by Jason Helms
In this video, Timothy Simmons breathes life into the ancient text of the Gorgias in both form and argument. While the whiz-bang element of a new form is certainly impressive, I am more impressed by Simmons’ rereading of the Gorgias from the point of view of a gagged Gorgias brought to defend rhetoric arhetorically. Simmons’ Gorgias seems to have an eloquent, complex defense of rhetoric that must remain unspoken before a belligerent interlocutor – Plato.
Simmons’ move to reframe the Gorgias through Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly sheds light on these two actors as it foregrounds the canon of style. Ferrell becomes a belligerent know-it-all in most of the roles he inhabits. Reilly’s slow, deliberate timing and effected stutter often reflect a character with complex thought deprived of outlet. While we can see this in Reilly’s more comedic roles, it is also present in his portrayal of Officer Jim Kurring, the lonely, self-doubting cop from Magnolia. Ferrell’s serious roles are all played against the background of his comedic bombast. His quiet, boring Harold Crick in Stranger than Fiction remains interesting precisely because we are waiting for the antic Ferrell to burst out of the fragile Crick. That he does not gives the film a poignancy that would be difficult for a different actor to achieve.
The inability of the viewer to remove Reilly and Ferrell’s oeuvre from the current film leads to a persistent style. As the persistence of vision lends continuity to the discontinuous frames of a film, the persistence of style builds continuity across films. Simmons leans on this persistence to connect the persistent styles to the characters of Socrates and Gorgias. I wonder, though, if he doesn’t overstate his case. For Simmons, Gorgias, and, in turn, rhetoric, is enfeebled. His defense ignores the question of whether rhetoric can defend itself. Gorgias is not nearly as stupid as Socrates treats him nor as weak as Plato presents him. His powerful Encomium of Helen repairs Helen’s reputation through a series of deft rhetorical moves. Might we not devise an encomium of Gorgias that would repair his own reputation?
Simmons’ “Gorgias Revisited” attempts just such an encomium, re-pairing Gorgias and Socrates as Reilly and Ferrell. In my video response (below), I build on this return to these (re)pairs of characters, actors, and styles to re/pair the rift between rhetoric and philosophy. In this relationship, rhetoric is not the handmaiden of philosophy, but the lover. That the two are in desperate need of couples therapy is obvious. As Gorgias begins to listen to Plato, Plato learns to hear Gorgias. Might not these two find forgiveness? Might they not kiss and make up?