The Magazine

Jaded But Wise

An ancient school teaches us moderns.

Aug 3, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 43 • By LAWRENCE KLEPP
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

I would suggest that satirists and comedians are on more familiar terms with Diogenes' ghost than any modern philosopher. Rabelais invoked him, Ambrose Bierce's terse sardonic jibes in The Devil's Dictionary seem at times to be channeling him. Silent film comedians, the Marx Brothers, and the more reckless and obscene stand-up comics from Lenny Bruce on, are practicing Diogenists, too, since it's in popular entertainment that you find a match for his farcical theatrics and aggressive shamelessness.

Rabelais made up a neo-Greek word--agelasts, those who cannot laugh--for the puritans and fanatics and conceited fools of his day. We have our own versions of the same thing. The true heir of Diogenes the Cynic would probably be any dog that bites any agelast in the seat of the pants.

Lawrence Klepp is a writer in New York.