Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Brief Foray into Plato

Welcome!  This post is a departure from just about anything else I've written here.  And, although I hope you read it, it may be a bit of a head scratcher.  I'm participating in an online book club, reading chronologically through the classics of western literature.  See the button to the right on the sidebar?  You can read along too!  I know you want to {wink}.  

The book club reads and then discusses. Since my reaction/thoughts are far too long to leave in a comment, (sometimes there's a discussion board; this time there's not), I needed a place to put all these words.  

So, here goes- 

Have you ever seen a movie, listened to a song, attended a play, or read a book that left you a mess of emotions – good and bad – and at the same time jolted all your thinking parts awake?

For example, Les Miserables, an already well known and tonied tale is sweeping the big screen, and although I don’t go to movies all that much, (c’mon folks – that’s a long time to sit still and pay attention), this was one I wanted to see on the big screen and experience the intensity.  Yes, I cried. You?

Did you see The Hobbit ?  As avid consumers of print material here on Liberty Farm, Tolkein’s gripping stories are perhaps our favorites and it was a no brainer to pre-buy tickets and see it when it opened. (Ok, I stayed home with the youngsters, but Weekend Farmer Husband and several of our offspring missed opening night, but they were there the next! I saw it yesterday.) 

The music is compelling, the scenery is so vast you can hardly drink it in, and in my humble opinion it was well acted and the book translated pretty well to the screen.  Kudo’s.

Both experiences recently were well worth my attention and were both enjoyable and enriching. And, both tales awakened that place within me that loves to think.

I’ve let you know before that I’m slowly, with dedication, and no lack of eyes glazed over making my way through Plato’s Republic for the Classic Literature online bookclub happening over at Edie's.

This book undoes me.

I alternately love and dare I say , hate (?) it.

What’s to love?
  • Sparkling dialogue.  These guys can carry on a conversation!     
  • Important questions for both culture at large and each individual.
  •  Historical and cultural context.  The text is remarkably fresh and applicable today even though likely written in 380 B.C.  And, you get an interesting view into what it might have been like “back then”.
  •  Bold characters who exhibit sweeping displays of intellect, humor, and hubris that never once seem to struggle with being “politically correct”.
  •  Civil discourse.  At some level these characters are set on “stumping” preeminent thinkers and scholars with questions of morality, (primarily the ideas and practice of justice), and although dialogue gets heated my read through, (thus far), leaves me impressed that their interactions don’t fall into the gutter.
  •  All my thinking parts are wide awake.  This book is hard.  Really hard.  Good hard.  I kind of want to give up, and I don’t.  I read, re-read, and repeat because if I just keep turning the page I find I must examine history, and more importantly, the condition of my own mind and heart in relationship to right and wrong, the practice of justice, and my view of the world.  I’m learning.

What’s to hate?
·         This book is hard. As in difficult.  Complex sentences, combined with complex characters, grappling with complex ideas leave me hanging on for dear life.  I read two pages. Exhale.  Go back and read the same two pages wondering if I really just cast my eyeballs over any page.  My inner nerd is delighted.  My real life self can barely get through.
·         I am frustrated by the philosophical practice of valuing persuasiveness over truth.  Those sophists, although interesting, seem to me too interested in the supremacy of their own ideas with little thought to the reality that ideas have consequences.
·         Sophists, lacking a cohesive school of thought, with views of teachers and then prize scholars widely varied, largely agreed that there is no such thing as right and wrong. I cannot reconcile this idea with the most popular book ever written, (sorry Plato) the Holy Bible, which is abundantly clear on right and wrong. It can be, it is knowable, and known to all.
·         Remember ideas have consequences?  The practice of elenchus (a method of tackling an idea or questions with an initial foray into the subject matter, and then a series of revisions and rebuttals on the part of all participants intended to continue until a satisfactory definition is reached, {thank you very much sparknotes}, in this case dances with aporia, intellectual gridlock, where a dead end is the necessary result.  I find foreshadowing of what I consider a very frustrating marker of our current culture, postmodern thought, in which we seem to be educated beyond our intelligence, and have abandoned basic doctrines of right and wrong, how that impacts what we think, and how we live. So, at least in Part I, I must temper my desire to toss the book to the floor and stomp on it for frustration.  I want  Plato’s brilliant mind and pen to grapple with and then come to conclusions about the ethical questions in The Republic.  To be fair, I have not finished the book.  There are those whose opinions I highly esteem who have vastly different reactions from mine, leaving me with the suspicion that I am engaged in personality conflict, which absolves venerable Plato from any charges I’d level.

Virgil's Aeneid arrives tomorrow, and the book club is pressing on.  I don't know if I've got the appetite to read both at once.  I suspect I'll put Plato aside for now, but he'll still be in the stack of books that is by my reading chair.  Well, I'm not that predictable.  I actually carry a stack of papers n' stuff around the house including all the books I'm reading.  Yeah, I'm organized like that.

Thanks, dear reader, for hanging in there with me. You're the best, and next time I'll be back to the more familiar type of post.

(Pssst- I did a bad bad thing -wrote this in Microsoft Word and then pasted it here.  I should know better and no matter how much I click and reformat I can't get rid of the wonkiness.  Techie friends- all help welcome!)

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