27 Sep LOVE AND PHILOSOPHY PART.II WITH SALEH NAJAFI
In the late 20th century, a branch of radical philosophy emerged that believed the gesture that revives philosophy, after what has been said about the death of philosophy is the platonic gesture. Zizek belongs to the same branch of philosophy who at the same time believes we need to get rid of the platonic love once and for all. To understand this paradox we need to return to the Symposium, where the platonic form can be seen in its original form. One should keep in mind that Plato planned to be a poet and write tragedies n his youth, but burns all his work to enter the circle of Aristotle. Yet formally, Plato’s work is unique among all thinkers from St. Augustine with his confession form to Nietzsche with his form that combined poetry and philosophy.
The word Symposium, meaning feast, is made up of two greek words: sun which means together, and potes which means drinker. So to translate it directly, we can define the word as “Drinking Together”. The closest worn in the English language to potes is potion and interestingly the term Love Potion has its roots there.
The Greek did not drink wine while dining and the ritual of drinking took place after dinner with serious discussions, (now known as philosophical discussion now) to enjoy the drinks more. Socrates was famous for his ability to consume great amounts of wine while maintaining his ability to keep up with the discussion. This aspect of Socrates’ personality contributes a great the to the form seen in the Symposium.
In the feast, it is decided that before the drinking ritual, the attendants present their speeches about the concept of love and that’s how the first symposium about love consisting of people of different backgrounds takes place. Among these people, the famous speech by Socrates in which he declares the ultimate goal of love to become a philosopher, cements Eros as one the most dominant ingredients of philosophy. According To Alenka Zupancic (Famous Slovenian philosopher), love isn’t just of the ingredients of philosophy, but the top five ingredients of it. The experts on Platos’ works believe that the content of the discussions in the Symposium are completely made by his imagination. Even though all the people mentioned in the piece are real and had real responsibilities in ancient Greece, there is no other evidence in history that they made such statements.
The Symposium is one othe most multi-layered works in philosophical literature, in that the reader is constantly evaluating the credibility of the statements given there as quotes.
The Symposium begins this way:
“Concerning the things about which you ask to be informed I believe that I am not ill-prepared with an answer. For the day before yesterday I was coming from my own home at Phalerum to the city, and one of my acquaintance, who had caught a sight of me from behind, hind, out playfully in the distance, said: Apollodorus, O thou Phalerian man, halt! So I did as I was bid; and then he said, I was looking for you, Apollodorus, only just now, that I might ask you about the speeches in praise of love, which were delivered by Socrates, Alcibiades, and others, at Agathon’s supper. Phoenix, the son of Philip, told another person who told me of them; his narrative was very indistinct, but he said that you knew, and I wish that you would give me an account of them. Who, if not you, should be the reporter of the words of your friend? And first tell me, he said, were you present at this meeting? “
In the contemporary terms, we’re facing a framed narrative here that frames the main narration and leads us to it. The text known as the Symposium is without a doubt written by plato, but the friend that is mentioned above will not be named anywhere in the text. The second layer of subtext here is this nameless friend that according to the experts on Plato’s text is Plato himself. Keep in mind that in most of Plato’s work he is not named unless in trivial matters such as the time that Socrates wants to clear his debts before his death and asks the guards to give his money to his “Young friend plato”. The third layer is where Phaedrus mentions his conversation with a young man named Glaucon which is Plato’s brother and the mediator between Plato and Apollodorus. The name of Apollodorus itself which means a gift grom Apollo, is in a way a Beckettian play by Plato with this character’s name.
“Impossible: I said. Are you ignorant that for many years Agathon has not resided at Athens; and not three have elapsed since I became acquainted with Socrates, and have made it my daily business to know all that he says and does. There was a time when I was running about the world, fancying myself to be well employed, but I was really a most wretched thing, no better than you are now. I thought that I ought to do anything rather than be a philosopher.
Well, he said, jesting apart, tell me when the meeting occurred.
In our boyhood, I replied, when Agathon won the prize with his first tragedy, on the day after that on which he and his chorus offered the sacrifice of victory.
Then it must have been a long while ago, he said; and who told you-did Socrates?
No indeed, I replied, but the same person who told Phoenix;-he was a little fellow, who never wore any shoes Aristodemus, of the deme of Cydathenaeum. He had been at Agathon’s feast; and I think that in those days there was no one who was a more devoted admirer of Socrates. Moreover, I have asked Socrates about the truth of some parts of his narrative, and he confirmed them. “
This text is meant to reflect the opinion of different people about love and eventually lead to Socrates giving the final decisive definition. yet Plato does not stop at this, Socrates’ word go through the filters of Apollodorus, Aristodemus and Glaucon and finally when we are faced with the words of Socrates, he is replaces himself with everyone present at Plato’s narrative.
Aristodemus, who is the next layer in this text, has not been mentioned anywhere in Greek history of philosophy and literature but in the Symposium. This invites the reader to contemplate more regarding this character’s name and its meaning. The name which consists Aristos meaning a person of high society and Demos meaning the ordinary citizens, refers to the confrontation of the aristocracy and ordinary people in Plato’s work. If Athens was not a democracy Plato could not have become a philosopher yet he criticizes the democracy and supports the aristocracy. The character of Aristodemus is a person that his opinion can only be relied on when trivial matters and ordinary people are in discussion. Hence Apolloddorus says that his narrative of the feast can not be reliable therefore I confirmed it with Socrates himself.
