Friday November 18, 2016
Wager of the Gods - André Alexis
The novel Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis won the 2015 Giller Prize. The premise is a bet between Apollo and Hermes: if dogs were given language, would they be any happier than humans? What follows is a whimsical, dark and penetrating tour of ideas -- about consciousness, time, belonging, mortality, art and love. André Alexis talks to host Paul Kennedy about the philosophical underpinnings of his prize-winning book -- featuring readings by the author himself. **This episode originally aired February 29, 2016.
Fifteen Dogs Excerpt
One evening in Toronto, the gods Apollo and Hermes were at the Wheat Sheaf Tavern. Apollo had allowed his beard to grow until it reached his clavicle. Hermes, more fastidious, was clean-shaven, but his clothes were distinctly terrestrial: black jeans, a black leather jacket, a blue shirt.
They had been drinking, but it wasn't the alcohol that intoxicated them. It was the worship their presence elicited. The Wheat Sheaf felt like a temple, and the gods were gratified.
While at the tavern, the gods began a desultory conversation about the nature of humanity. For amusement, they spoke ancient Greek, and Apollo argued that, as creatures go humans were neither better nor worse than any other, neither better nor worse than fleas or elephants, say.
Outside the tavern, the gods walked west along King Street.
- I wonder, said Hermes, what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.
- I wonder if they'd be as unhappy as humans, Apollo answered.
- Some humans are unhappy; others aren't. Their intelligence is a difficult gift, [said Hermes]
- I'll wager a year's servitude, said Apollo, that animals – any animal you choose – would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they had human intelligence.
- An earth year? I'll take that bet, said Hermes, but on condition that if, at the end of its life, even one of the creatures is happy, I win.
- Are we speaking of happy beings or happy lives? No, never mind. Either way, I accept your terms. Human intelligence is not a gift. It's an occasionally useful plague. What animals do you choose?
As it happened, the gods were not far from the veterinary clinic at Shaw. Entering the place unseen and imperceptible, they found dogs, mostly: pets left overnight by their owners for one reason or another. So, dogs it was.
- Shall I leave them their memories? Asked Apollo.
- Yes, said Hermes.
With that, the god of light granted 'human intelligence' to the fifteen dogs who were in the kennel at the back of the clinic.
Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis is published by Coach House Press.