I know you shouldn’t laugh at your own jokes, but this – my first ever Philosophy Essay, submitted on 27th April, 1999 – still cracks me up. The assignment was to respond to The Lier’s Paradox by arguing for one of four possibilities (it’s true, it’s false, it’s neither true nor false, it’s both true and false)
To The Editor
With regard to the headline of your recent article (The Problem of the Lying Cretan) I wish to make it clear to your readers that I take great exception to the assertion that the esteemed actor Epimenides (of Crete) is a liar.
When he made the statement “I am (now) lying” Epimenides was not lying. He was expressing himself with poetic licence. This rhetorical device has been used since the days of Aeschylus to great effect in poetry and drama. Epimenides, comsummate artist as he is, instinctively incorporates it into his improvisation.
According to your literal interpretation, when Epimenides said “I am (now) lying” he was stating a fact, and a fact is by definition true, in which case he was lying. By this reasoning it is also possible to say that if he was telling the truth, then the statement was false, that is, it could not have been a fact.
If Epimenides spoke the truth, and was lying as you say, then his statement must be both true AND false. However, it is impossible to speak truthfully and tell a lie at the same time (a lie being an intentionally false statement and the opposite to telling the truth). Therefore, his statement could not be both true and false.
This being the case, the statement must be neither true nor false. But this is equally impossible for the same reason, that one cannot lie and speak truthfully at the same time. So if Epimenides was stating a fact, we are left with the ridiculous paradox that his statement was both true and false, or neither true nor false.
When Shakespeare’s Hamlet utters the words “I am dead, Horatio” (Hamlet, Act V sc ii), he is not actually dead. If he were he would be unable to speak at all. Yet he is speaking sincerely, without intent to deceive. It would appear that the statement: “I am dead, Horatio” is not literally true, it is not a ‘fact’, but when spoken truthfully in the circumstances of his status and condition, states a higher Truth – the Truth, in fact, that his aspirations, intentions, and princely potential are finished, along with his life. The words epitomise the desolation of the moment at the climax of the play. As the distinguished Scots theatre director Tom Fleming stated with reference to a similar line in Macbeth (Boy: “He has killed me, Mother”, Act IV Sc ii), it is not a lie. It is poetic licence.
Of course, Hamlet is a fictitious character, played by an actor who has not be poisoned and stabbed. A fictitious character cannot be really dead, since he was never really alive. The actor who portrays him is pretending, creating an illusion of a character who never existed anyway. Therefore when he makes the statement, “I am dead, Horatio” it is not, in truth, a matter of fact.
Yet if Hamlet’s words could not, given the same or similar circumstances, be spoken by any one of us, then Shakespeare has failed as a dramatist. Had he failed we would not still be watching productionas of his plays, especially Hamlet. He succeeds because his characters do speak for us, expressing our deepest desires and sorrows, only with greater effect. Shakeaspeare’s skill lies in the way he uses langfuage, and one of the devices he uses is poetic licence – the freedom allowed to writers in regard to grammatical construction, and to the use of facts, “especially for effect” (Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary, 3rd ed.  p. 1035).
When Epimenides said “I am (now) lying”, like Hamlet he was referring to a greater truth than the literal meaning of the words. He was engaged in the telling of a tall tale which grew taller by the minute, until he reached the point where his remark “I am (now) lying” was the epitome of exaggeration. Just as Hamlet’s use of the present tense (I am) heightens our awareness of the wasteful tragedy of his death, so Epimenides’s “I am” heightens our awareness of the gargantuan nature of his fabrications, and of our complicity in them. Hamlet’s “dead” overwhelms us with the inevitability of loss. Epimenides’ “lying” generates universes of make-believe. “I am dead” in Hamlet’s mouth makes us aware of our own mortality in a moment of catharsis. “I am lying” slipping from Epimenides’ tongue awakens us to the vitality of our own imagination and playfulness.
