Zizek’s Return to Plato: The Idea as Appearance of Appearance

pobeb241_young_girl_throwing_rock

What Plato was not ready (or, rather, able) to accept was the thoroughly virtual, “immaterial” (or, rather, “insubstantial”) status of Ideas: like sense-events in Deleuze’s ontology, Ideas have no causality of their own; they are virtual entities generated by spatio-temporal material processes.

…a Platonic supra-sensible Idea is an imitation of imitation, appearance as appearance—something that appears on the surface of substantial reality.

– Slavoj Zizek, Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism

In discussion Picasso’s A Woman Throwing a Stone he tells us it lends itself easily to a Platonic reading, saying, “the distorted fragments of a woman on a beach throwing a stone are, of course, a grotesque misrepresentation, if measured by the standard of realist reproduction; however, in their very plastic distortion, they immediately/ intuitively render the Idea of a “woman throwing a stone,” the “inner form” of such a figure”.1

Zizek will see in this painting a radical revision of Plato’s essential insights, which Plato himself was unable to see:

the assertion of the gap between the spatio-temporal order of reality in its eternal movement of generation and corruption, and the “eternal” order of Ideas— the notion that empirical reality can “participate” in an eternal Idea, that an eternal Idea can shine through it, appear in it. Where Plato got it wrong is in his ontologization of Ideas (strictly homologous to Descartes’s ontologization of the cogito), as if Ideas form another, even more substantial and stable order of “true” reality. (ibid, KL 934-938)

 The point here is that Ideas are not part of another eternal order outside reality, opposed to the illusory world of appearance, but rather that Ideas are the appearance of appearance: forming the very core of appearance as appearance. Ideas are situated in Zizek as part of the notions first described by the Stoics in their concept of “incorporeals” and in Deleuze as “virtual entities”: Ideas have no causality of their own; they are virtual entities generated by spatio-temporal material processes. (ibid., KL 935) Zizek’s materialism reverses Plato’s notion that Ideas form some other world and that we must seek beyond the illusory word the truth behind appearances, and instead shows that it is in this very realm of appearance that Ideas are created and appear. Yet, we must not mistake Ideas as substantial entities, but rather as incorporeal and virtual, insubstantial.

As Zizek will state it the ontological problem of Ideas is the same as the fundamental problem addressed by Hegel: how is meta-physics possible, how can temporal reality participate in the eternal Order , how can this order appear, transpire, in it? It is not “how can we reach the true reality beyond appearances?” but “how can appearance emerge in reality?” The conclusion Plato avoids is implied in his own line of thought: the supersensible Idea does not dwell beyond appearances, in a separate ontological sphere of fully constituted Being; it is appearance as appearance. (ibid., KL 946-950)

As one thinks on this one must return to Zizek’s conception of the “gap”, which he equates with Freud’s concept of drives: the thesis of the present book is double: (1) there is a dimension missed by all four, that of a pre-transcendental gap/ rupture, the Freudian name for which is the drive; (2) this dimension designates the very core of modern subjectivity. (ibid., KL 358-359) Like many readers I had difficulty understanding what Zizek meant by his concept of “gap” for a long time. Zizek will read Hegel’s notion of the “Spirit as Bone” as the shock that happens between two people who become aware of each other as self-conscious beings for the first time. He’ll relate this with the notions that as a subject “I am by definition alone, a singularity opposed to the entire world of things, a punctuality to which all the world appears, and no amount of phenomenological description of how I am always already “together-with” others can cover up the scandal of another such singularity existing in the world” (ibid. KL 12386). This knowledge that another exists, this shock that I am not alone, that “the Other is thus not simply another subject with whom I share the intersubjective space of recognition, but a traumatic Thing” (ibid., KL 12403). This recognition scene and shock is what Freud will term the drive: the name for this excessive attachment to the objectal excess is the drive, which brings us to the key question: can Hegel think the drive? (ibid., KL 12413)

For Hegel Consciousness does not yet know that there is nothing behind the veil of appearances— nothing but what consciousness itself puts there. This feature captures the acephalous character of the drive: it is not “mine,” the subject’s, it is the very core of my being insisting “out there,” as a partial object which is not me. (ibid., Kl 12419) So against any Platonic reading of something behind the veil of appearance we have the Thing, the appearance of appearance. The void that oscillates between attachment and detachment, the movement that is an excess between two voids, that Zizek will following Democritus term Den.

