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The Essay
Show #554
Rosenthal and Guildenstern are Dead
David Gunn

"Rosenthal and Guildenstern are dead!"
The pronouncement sounded so much like one the ambassador to England uttered in the closing scene of "Hamlet" that I right away had to consult my Shakespeare Mortality Chart, an indispensable visual aid for keeping track of which characters have exited the Bardís stage for good. In the Hamlet example, Rosenthal and Guildenstern are two-thirds of a barbershop quartet who were pecked to death by animatronic hensí teeth as they sang a bawdy version of "O Rosa Bella." In this case, they are two composers from a small atonal outpost to the left of and slightly above the Algonquin Free Desert in the Massachusetts outback. Guildenstern, by the way, has never actually been seen and is reputed to be a figment of Rosencrantzís imagination.
Sorry. Rosenthal.
Whoís Rosencrantz?
Some answers are best left unquestioned. This is one of them.
And you say theyíre dead?
No, you said they were dead. I accepted your statement at face value. However, after conducting a thorough investigation into the matter, I concur that they are indeed dead.
How dead? As dead as a doornail?
No, not that dead.
So they arenít all the way dead?
That is correct, for there are several levels of dead. Conventional wisdom places Rosenthal and Guildenstern at Level Four, which is as dead as an upholstered organ grinder in aspic. Roughly speaking.
Well, if theyíre not all the way dead, can one deduce that they are, in fact, alive?
Yes. To a point. Their deaths are existential and can be exemplified by the mathematical formula a (+ b) - c = d, where a is Rosenthal, b is the imaginary Guildenstern, c is forty-six dollars, and d is dead.
Why forty-six dollars?
Thatís the existential part of the equation. It could just as easily be a wedge of Rangoon stammel pie that has not been refrigerated for more than a week. In either case, it is the mechanism that leads to Rosenthalís death.
Even though heís not all the way dead.
Quite right.
And Guildenstern?
Is not only not all the way dead, but is also not all the way real.
Much as the aforementioned forty-six dollars is not real?
You catch on quickly.
But is there an underlying point to all of this? This imaginary Guildenstern and the not all the way dead Rosenthal?
Remember, youíre the one who first announced their deaths. Was there a point to that? Or do you simply go around declaring the odd decedent when it strikes your fancy?
I was merely articulating a metatheatrical plot device that is crucial to this discourse.
This course?
Of course.
Who did you say were dead again?
I didnít say they were dead again. I said only that they were dead this one time. To be dead again implies a previous death. Followed, one presumes, by a rather extraordinary recovery. And, according to recently revealed information -- from you, if Iím not mistaken -- they arenít even dead, at least not all the way.
Oh, very well. However, I do believe weíve strayed from the initial conversational thread.
Not at all! I clearly remember saying "Rosenthal and Guildenstern are dead!"
So you did. And I rejoined by consulting my Shakespeare Mortality Chart -- itís all coming back to me now -- and from there we orally duked it out by employing existential, um, things.
We engaged in inductive logic by using arguments in which the premises supported the conclusion but did not entail it.
There was, of course, that argument we mutually deemed invalid because it lacked a premise that would make it valid.
We were but quibbling over disguised assumptions.
That were inherently capable of being neither true nor false.
Except rhetorically!
Ahh! So we have a premise:
"Rosenthal and Guildenstern are dead."
Followed by a proposition:
"They are not actually dead."
That leads to a logical conclusion:
"Forty-six dollars wasnít enough to finish them off."
Did you say K and D?
No, but itís on my agenda to do so as soon as weíve exhausted all of the modalities of this argument.
If the modalities arenít exhausted, itís likely that our audients are, or soon will be.
No, K and D.
Who, one hopes, are as not dead as Rosenthal and Guildenstern.
Rest assured that they are neither dead nor are they in arrears to the tune of forty-six dollars.
We cannot but rest, assuredly or otherwise, for we have a house to put in order.
I trust you have formulated premises that lead to that conclusion?
Indeed. Premise number one: a composer calling himself Rosenthal is at the door.
Along with the imaginary Guildenstern?
Yes. Or no. It doesnít matter. It isnít part of the syllogism.
Then what else is?
Premise number two: the door serves as the entrance to the house in which Kalvos and Damian ...
K and D ...
Are what?
Are about to invite the composer Rosenthal to join them in the house.
No, K
And D.