A Funny Story

Translator’s Preface:

Gallant readers, I found this script while I was studying in the basement of Bass Library yesterday. Someone left it in a copy of Edmund Burke’s Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful. The patterns of irony should tell you that nothing is sublime or beautiful about the script. I translated it from Biblical Hebrew to English, Spanish, and French, because I thought that after I finished, I would see some merit in the text that had not come through in the original Hebrew. After all, nothing can compete with the Bible in its own language. (In my desperate fervor to find something worthwhile in the script, I forgot that English, Spanish, and French are the languages of Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Montaigne.)

Needless to say, irony and fortune conspired against nature on this matter, and the script was as unpleasant in those other languages as it was in the original. The script is filled with jokes and parodies, but nothing about it is funny; the text itself is a meanspirited offering to the altar of Irony, and Irony, in its own ironic way, placed this fourth-rate text in Burke’s sublime book as thanks for the offering; the writer must have been truly, helplessly bitter, solipsistic, and self-indulgent, to write a comedy sketch without a shred of comedy or sketch!

But the script has a few clever double entendres, and you might get something out of reading it if (I) hardship and suffering oppress you, and you want to feel like you are better than someone else (viz. the writer); (ii) you have run out of books to read and need something else to distract you from your mortality; (iii) you want to learn how to write by reading an example of everything that you should not do in writing. (N.B. I think—with Confucius and Xunzi—that you are better off working from positive examples than from negative ones, but I trust your judgment.) Those reasons are enough for me to publish it, Illustrious Readers.

I have not added footnotes or other comments, because you will take more pleasure in the little that is worthwhile in the manuscript if you descry it yourself.


Character sheet:

Tom: a staid Yalie and FroCo, bound for an illustrious career in investment banking; or, a Yale senior who hardly tries

Quietus: a dandyish Yale senior; or, an immigrant from cuckooland; or, a Yale senior who tries hard and hardly tries

John: a Yale junior who tries hard

Scene: Bass Library, Study Room L30B

[Enter Tom, John, and Quietus.]

Tom: Expelled?

John: If I cannot finish this problem set by noon tomorrow—

Quietus: “Let heaven kiss earth.” Let the spirit of Cain reign in all breasts, let man overcome himself, let self-overcoming beget wisdom, and wisdom beget death, and death life, and life chefs, and chefs food, and food surfeiting, and surfeiting nausea, and nausea quiescence, and quiescence quiet, and quiet honesty, and honesty honestly finishing your work!

John: I will be a—

Tom: Grave man!

Quietus: Grave man! See, I knew that Tom would make that joke, so I did it before he could.

Tom: I think that the reverse is true. But to come to our darker purposes—I have an interview with Goldman Sachs in the morning. Before then, I have to write a ten-page paper on the use of the word “nothing” in King Lear.

Quietus: See, when I was in Mongolia—and I’m going for a backpacking trip in Myanmar next year, a trip to which I have deigned to invite you all—this scholarly quorum—the name doesn’t matter—asked me to talk about the crepuscular and the dilucular—I know that I’m boring you—I mean, give a talk and present a dissertation about “twilight” in the Iliad and the Odyssey. See, those were the types of people who focused on—item the side-effects of an endoscopy delivered with a tube inserted into Nero’s rectum on his gullet; item the oratorical similarities of primary symbological accounts of ritual practices shared by the Jainists and medieval Christian scholastics and how those similarities redound to moral objectivism; item the size of Cleopatra’s nose while she applied the fatal asp to her breasts and how many cherubs could fit inside that nose—much unlike our American scholars, who would launch harangues about the cultural, economic, and sexual associations of twilight and forget about Homer. The point: “a man may fish of the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm,” so you should stop yapping and do your work.

Tom: The end of his discourse forgets the beginning.

John: I will be dead, or worse, dismissed from Yale. Then a capella will be the least of my worries. That is, if I am dismissed from Yale, because if I die, I expect the rest of my singing group to join me in the other place. I should have taken this course Credit-D-Fail.

Tom: I thought you said that you would start “getting your shit together” with CS50, and I think that you used all of your Credit-Ds last year.

