[home][table of contents][literary][essays][email]

Toto and the Elgin Marbles

What, you may ask, does Toto have to do with the Elgin Marbles? Very little you might think, unless you were aware of the style of banter that William Grosso and I are wont to indulge in. When that sort of thing happens anything can be connected to anything and often is.

It all started with a discussion in rec.arts.books about Western culture assimilating other cultures. A regular who signs himself moggin contributed the following comment on such assimilation:

Moggin: The willingness of the British Museum to assimilate the Elgin Marbles, for instance.

This remark inspired the following comment by me in my palmiest lit-babble style. Andy (William Grosso) picked it up and we were to see the Wizard by a route surprising and bizarre by turns.

Harter: I see that the good moggin has once again graced us with an aphorism which is terse and yet is laced with subtle meta-ironies, tastefully papered over with bait to catch the superficial caveats.

One is invited to sputter with amused indignation over the very thought of conceiving of the Elgin marbles as assimilatable artifacts of a non-western culture, given that they were produced by a founding Western culture.

But consider more carefully. There is an implication here that modern Western culture, as exemplified by the British Museum, has moved so far from its nominal origins in the Classical world and is so far removed from its vital past that ancient Greece is an alien culture to be assimilated. Artifacts which are part of a living culture are used; they are not stored in museums and “preserved”.

It is startling how deftly moggin illuminates the cultural imperialism that allowed the British Museum to be the very center of Western culture – in it’s day of course. Nowadays Disney World is the very center of Western culture, a development which validates the Victorian conception of progress.

Also noteworthy is the play on “assimilate”. A casual reading might treat this as a sardonic comment on the nature of the assimilation mode of Western culture, a jejeune representation that assilimilation is a euphemism for “snatch and grab”. Such a reading does not give moggin his just due; he is above such sophomorisms. I have not penetrated the full depth of his lovely ironies; however I suspect he is pointing to the very nature of “assimilation”, of that special mode in which the alien is converted into objects of study.

There is a special irony here in that the Marbles were “assimilated from” the Turks. One notes that the Turks as a people did not have their roots in Western culture but that Islam, which defined their culture, is part of Western culture in the broadest sense, being a child of the originary heartland. I suspect that moggin is instancing a more subtle version of his implicit thesis of Western deracianization but here he is too subtle for me. One hopes that he will illuminate the matter for us, no doubt in aphorisms even more obscure.

I see that the good moggin has once again graced us …

Grosso: “The good moggin,” of course, implies the existence of “the bad moggin.” Or, at least, of the “not-so-good moggin.”

One looks forward to the inevitable cover of dueling banjos … Maybe it can be simulcast over the web as background music for Paul Lanier’s reading of Job ?

Harter: Of course. However you must look at these matters from the perspective of monadic dualism – the good moggin is the bad moggin. They are, so to speak, coterminuous which is to say that they post from the same terminal.

However one can choose other readings. “good” here might signify an honorific which in turn invites a Derridean dissertation of the most depraved sort. However I prefer to think that there are ellided commas, that the right reading is “The Good, moggin,” so that he is being construed as a metaphysical phantasm straight from the pages of recondite commentaries on Greek philosophy.

Grosso: The ellided commas hypothesis strikes my fancy as well and I suspect that you have hit upon the beginnings of a correct solution.

However, it reads more naturally if we view “The Good, (name)” as a ceremonial greeting; a shortening of “May your days be filled with Good, (name)” that was adopted sometime in the distant past (perhaps The Recondite, moggin would know the exact time) because the Pharoah, who stuttered, wanted to be able to greet visiting ambassadors.

I can picture Captain Kirk boldly striding up to the ruler of a native planet, ceremonially striking his chest, extending his arm forwards and saying “The Good, Exalted One.”

Harter: I believe you are thinking of Onestep II, popularly known as the roly-poly ptolemy. Yes, there is no doubt that you are on the right track. The precise wording is no longer available, having been lost long ago on a distant past (Drat! English is such an awkward language to use when conversing about time travel.), but we can make inferences. Clearly the phrase was ceremonial, a descriptive honorific, and a greeting. Perhaps it was something like this: “The latest and tastiest candidate for the pot, the toothsome and tastefully good”.

I can picture Captain Kirk boldly striding up to the ruler of a native planet, ceremonially striking his chest, extending his arm forwards and saying “The Good, Exalted One.”

He’s dead, Jim.

I believe you are thinking of Onestep II, popularly known as the roly-poly ptolemy.

Grosso: I wasn’t then, but I am now. I fondly remember the tales Mrs. Bosco (my third grade teacher) used to tell us about ol’ Roly Poly. I was particularly fond of her entomology for the name of the Boll Weevil. Seems ol’ Roly-Poly was nicknamed Weeble and used to love to fill a room with insects and then roll around on the floor.

Sure enough, his favorite, the one that scrunched so deliciously underneath as his rather ponderous bulk pressed down upon it, was soon called the Roll Weeble (*).

A few short debasements of the mother tongue and there you have it– a completely unrelated insect, in an entirely different space-time continuum, bearing the name of the Great Pharoah.

Don’t get me started on the origins of the “Bundt Cake.”

(*) As, to be sure, was a popular dance in which people rolled over insects, or, in the more outre parts of downtown, small ducks. But I digress….