The next person in the hierarchy is Socrates. This text is meant to reflect the opinion of different people about love and eventually lead to Socrates giving the final decisive definition. yet Plato does not stop at this, Socrates’ word go through the filters of Apollodorus, Aristodemus and Glaucon and finally when we are faced with the words of Socrates, he is replaces himself with everyone present at Plato’s narrative. We see that Socrates says: “I realized that in fact I know not the most important things about the most important things, without being taught by someone.” and here his words leads to a feminist approach where he refers to a woman called Diotima who again were not mentioned anywhere but in the Sympsium. According to experts on Plato’s works, Diotima is in fact was Aspasia who was an influential immigrant to Classical-era Athens who was the lover and partner of the statesman Pericles. The couple had a son, Pericles the Younger, but the full details of the couple’s marital status are unknown. According to Plutarch, her house became an intellectual centre in Athens, attracting the most prominent writers and thinkers, including the philosopher Socrates. Diotima in Greek means blessed by Zeus, yet if we apply the same Beckettian play with words to her name where Dioty means ‘But’ and ‘Ma’ means yet, we see Plato’s interesting hint at the question of love and its probable answer.
Another point that helps understanding the delicate details of Plato’s form of writing is that usually in the conversations between Socrates and Plato, Socrates joins in the beginning or the middle of the conversation and with sarcasm and irony, which leads the person to surrender and let Socrates to explain the answer in its totality. Yet in the Symposium, there’s is no question and answer but independent speeches by different speakers on a given subject.
The first person among the speakers is Phaedrus, who is of significant importance for plato, so much so that he writes treatise with his name which is considered one of the seminal points in the beginning of the science of aesthetics in western philosophy.
The second speaker, Pausanians is a jurist and approaches love from a judicial view point. Plato uses his speech to discuss whether the experience of love is appropriate for the social life. The next speaker is Eryximachus who speaks in place of Aristopahnes, due to him s:
“…and Aristodemus said that the turn of Aristophanes was next, but either he had eaten too much, or from some other cause he had the hiccough, and was obliged to change turns with Eryximachus the physician, who was reclining on the couch below him. Eryximachus, he said, you ought either to stop my hiccough, or to speak in my turn until I have left off.”
Aristophanes is the comedian character in this treatise who approaches the roots of the discussion about love with a raw satire, rare in philosophical texts. To understand his character better we must keep in mind that two years before Socrates was put on trail for poisoning the minds of Athenian youth and believing in false gods, Aristophanes takes a satirical play to stage in which he presents the idea the Socrates is the most dangerous sophist in in Greece for other sophists receive the payment for the tutoring and move to some place else but he is here to stay. This play is said to be among the reasons of Socrates’ trial and conviction.
The fifth speaker is the young Agathon, also the host of the feast thrown on the occasion of winning the prize with his first tragedy. So in the fifth chapter, love is seen from the viewpoint of a tragedist.
The last person, who also arrives last in a drunk and euphoric state, is Alcibiades who in his speech, talks of his personal relationship with Socrates. The historians believe that the political reason behind this treatise was to clear the name of Socrates of the allegations about him poisoning the minds of Athenian youth and his influence on the betrayal of Alcibiades, the young general. Hence, this treatise is about the borders of love and politics. Alcibiades mostly speaks about Socrates. At the end of the feast Socrates begins a discussion about the relationship between comedy and tragedy which remains unfinished when the guests leave the feast. Given the evidence, Socrates at the time of the feast is a middle-aged man, about 15 years before his execution. Aristodemus recalls:
“When he reached the house of Agathon he found the doors wide open, and a comical thing happened. A servant coming out met him, and led him at once into the banqueting-hall in which the guests were reclining, for the banquet was about to begin. Welcome, Aristodemus, said Agathon, as soon as he appeared-you are just in time to sup with us; if you come on any other matter put it off, and make one of us, as I was looking for you yesterday and meant to have asked you, if I could have found you. But what have you done with Socrates?
I turned round, but Socrates was nowhere to be seen; and I had to explain that he had been with me a moment before, and that I came by his invitation to the supper.
You were quite right in coming, said Agathon; but where is he himself?
He was behind me just now, as I entered, he said, and I cannot think what has become of him.
Go and look for him, boy, said Agathon, and bring him in; and do you, Aristodemus, meanwhile take the place by Eryximachus.
The servant then assisted him to wash, and he lay down, and presently another servant came in and reported that our friend Socrates had retired into the portico of the neighbouring house. “There he is fixed,” said he, “and when I call to him he will not stir.” How strange, said Agathon; then you must call him again, and keep calling him.
Let him alone, said my informant; he has a way of stopping anywhere and losing himself without any reason. I believe that he will soon appear; do not therefore disturb him.”
Here, Plato implies that this philosophical trance one of the most beautiful habits of Socrates.