On a Sunday morning in 2008, artist Seth Price arrived at his studio, swinging his MC-N012 50cc Moped Scooter into a parking lot at 38th Street Publishers. Sitting down at his desk, he wrote a hilarious fictional dialogue called For a Friend (Excerpt) to accompany the audio the 2007 audio piece “8-4, 9-5, 10-6, 11-7”. Midway through the dialogue, Price, chuckling to himself, made his two interlocutors debate how books related to stories, fiction and novels, by referencing, with a twist, Julius Caesar’s dying words to Brutus.
The early twenty-first century saw the rise of such evocation and manipulation of this iconic phrase by Caesar, first recorded in Plutarch, and thus in Greek, to be late Latinified in Shakespeare’s play. Not everyone know, Price thought, that Caesar spoke his dying words in Greek, I’m going to be too cool for school my using the French touché, you know, for the effect.
Little did Price know that on a Sunday morning in 2017, former White House strategist Steve Bannon would wake up in his own vomit and his sweatpants, smug and happy with himself after the previous day declaring war on the Republican establishment, comparing Mitch McConnell to Julius Caesar and asking “who’s going to be Brutus” in the political assassination of the Senate majority leader. While sipping his coffee and vodka, he reminisced about how he had said in his speech: “If I can a little riff on Plutarch and Shakespeare, up on Capitol Hill, it’s like the Ides of March. The only question – and this is just an analogy or metaphor, or whatever you want to call it – they’re just looking to find out who’s going to be Brutus to your Julius Caesar.”
On the same Sunday morning in 2017, a Classicist would read about Bannon in The Guardian and, wondering what to blog about today, would think about Seth Price and his novel Fuck Seth Price, finding on his website this image. I know it is hard to read, he told his readers, so I’ll transcribe it for you:
You know when you read some article, the first sentence is always basically like, “On a Sunday morning in 2002, researcher Robert Jarvik arrived at work, swinging his green Subaru Outback into a parking spot at Los Alamos Labs”?
And your point is?
When they talk about the date in, like, the first sentence? Call me crazy, but I’m totally obsessed with this. It’s some whole thing, like, “You must now start your shit like this, or else.” Or is it just me?
No, yeah, totally. And then you go all boring on their ass, like, “The early twentieth century saw the rise of…”
Yeah, but, um, can you say, “Stories are important?” Fiction is important. The novel is important, quote-unquote in society. Eksetra.
Okay, can we just stop for a minute? Can we just note for the record that you go from “stories,” which could basically just mean whatever, to suddenly we’re talking about “fiction,”, like, some literary shit, and suddenly you’re all, “the novel”?
Can you say, “Whatevs.com”?
Well, no, just – there’s a way in which once could argue that there’s an odd sort of slippage being performed. Or something. Like, are you saying we need stories, big S, or are you saying that we need to buy books? ‘Cause when you just go to, “Oh, books…”
Easy, tiger; whoa, whoa –
No, I’m just saying –
No one’s all, “Hey, buy books.”
I’m just saying, it’s a slippery slope.
Let’s just say there’s a very real human impulse we all share, which has to do – or, not “We all share” – but this impulse, whatever, whether you’re talking about cavemen sitting around the fire back in the day, or me, going to Borders, like, tomorrow –
Riiiiight. I’m adopting a wait-and-see attitude on that little bad boy.
Ouch. Touché, Brutus.
Slippery slope, indeed!