Democritean atomism is thus the first materialist answer to Eleatic idealism: Eleatics argue from the logical impossibility of the void to the impossibility of motion; Democritean atomists seem to reason in reverse, deducing from the fact that motion exists the necessity that the void (empty space) exists. The ultimate divide between idealism and materialism does not concern the materiality of existence (“ only material things really exist”), but the “existence” of nothingness/ the void: the fundamental axiom of materialism is that the void/ nothingness is (the only ultimate) real, i.e ., there is an indistinction of being and the void. If, for Parmenides, only being is, for Democritus, nothing is as much as being. In order to get from nothing to something, we do not have to add something to the void; on the contrary, we have to subtract, take away, something from nothing. Nothing and othing are thus not simply the same: “Nothing” is the generative void out of which othings, primordially contracted pre-ontological entities, emerge— at this level, nothing is more than othing , negative is more than positive. Once we enter the ontologically fully constituted reality, however, the relationship is reversed: something is more than nothing, in other words, nothing is purely negative, a privation of something. (ibid. KL 1539-1548)

From this we come to Freud by way of Hegel’s notion of Force. Zizek will ask: Is the drive a Force in its being-driven-back-into-itself? Does the rhythm of Force point towards the repetitive movement of the drive? Hegel’s Force is driven back into itself as the very power of annihilating the appearances in which it expresses itself; it is not yet the potentiality of virtual Power which retains its authority only as virtual, as the threat of its actualization. More precisely, the drive is not Power, but also not Force. It is a Force thwarted in its goal, finding its aim in repeating the very failure to reach its goal. The drive does not express itself, it stumbles upon an external element or obstacle; it does not pass from one to another of its manifestations or expressions, it gets stuck on one of them. It is not driven back to itself through overcoming or annihilating its expressions, but through not being able to do so. (KL 12433-12439)

In this the drive is stuck in repetition, oscillating between two voids: subject and object. “Does this image not supply the minimal coordinates of the subject-object axis, the truly primordial axis of evil: the red line which cuts through the darkness is the subject, and the body its object?” – Describing the red line that cuts between two darknesses or voids on the cover of his book: this, perhaps , is how one can imagine the zero-level of creation: a red dividing line cuts through the thick darkness of the void, and on this line, a fuzzy something appears, the object-cause of desire— perhaps, for some, a woman’s naked body (ibid. KL 1549):

He will return to Freud’s concept of Drive reiterating that it is defined Trieb (drive) as a limit- concept situated between biology and psychology, or nature and culture— a natural force known only through its psychic representatives . But we should take a step further here and read Freud more radically: the drive is natural, but the natural thrown out of joint, distorted or deformed by culture; it is culture in its natural state. This is why the drive is a kind of imaginary focus, or meeting place, between psychoanalysis and cognitive brain sciences: the paradox of the self-propelling loop on which the entire Freudian edifice is based and which the brain sciences approach in metaphoric formulations, without being able to define it precisely. Due to this in-between status, the insistence of the drive is “immortal,” an “undead” striving that insists beyond life and death. (ibid., KL 12442-12448)