Thus Epimenides was not lying. He was speaking truthfully, through the device of poetic licence, expressing in the fewest possible words not so much a simple daxt as the great truth of humanity’s endless capacity for invention.
Apallina of Athens
This was the tutor’s response:
“Excellent work, Flloyd. An immensely entertaining (and highly original) essay, that incorporates argument alive precision and clarity within its imaginative format. Well done!”
The final performance (for now) of The Fall of June Bloom (or What You Will) took place at 7 pm on Sunday night, 3rd April, at the Phoenix Fringe Festival. The house was just over half full, but it seemed more, it’s such a tiny venue Space 55. It only seats around 36-40, and a few empty seats here and there don’t seem to matter.
The big guns were in. David Barker, Professor of Acting at ASU, and two guys from the Fringe Festival. Angela (our director for the Phoenix production) brought her mother, and Zack, the MFA student who had been at the VASTA conference in 2009, the one who suggested that the production would be a real treat for students if presented to them as a lecture, had come along all primed to come up when invited to do a short passage from a Shakespeare monologue. Sadly, when the moment came, I completely forgot to invite him up! Sorry, Zack!
One thing that has been relatively consistent throughout all the performances, both in Brisbane and in Phoenix, has been audience engagement. For the most part people laugh, smile, or listen intently. The Phoenix audiences were larger than in Brisbane – I don’t think we ever had more than 12 people in the audience in Brisbane, whereas we had 15 to 25 in Phoenix, and in a smaller space so they would have felt less exposed. The Phoenix audiences were also much more prepared to look me in the eye, and to respond. I could look at just about anyone, and they would look back, whereas in Brisbane many people (especially non-actors) either avoided eye contact or refused to maintain it.
The difference at the final performance was that David Barker, who arrived about 10 minutes late and sat in the front row, just looked at me impassively throughout the whole performance. He never smiled (that I noticed), nor did he ever give any indication that he was interested in the discussion, or the ideas expressed. This only became truly relevant to me when I met him the following day at the Phoenix Film Festival schools workshop. He came up to me and thanked me for working with Lauren (one of his students), asked me how she was to work with, and whether I had written the script. That was it. In my book, that is code for “I didn’t like it much, and your performance did not appeal to me either”. He probably only came because of Lauren, which is fair enough, and was only interested to check that I hadn’t been taking advantage of her, or teaching her bad habits.
So there you have it. All the people who stopped me on the way out after each of the three performances to thank us effusively, to congratulate both Lauren and me on our performances, to admire the production and the ideas expressed just evaporate into the “foul and pestilent congregation of vapours” that hovers, uninvited, close by, while the one mean-spirited response (or lack of) lights up like a ‘brave o’er-hanging firmament fretted with golden fire”.
What IS that? You’d think I’d be able to control it better, after all these years. I claim to be non-competitive yet I am unable to accept being anything less than the best there is. I know I’m not, by a long chalk, but I keep on hoping that somehow, some day, I will suddenly emerge as this great actor! Of course, I work at it. I don’t expect to get any better at it without actually putting in the hard yards, doing the training, exploring, experimenting, engaging with the craft, developing my skill set. The problem seems to be an old one. I get above myself. I don’t realise I’m doing it until I find myself being cut down to size.
|From New Album 14/03/11 2:21 PM That’s Angela Giron, me and Lauren Dykes, the Phoenix division of Thunder’s Mouth Theatre.|
So what does that mean – to get above myself? How is that even possible?
I think I am playing the good old Aussie game of hunting down the Tall Poppy. The rules are that nobody must stand out, or appear to be higher, smarter, richer, prettier, or anything-at-all-er more than anybody else. If they are, they must be cut down. I refuse to play this game against other people, but boy am I terrified of being perceived as being a Tall Poppy myself! Hence my real claim to fame, my actual expertise that qualifies me as a genuine Tall Poppy, is in the area of self-sabotage. I’m the Best!