‘I can’t refute you Socrates,’ Agathon said ‘so I dare say you’re right.’ ‘No,’ said Socrates ‘it’s the truth you can’t refute, my dear Agathon. Socrates is a pushover.’
After writing about Socrates in class I’ve felt kind of curious and energised about going back to this. There’s something about the way of unlocking ‘truth’ that’s really getting to me.
It’s not that I think Symposium is a particularly useful document in terms of philosophy, necessarily? The thing that I find fascinating is that he approaches it in this strange sideways manner. That he populates his dialogue with characters who happen to be real people, then writes a drama and has them act out the thing until we come to a kind of communal impression of a position. There are multiple voices and accounts and approaches to the subject matter, all of whom are sort of voices of the author, or may be some sort of voice of the character, who is also a guy.
It got me thinking about the internet. Patricia Lockwood’s notion of the communal voice really resonated with me in terms of what I think Plato’s philosophy suggests to me as potential. Obviously everyone will sit and argue about whether or not Socrates is always correct (but why then, does he not get the final word. Why then do his positions vary and contradict each other across Plato’s dialogues that include him?) but why then should it be nested inside other perspectives? What do these perspectives bring to the argument, because they do not build on each other in a logical sense of each being considered and discarded in turn. They each possess their own sort of …life? Half the time the only argument people remember is Aristophanes account of the Monads, which is the most sort of, imagistically exciting!
It’s almost like he approaches through different forms. Like, an epic poetry, heightened “Die for your love!” or a creation-myth style foundational images, or neat rhetoric.
I’m sort of avoiding writing by writing this—at least it’s something!
The Glass Essay
Perhaps the hardest thing about losing a lover is
To watch the year repeat its days.
It is as if I could dip my hand down
Into time and scoop up
Blue and green lozenges of april heat
In another century
(I didn’t read the whole collection, I just wanted to keep up the pattern of including images.)
Honestly, I just read ‘The Glass Essay’ on poetry foundation, then printed it out, and read it again (but with notes).
I’m obsessed with this piece of writing, and the seamless blend of time and time periods and essayistic analytic content with the emotional and the conversational and the observational. It’s very rude of Anne Carson to be so clever.
I think the pieces of writing I’m making at the moment are each attempting to zoom off in each of the directions I really admire in this essay/poem. The identification with and respinning of a text and a world outside yourself, and a fascination with family and time and this lyric weirdness of existing between multiple points and perspectives at once.
She even manages to be melodramatic (my worst fear) without actually being melodramatic. There are weird subconscious manifestations of pain, tortured women, visceral embodied trauma, even though the most prominent ‘cause’ of pain in the narrative of this work—that I can see—is a breakup. I can’t imagine making a breakup seem like a profound moment of transformation. It’s just really not something I think I could pull off.
Partially because I love breakups, I suppose. I’ve never been through one I haven’t enjoyed.
I’m probably going to have to come back to this when I’ve stopped screaming into the folds of the universe.
Plato and the Socratic Dialogue: The Philosophical Use of a Literary Form
Charles H. Kahn
Plato’s success as a dramatist is so great that he has often been mistaken for an historian. Hence the history of philosophy reports Socrates’ thought on the strength of Plato’s portrayal in the dialogues. And it is not only modern scholars who fall victim to this illusion.
I decided to grab a bunch of texts from the university library on the topic of Plato on a more academic basis and I was thrilled to find texts that both walked me through readings of the Symposium, breakdowns of the speeches, and also engaged with Plato on something approaching the plane on which I am interested in him.
I don’t want to go through all of the books one by one so I think I’ll focus my discussion here on the most relevant text (for my purposes), Plato and the Socratic Dialogue: The Philosophical Use of Literary Form. Kahn is both a classicist and a philosopher, and he approaches the texts as they are—texts. He’s interested in the form of the Socratic dialogue, how this might change our readings of Plato if we approach them as pieces of literature and what the literary approach does in terms of Plato’s philosophy.
It took me back to something that came up during Maggie’s reading packet—the psychologist who was keen on Freud, not as an applicable therapeutic practice, but as literature engaged with the subject. I love this notion that knowledge and an enriched view of the subject comes with not only knowing true things, but by engaging with that which arises around the outskirts of the centre. If I only know the things that are absolutely true, and discard all that is not strictly useful, do I not have an impoverished view on the subject? A view that is removed of social connections, of context, of the stories that form around a true thing?
There were a few super useful concepts and discussions that I’m keen to discuss in reference to Kahn’s book, and one of these was the concept of aporia. Kahn suggests that Plato’s dialogues can often end in a state of aporia which, due to the anonymous nature of the opinions presented (Plato not ever speaking directly in his own works) and the formal qualities of the pieces as contained dialogues (they can be read in relation to his other works, should they be?)
Is Plato then not committed to Socrates’ position in either work? And why do so many of the dialogues end in an aporia where no satisfying conclusion seems to be reached? I maintain that the unifying links between dialogues, and the hints of conclusions not explicitly stated, are more deliberate, more subtle, and more ubiquitous than is generally recognised.
There is an explanation that greatly appeals to me, which is that of Grote (1875) ‘Plato is a searcher, and has not yet made up his mind’.
Different dialogues are seen as exploring the same problem from different directions, or as leading the reader to deeper levels of reflection.
I feel like the modern queer linguistic expression of this is ‘Plato was probably a Libra’, which is hilarious. (I do wonder how serious everyone is, when they talk about astrology. I know that I am of a firm intellectual opinion that it is nonsense, but I wonder if when you repeat the pattern and repeat the pattern and show enthusiasm for the thing – do I believe in astrology now? Just by course of exposure?)
I think I also like to imagine that Plato’s use of form uses a kind of poetic logic—the way that you can read a poem and have a sense of knowledge or memory or sense, a collection of impressions that are not delivered dogmatically, but held loosely, in a state of curiosity and responsiveness. What if we looked at every voice in the Symposium as if it was important, not merely a vehicle for wrongness to be corrected, but a pattern of possibility, a deliberate state of preparation for mystery? That Diotima poses the solution of the Forms, and that the Forms are a kind of extra-sensory ideal of the thing they represent—it requires a different mode of thought. An abstract one. It seems to me that you can only lead the reader to the state in which the perceived thing is as available as possible, the logic of it sitting lightly in cupped hands.