The guiding principle of Six Ridiculous Questions is that life is filled with ridiculousness. And questions. That only by giving in to these truths may we hope to slip the surly bonds of reality and attain the higher consciousness we all crave. (Eh, not really, but it sounded good there for a minute.) It’s just. Who knows? The ridiculousness and question bits, I guess. Why six? Assonance, baby, assonance.
1. What would life be like as your evil twin?
The truth is that I am my evil twin, quite often. Well, as Jung might have admitted, “It’s not the shadow who suffers the hangover.” But since I have not, as Jung did, dreamt of God demolishing Basel Cathedral by defecating upon it from the heights of Heaven, I defer to him in matters of the shadow. My evil twin writes the novels, has the decent ideas, but doesn’t worry as much as I do.
2. Scenario: The following people are on Season 1000 of the television show Survivor, and yes, time travel and communication with the dead have both been perfected so…Nancy Pelosi, Jean Michel Basquiat, Hedy Lamarr, Thomas Jefferson, Jane Austen, Joan of Arc, Judy Garland, Angelina Jolie, Muhammad Ali, Marie Antoinette, Bob Marley, Socrates, Confucius, Yukio Mishima, JK Rowling, Cleopatra, Peter Dinklage, Queen Elizabeth I, and Kublai Khan. Who would be first voted off the island? Who would win? Would Jeff Probst still be the host? Please discuss in as much detail as you can bear.
Night vision footage will show Mishima and Socrates forming a kind of imperial fascist version of NAMBLA, breaking into the minifridge and recreating The Phaedrus, both greatly confused and provoked by the androgynous presence of Joan of Arc, who has surely picked up a few Bowie songs from Basquiat. Socrates, still somewhat freaked out from exposure to the natural sublimity of the island and a dozen Malibu miniatures, will suggest a suicide pact with Mishima and Cleopatra (Liz Taylor version), whom both men will enshrine as a kind of camp Eve with her asp beneath the apple tree cultivated by Thomas Jefferson.
Kublai Khan will “a stately pleasure dome decree” after making off with Basquiat’s opiates. Inside, freed from heavy drugs, Basquiat will form a new torch-ska band with Marley and Garland—this is all in the first episode, don’t you know? As the season progresses, Jefferson will court Nancy Pelosi with gifts of apples, until the tree is burned down in the immolation of Joan of Arc by Angelina Jolie who, Confucius says, is “just trying to be edgy.” Jolie will be voted off the island, not for burning Joan of Arc, but for making The Tourist with Johnny Depp, and for trying to adopt Peter Dinklage. Hedy Lamarr and Muhammad Ali continue to charm in their postmodern remake of Samson and Delilah, as the mid-season otherwise flags. Things pick up when Jefferson and Pelosi conspire to guillotine the “royalist pigs” Marie Antoinette and Elizabeth I.
This sets us up for the shocking finale, when Rowling and Austen—artfully kept apart for the entire season by the Machiavellian antics of Dinklage, whose on-screen moments are always accompanied by Basquiat, Marley, and Garland’s rude boy reggae—finally meet. Austen opens with “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that women cannot be friends on reality television.” Rowling says, “You’ll never pander to an audience like I can, Janet.” The band kicks in over a megalithic sound system, and the survivors join the kind of elaborate dance sequence so beloved of, as Dinklage remarks “cunting British period drama.” Austen, quietly confident, drifts close to her nemesis. We zoom in as Austen puts her mouth close to Rowling’s ear. “Actually,” she says, “I always saw Darcy as gay.” Rowling, noticeably green, dissolves like a witch under a bucket of water, as Judy Garland and the band play a rocksteady version of “Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead (and ting)”. The survivors cry out “Hail to Dinklage! The Wicked Witch is dead!” Finally, Garland clicks her red wedding heels together three times and everyone vanishes from the island, except Peter Dinklage, a fact justified because he was the only interesting character in Game of Thrones. Dinklage wins. Kansas-born Jeff Probst—you see how this works, right?—is retained to make that joke about how he doesn’t think we’re “in King’s Landing anymore.” Many “think pieces” will be written about this, none of them good.
3. If you were staffing a cartoon accounting firm made up of anthropomorphized animals, which species would you select to populate said firm (other than humans)? How about a teaching hospital? The public defender’s office? A university English department?
English departments are already run by anthropomorphized animals! You know me, I never weary of cats (except the Andrew Lloyd Webber blasphemy, of course). The truth is that cats are far better at herding humans than we are at herding them. They find that idiom risible. It’s just not a problem for them. Let the cats run things. How much worse could it get?
4. What’s one Greek myth you wish ended differently? How would you end it?
This is a difficult one, Kurt. I mean, if Sisyphus’ boulder had just stayed put at the summit, maybe Camus would have lived longer. And no one can sincerely regret Prometheus’ theft of fire. If Icarus’ waxen wings hadn’t melted and he had continued to “Set the Control for the Heart of the Sun” would Syd Barrett still have lost his mind? If Achilles had a friend who could have said, “Come on, Achilles, there’s plenty more fish in the sea,” the Iliad would be really short, and Odysseus wouldn’t have had his adventures, and he wouldn’t have blinded Polyphemus…that’s a really nasty scene…Hmm. In the end, however, they are what we are, so I’m going to take a pass on changing any of them, so as not to torment the ghost of Joseph Campbell.
5. You’ve become so famous they’re building a monument to you. And they want your input. (Yes, I know it’s awkward, but “they” insist. And you know when “they” get like this, you just can’t say no.) What would your monument be called? Where would it be located? What would it be built of? What would it look like?
I Imagine it would bear an uncanny resemblance to Basel Cathedral…
6. Do you think you got the job?
I hope not, but I thank you for your faith in me.
James Reich is the author of five novels, most recently the science fiction The Song My Enemies Sing (2018), Soft Invasions (2017), and Mistah Kurtz! A Prelude to Heart of Darkness (2016) published by Anti-Oedipus Press). He is the founder of Stalking Horse Press, and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. www.jamesreichbooks.com / www.stalkinghorsepress.com
Kurt Baumeister has written for Salon, Electric Literature, Guernica, The Weeklings, Entropy, The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus, The Good Men Project, and others. His debut novel, a satirical thriller entitled Pax Americana, was published by Stalking Horse Press in 2017. He is currently at work on a novel, The Book of Loki, and a hybrid collection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry entitled Superman, the Seven Gods of Death, and the Need for Clean, Romantic Poetry. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, or at www.kurtbaumeister.com.