17.179 nesting and the Symposium

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Tue Aug 05 2003 - 01:25:32 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 179.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Tue, 05 Aug 2003 06:18:49 +0100
             From: cmess@lib.drury.edu
             Subject: re 17.173 nesting and linear narratives

    Re. the Symposium and nesting ...

    The comments made so far might be helpfully complimented with the following.

    > By the way, has anyone written on this aspect of the Symposium?
    > Gerda Elata-Alster

    Yes - Stanley Rosen (one of my teachers long ago at Penn State and now of
    Boston University) wrote a masterful analysis, _Plato's Symposium_ many
    years ago. Rosen comes out of the Leo Strauss school of Platonic
    interpretation, and so has much to say about Plato's "salutary rhetoric,"
    starting with his comments in the 7th letter that highest philosophical
    truth cannot be written down, nor has he ever written what he himself

    What I find most interesting in this turn in the Symposium, however, is that
    it accomplishes two (correlated) shifts - one logical and one having to do
    with the obvious issues of gender in a party / symposium intentionally
    devoid of women (the flute-girls are kicked out at the outset, in a striking
    inversion of the usual social structure - along with the slaves being told
    that they are to be the masters).

    Logical: the earlier speeches in praise of _eros_ , including those of
    Agathon (in whose honor - as the winning poet/playwright of the previous
    day's competition - is held), are marked by a simple dualism: as Socrates
    points out, their strategy is simply to affiliate eros with everything good,
    in sharp contrast with everything bad. By contrast, Socrates prepares the
    introduction of Diotima by demonstrating the limitations of that logic - and
    thereby undermining the authority of the poets. He further attributes his
    understanding of this to Diotima, and the first stages of their recounted
    conversation consist of her in turn leading the young Socrates away from his
    (youthful / male) logic of dualism to a complementarity logic - one that
    places eros squarely in the middle between the previous polarities (or, in
    PM jargon, binaries) of Beauty / Ugliness, Good / Bad, Divine / Human, and
    Wisdom / ignorance. (Eros, as a daimon, is thus the intermediary and bridge
    between the two - and philosophy is the eros for wisdom, marked by a
    recognition of one's ignorance and the desire to move towards wisdom, while
    not claiming to possess it.)

    Gender. Much has been made of Diotima, whose presence here is striking for
    many reasons, especially among the (relatively early) analyses of "Plato as
    a feminist" in the 1970s. There is something, I think, in Diotima being
    represented as a wise woman, and in the affiliation - remarkably
    contemporary, in my view - between her more complimentary logic vis-a-vis
    the more dualistic logic of the male protagonists. But she is, of course, a
    fictive creation by a male author, etc.
    [For that - Socrates in the Republic presents the first philosophical
    argument in the Western tradition for the equality of males and females;
    it's a start, at least.]
    This immediately plunges us into unending debate as to whether a male author
    can ever present an authentic woman's voice, etc., etc.

    However all that might turn out - it remains of interest, I think, to note
    that Diotima is re-presented here as a perfect Sophist - one whose teaching
    accomplishes a significant move beyond that of the poets. At the same time,
    however, especially if she is a poetic creation of Plato - the point is made
    that, unlike more commonplace readings of Plato as opposing philosophy and
    poetry, philosophy and sophistry (i.e., binary oppositions) what happens
    here, in keeping with the non-dualistic logic Diotima (and Socrates) teach,
    is rather the (erotic) conjunction across these polarities. That is, as in
    the Republic, the dialogue - including its critiques of poetry (in this
    case, because of the poets' dualistic logic) - is itself a poetic (in the
    Greek sense of _poeisis_) creation that fosters a philosophical critique and
    discourse that seeks to incorporate rather than separate the two.

    This is a long way of getting around to agree with Ryan's reading that Plato
    is not undercutting his own philosophy. On my view, at least, the reading
    of Plato as a dualistic idealist simply opposed in binary fashion to
    rhetoric, sophistry, poetry, etc., can emerge only by failing to take
    account of Plato's use of all of these in the dialogues. This reading turns
    that one on its head, and instead sees Plato as incorporating rhetoric,
    sophistry, poetry, etc. And I think it particularly brilliant to have some
    of those central teachings re-presented by a female figure in anotherwise
    all male audience - thereby instantiating the more abstract argument for the
    equality of men and women in the Republic.

    I don't know what all of this does with regard to the original question
    regarding nesting and linear narratives - but I'll be interested in seeing
    what others make of it?


    Charles Ess
    Distinguished Research Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies
    Drury University
    900 N. Benton Ave. Voice: 417-873-7230
    Springfield, MO 65802 USA FAX: 417-873-7435

    [from August 20 - December 19, 2003:
    Visiting Professor
    Department of Digital Aesthetics and Communication
    IT-University of Copenhagen
    67 Glentevej
    DK-2400 Copenhagen NV

    Home page: http://www.drury.edu/ess/ess.html
    Co-chair, CATaC: http://www.it.murdoch.edu.au/catac/

    Exemplary persons seek harmony, not sameness. -- Analects 13.23

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