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The Time Traveler’s Dinner Party

Friday Five, a few days late, from the evil mind of… oh, gee, that’s my question:

You’re given a chance to use a time machine to snatch five historical personages and bring them to the twenty-first century. Perhaps you’re saving them from their awful fates in history, or perhaps just picking them up for teatime and a Saturday night dinner party. The catch is, there’s a problem with the time machine and a possibility that you will need to house all of them in your living space for a few days, pehaps up to a week. So they’d better get along. Which five historical personages would you pick up, with good faith that they would play well with the others, and what would you expect each to contribute to the evening of merriment?

Hmm, this is a hard, hard question. (That’s not why I’m late, by the way: the weekend was just very busy… but I might have been late anyway, given the difficulty of the question.) I’m not sure but I’ve been reading a lot lately and I think the following party would be somewhat interesting.

The problems I see for making parties work have to do with language and conversation, so the first possible list I’ve devised assumes no translation system, be it technological or human, is available. So everyone on this list is an anglophone.

  1. Oscar Wilde, for his sparkling wit and conversational skills.
  2. ee cummings, because he was also literary and interesting and I think he and Wilde could have had some interesting debates about things, yet also kept things snappy, funny, and cool.
  3. Lord Byron, George Gordon, to split cummings and Wilde apart when they got down to fisticuffs or pillowfights, and to inject still more wit and humor into the evening.
  4. Charles Darwin, mostly because I’d love to hear him tell stories from his voyages on The Beagle, and because I think he and cummings would have gotten along somewhat, and that he and cummings would have had some interesting talks.
  5. This woman whose name I forget, whose diaries provide a picture of daily life in Hong Kong in the 19th Century, leading up to the Opium War. (I’ll have to look it up at home.) Not only would she be one of the more interesting British women of the 19th century, but she could, I think, hold her own with the likes of Byron and Darwin.

My second list assumes nothing of the linguistic limitations underpinning my previous list:

  1. Confucius. I’d like to see how the guy really acted, which I suspect was probably with a little more flexibility and grace than he is portrayed as having in the contemporary mind. I think his comparing notes with some of the other guests on this list would be fascinating too.
  2. Socrates. This guy shouldn’t have died from hemlock, damn it. And I think he and Confucius could have had a grand old time comparing notes.
  3. Judas Iscariot. Judas is the proof that even well-intentioned humans can do bad things, like sell out their friends when the political stake looks big enough. Judas is the embodiment of the threat of human passion and conviction in the face of all that our best philosophers call us to, and I would snatch him up sometime just after he thre away the silver, give him some time to think things over, and then have him come to the party and be the, “Yeah, but,” man of the evening.
  4. Michel Foucault would be another, “Yeah, but, man…!” speaker in the party, and I think he and Confucius would especially have some interesting discussions, if they could hold back the urge to strangle one another. I think Socrates would probably get between them and bridge things nicely.
  5. Karl Marx. I wanted to say Kierkegaard, young Kierkegaard who was full of doubt and questions, but I think Marx would liven up the party more. If I wanted someone whose dirty stories could make things fun, okay, then I’d get Augustine; what joy I get from Kierkegaard is from his writing itself, less than from him. But I think Marx’s mind, meeting Socrates’ and Confucius’ and Foucault’s and Iscariot’s, would come up with some fascinating things to say.

But wait, that’s more like a philosophical symposium, and there’s no way to know whether these guys would actually get into philosophy during the space of a single dinner party. So let me think, who do I think would make an interesting party, in terms of good conversation, wit, thoughtfulness, and good times with a bottle of decent wine? Let me mix and match bits of both lists, and then some.

  1. Lord Byron. The wit and all, you know. Irresistible choice.
  2. Confucius. I think he’d be the unwitting straight man for a lot of Byron’s jabs, but I think he could also hold his own in a battle of wits if Confucius could edge Byron into anything serious.
  3. Ezra Pound, because I’d love to see how Confucius would totally disagree with all the weird readings Pound has put into his work, all the strange connections and so on. I’d make sure Confucius knew Pound’s work before the party, so they could talk about it.
  4. Malcolm X, because I think he’d be interesting to talk with, interesting to be around, interesting for these other guys to see. X would be a shock to Confucius, a refutation of what one assumes Byron (like so many of his contemporaries) assumed he knew about black Africans, and would also be a challenge to a lot of Pound’s ideas, especially his mystical sense of the way history was and is headed. He wouldn’t be into the wine, but that’d be alright, I suppose.
  5. Bill Hicks, because he’d be down with Malcolm in some ways, against him in others, and I think he’d tell everyone in which ways they were full of shit (while remaining blissfully out of touch with how whacked-out certain huge chunks of his own belief system were also messed up beyond belief).

Well, I guess that’s a long and roundabout answer, but anyway, I finally came up with something. Now, to go see what everyone else answered. If you want to do the same, the links are in the sidebar under “friday five”…

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