened voyeur. It was difficult not to believe this crack contained the entirety of existence—the whole cosmic caboodle—the geometry of the universe all condensed into one inexhaustible dot.
Socrates refused to leave. He sat down with protestors and compared our legal system to parents who deserve, at best, civil tantrums.
Others, like Hegel and Heidegger, hightailed it.
Disarray gained momentum.
By the time the sun set, Socratic Park was a multimillion-dollar ghost town.
A general excitement spread among our numbers. We started thinking finally, philosophy unleashed upon the world! It was only a matter of time before the public would understand the truly transformative power of these voracious thought-mongers!
But nothing happened. No revolutions. No manifestos. No dramatic quaffing of hemlock to protest our natural right to heckle and verbally accost our fellow citizens.
Critics complained, “If dinosaurs or lions or convicts or—hell—even economists were sprung loose upon the general public, something would’ve happened…”
Half of us were crestfallen.
One of us blogged, “It finally dawned on me that philosophy is as shitty as the element Argon. Even when the door to its cage is flung open, it refuses to mingle with the rest of the periodic chart. It just sits there, all high and mighty, like the other noble gases, full of quietude and hot air.”
A number of us dropped out of graduate school and sought occupations in waste management and pest control.
Then it happened…
A journal titled The Daily Aporia made digital waves. The masthead of the journal claimed to be our lost philosophers, at least nominally.
It was the kind of journal that eschewed articles. Instead, it exclusively featured baroque 400-600 word headlines that read like Platonic dialogues on methamphetamines. Each headline was a ravaged word-scape of sentences engaged in civil war: subordinate clauses flanking independent clauses, while prepositional phrases declared mutiny and drafted constitutional asides.
A brief excerpt… “ECCENTRIC TRILLIONAIRE—ARE THERE HOMELY TRILLIONAIRES?—OPENS CONTROVERSIAL ZOO OF DEAD…WELL, NOT REALLY DEAD, THE PHILOSOPHERS IN QUESTION WERE TECHNICALLY CLONES, BUT ARE CLONES PERHAPS BEREFT OF THE ORGANIC HAPPENSTANCE THAT WE CALL LIFE? ALTHOUGH IT IS INTERESTING TO NOTE THAT WE ALREADY HAVE A WORD FOR CORPSE-ZOOS, MAINLY ‘CEMETERIES’, AND YET…”
The Aporia’s popularity started as a joke. Bemused readers sent links of headlines from traditional publications—e.g., The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic—and then juxtaposed these headlines with The Daily Aporia. It was like comparing the plump simplicity of blueberries to the Fibonacci grandeur of pineapples. People were jarred; laughter rattled out of diaphragms.
But something else rattled too. Our grip on the world got all Parkinson’s as a concept as seemingly simple as a title—a verbal handlebar—branched into something unwieldy and hopelessly elongated. The whole notion of a title became absurd. We couldn’t look at those old headlines anymore without imagining some bumbling editor trying to bottle an ocean into a thermos.
One of our more artistically-inclined members published a cartoon of a madman pacing about Times Square, waving an electric lantern, and chanting, “
God Titles are dead.”
But that wasn’t quite true. Titles just became less common. Like pocket-watches. Even the major publications started forgoing headlines altogether. Columns bled into columns like a collage of pictures shucked of their frames. The world was uncropped and none of us—philosophy student or not—could recover its predigested gloss.
Andrew Gretes is the author of How to Dispose of Dead Elephants (Sandstone Press, 2014). His fiction has appeared in New England Review, Willow Springs, Witness, Sycamore Review, and other journals.