John: How can I get my shit together if I have managed to lose so much of it in my a capella group’s practice room, some when I was taking Professor Kagan’s Intro to Ethics, some when I was watching a good comedy sketch, some when I was suffering through The Blair Witch Project, some when I was rushing to practice yesterday and fell down a flight of stairs in my entryway, some at McDonald’s the other day, some when I was working at the Economist’s headquarters in England over last summer, some when I was waiting for the Yale Shuttle in front of the Loria Center last week, some when I saw that some fool had left a Yale Dining bowl filled with molding meat on my suite’s bathroom’s sink, most of it because someone stole my bike on my way to Bass tonight—

Tom: I know that Q is burning to interrupt you and remind us that we are stupid for postponing our work and should feel bad, so I’ll stop your rant. Speaking of interruptions, I remembered that I have to give a twenty-minute presentation with the paper.

John: A twenty-minute presentation, and on “nothing.”

Tom: What can come of nothing? If I skip my interview tomorrow, will that “nothing” convince Goldman to hire me?

Quietus: Quietus.

John: John.

Tom: No, John, “quietus” means “quit,” or “discharged [of what one owes],” in medieval Latin. In this context, I think that our philologopher is asking us to relax. Either to relax or to die, but if it makes you feel better, Quietus isn’t your name. Q has explored infinite ways to die, having learned from Montaigne that life is practice for death.

Quietus: To die and to die are different matters.

Tom: Yes. You will die from living but will never live from dying.

Quietus: Unless I, like a crab, can go backwards.

Tom: Yes. You would live from death and end your life in your father’s crotch. Come, come, enough of this nonsense. Quietus: you will not be quietus anymore if you stop doing your work well in advance. John: if you insist on turning yourself into a parody of a student, I will give you an appropriately imposing and parodic name, like Johannes or Jonathus.

John: Easy for you to say. How could you pontificate to freshmen if you did not have your plans in order?

Tom: Being a FroCo is no joke. The truth is—

Quietus: You have done it, John.

Tom: They pontificate to me more than I can pontificate to them.

John: This is the strangest tale that ever I heard.

Quietus: The truth is, Tom and his freshmen were napping in Tom’s suite after a harsh night—of rejections and recycling each other’s breaths, I mean—at Toad’s. Tom woke up and decided to lecture them about responsible drinking. Having planned to rebuke Tom for his irresponsibility days before, the freshmen woke up too, and they started their harangues at the same time. Their complaints lasted about one hour, with the due back-and-forth of the prosecution and the defense, and the faint, distinct noises from the party two floors below were the jurors, and the complaints ended only because Tom’s suite-mates said that they would throw him out of the window if he interrupted their lovemaking—sorry, hangovers—sorry, procrastination—sorry, debates about epicureanism, the pleasure principle, and the “Dionysian worldview”—sorry, sound sleeping. And the judge of their proceedings? There is only one judge, videlicet, the Demiurge.

John: Tom.

Tom: I don’t sleep with freshmen.

I sleep only with myself. Well, so much for that. John, don’t post my words on Overheard at Yale, at least not without the proper contexts. Did you not tell me that you have to submit a thirty-page research paper by two in the morning? The time passes midnight.

John: I would not do it if I wanted to. I have sworn off social media. I use only Buzzfeed, Netflix, and e-mail. Quora and TVTropes sometimes, because I like tropes, I like memes, I like reading sophisticated intellectual discussions, I like hearing about the acoustics of a capella, I like reading about Buddhism and Shintoism, and Mongolians, and Genghis Khan, and the Daoists and Confucians, and Legalists, and pandas, and the Yellow River, and the Cultural Revolution, and the Legend of the Monkey King, and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Tom [to Quietus]: Conceit upon your plans for next summer.

Quietus [aside]: Lost indeed in conceit. But here it comes.

John: Wait, a thirty-page paper? That’s right! Damn. I need peace. I have not been angry at Yale until this instant. I need quiet.

Tom: Do you need a quietus?

Quietus: I have a bodkin.

John: Bodkin?

Quietus: Bodkin.

John: Why a bodkin?

Quietus: Wherefore a bodkin?—answer the question.

John: My quietus with a bodkin. Take away the fool, gentlemen, he says he knows not what. No, no, I’m the fool. But I suppose that we are all fools here. Whatever happens to me, remember that I was here and that I had fun at Yale. The rest is silence.

Tom and Quietus: A noble end indeed!