Harter: Even so. If you would but follow the great path of wisdom you would unigress. You bring back memories of my mis-spent youth. Small duck roll dances were quite the rage. Alas, in those days my finances were not all they could be and it was seldom that I could scrape together the funds for a night of small duck rolling. Wanda and I had to make do with the Cucaracha Flips held in the seamier part of town.

If you would but follow the great path of wisdom …

Grosso: I tried to once, in a previous life. But that damn bitch Dorothy kept dragging me back to the yellow brick road (which, judging from the smell, was stained yellow because thousands of incontinent munchkins had mistaken it for a parking lot). I would run off looking for the great path (this was early in the story, before I learnt of the joys a field of poppies can bring a puppy), barking for sheer joy.

“Toto,” she’d cry. “Come back here, Toto.” And that mangy lion would chase after me and bring me back. He had fleas you know, and smelt bad, the only thing worse than the road if you can believe it.

I only managed to escape from them once. While I was celebrating my freedom, I was seized by a gang of renegade flying monkeys and forced to clean all the restrooms in the Emerald City.

Oz was not a good experience for me.

And I have never tried to follow the great path again.

Harter: That’s your story. The court records for the Emerald City show that one Toto, described as a nondescript dog, was arrested for barratry and was sentenced to 30 days community service. They also show that said flying monkeys were a private security service hired by the Wizard as a cost cutting measure. Are you telling us this was a different Toto?

Grosso: Barratry ? Barratry ? Oh man, is that what they say now ? That hurts and I’ll tell you why. I’ll plead the old case a little and you can say. Barratry, man ? I dunno what that even means, but let me tell you– I am innocent.

Dig this. A little terrier, alone and on the loose. Flipping around the Emerald City, charming the old ladies, stealing scraps from the butchers, howling at the moon. The whole 9 yards, you know ? In a word: Paradise.

And so, I figure, this is my scene. I am here and this is where it’s at. The next step: get Miles, Train, Sun Ra, and a few of my other friends up here to dig the poppies and maybe blow a few blue notes here and there.

We’re talking boffo bucks, a chance to show those munchkins that the “lollipop dance” is strictly from hunger, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll get Dorothy to stop singing those stupid homesick songs and cut loose on a couple of Ella’s big numbers. She’s got to lose the farm frocks, though.

I become a concert promoter. And we do it right, you know. We set up a stage out in the poppy fields and I hire security guards (I hired the flying monkeys, not Mr “one whiff of spliff and the cat is gone” Mayor) and everything is going fine.

It’s a three day festival and, on Day two, the idea hits me. There’s a cloud of smoke over the field, so dense that you can’t even see the flying monkeys (and that is a good thing, let me tell you, there are certain states of mind in which a flying monkey is just not a good thing to see), and it hits me– laser light show.

We set it up. Day 3, closes with Dorothy doing a funked up, bopping version of Somewhere over the Rainbow that steamed, picture a raunchier Bessie giving it all she’s got, and the laser cannons are doing these intricate curls in the sky and it’s wonderful, incredible, I’m about to piss on the amplifiers just to give myself that extra shot of electricity, EXCEPT that these weird thuds are puncutating the music, and they are definitely not the syncopation.

Turns out the laser cannons were a bit too powerful and we shot down all the flying monkeys. Not my fault, man. The mayor signed the permits, everyone thought it was a cool idea (especially when we strafed the poppy fields to get some extra smoke in the sky) but, and I’m talking after the fact, I’m somehow to blame. I’m a terrier man, got absolutely no ability to reason logically, just went with the cool thing.

But they gave me 15 days for the monkeys and 15 days for turning a cannon too high and burning my name on the walls of the Emerald City. They airbrushed it out of that sappy film, but it’s still there for anyone coming down the road to see– “Toto Kicks Ass” in 15 foot high letters.

Harter: So you were the puppy who put on Gemstock East, huh? It was quite a show but there are a few things you aren’t telling us. Maybe it’s not your fault though – you were the artiste and not the promoter. The way I heard it the Tinman handled ticket sales, screwed it up, and oversold it by 300%. Forty seven munchkins were trampled in the rush to find a place to sit – not that anybody worried much about munchkins. The Wicked Witch had the poppy seed concession and did very well by it, thank you. I never much cared for her by the way. You see, she had this thing about water – something about melting – so she never bathed. Man did she whiff! Get downwind from her and you were a goner for sure.

You do Dorothy an injustice. I got to know her after she got back – definitely not a prim litlle miss farm-girl she. She was a stripper for the various fraternal orders but she speciallized in the Lions. It seems that she had her own way of getting the Cowardly lion to be, ah, less cowardly and took quite a fancy to “the king of the beasts”. That stuff you see in the film – strictly Hollyward PR. They had a full time crew just painting out the bags under her eyes. She had another big film, Dorothy Does Detroit, but they never do reruns of it on TV for some reason. Nice lady; always had good dope.

Poor Dorothy came to a bad end. She ended up as a bag lady in LA. That was alright until the DEA took exception to the kind of bags that she was selling. Currently she’s doing 900 years to life but it doesn’t phase her any. She figures she’ll get out in 450 what with time off for good behaviour. I dunno about that good behaviour though.

This page was last updated June 27, 1997.