The point that Zizek makes is that there is no other place that the immortal undying drive is striving to reach beyond or into, no immortal separate realm of Heaven or Ideas, etc., but that the drive exists in the oscillations of appearance as appearance in this realm arising out of the nothing between two voids. He’ll use examples from physics, neurosciences (which in some ways resemble my friend Scott Bakker’s BBT theory, strangely), and others from many various philosophical and non-philosophical theories. That materialism resembles Idealism, and that Zizek insists we need to return to German Idealism to understand where materialism went wrong in its superficial fall into many of the fragmented philosophies of the twentieth-century is the subject of his book among other things. In process of rereading this work in light of his newest Absolute Recoil I’m beginning to see how Idealism and Materialism are tied to each other not as in a mirror reversal, but in a more subtle immanent form of the one tied to the pre-ontological notion of the void (Den) which is missing in all Idealisms from the time of Parmenides onward.

1. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 932-934). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Question from a comment on Plato and the Horizon of Meaning

Jan Cavel asked:

On http://veraqivas.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/plato-is-not-platonism/ you comment „Platonism is the fact that one is always bound by his horizon of meaning”. Could you please expand this? Of course, the whole article is about this small excerpt, but I would really appreciate if you could find the time to take one or more hits at this „binding of one with his own meaning-horizon”. Thank you… 

The point being that we are bound to Plato’s horizon of meaning even if we oppose it. He set the terms of the debate, and no singular philosopher – not Descartes, not Kant, not Heidegger, etc. have yet to escape this circle of meaning or produce something new and outside its horizon. Can we think the other? Can we move outside or from within the labyrinth or navigate the multiplicities and produce something else: another ‘horizon of meaning’? Perhaps, not… or yes?

Long ago I remember my university philosophy mentor used to use the example: he’d draw a circle on the blackboard and place us in it, and then draw another circle just beyond it and place certain key thinkers in it. He would suggest that what these thinkers do is revise and remap the truths of the former circle retroactively and give them a larger stamp for the mind that allows us to think new ideas, thoughts that have shifted due to our technologies – accidents of that intersection between mind and its creations. It’s this strange anomaly at the intersection of technology and thought that new Ideas emerge in time and expands our original horizon of meaning. That notion stuck with me long ago and I’ve been studying the dialectical interactions of humans and technology in philosophers and other thinkers since that time. For me it is this dialectical interaction not of ideas in our mind, but of those processes we shape that in turn reshape us and open up possibilities for further exploration and creation.

Ideas are not the immortal engines of creation, but are rather the accidents of time: and arise at the intersection of humans and technology in a dialectical relationship that over time has become so ubiquitous we no longer see this process for what it is. Technology is not the artifact of eternal Ideas, and neither is it some objectified Idea in the mind, etc. Technology is this dialectical process in praxis, an ongoing temporal interaction and negotiation of reality rather than a trace run of our finitude. Technology is the way we navigate the world, a vehicle for exploring the farthest reaches of our own horizons of meaning. As we invent new forms of technologies they open up our horizons of meaning, and those circles revise the maps of the mind and offer greater possibilities.

Language itself is the most ubiquitous technology we’ve invented so far, and in turn it has shaped our cultures and civilizations beyond the base set of relations we needed to survive on this planet. It did not come full blown, but was a slowly modulated process of give and take as we used it to forge relations with reality and each other. Language is a technology. It was developed over time, and as many linguists agree it doesn’t last (i.e., all languages change and become obsolete or are transformed through temporal processes, etc.). Words are tools for negotiating reality. As our understanding changes so do the tools, and new words are grafted onto the structure of language to shape new ideas till they too die and are once again replaced by better tools, etc. But this is only an example, not the reduction to linguistic signs of the Linguistic Turn.

I simplified, obviously. I mean that one is always either a proponent, neutral, or an enemy of Plato’s realism of Ideas: whether they exist eternally beyond, within, or in nature: the central core of Idealism; or whether there might be something else to explain this.

Take for instance Slavoj Zizek’s use of this tradition out of the German Transcendental movement – what he terms ‘dialectical materialism’ does not oppose this notion of Ideas per se, but rather stipulates the obverse – that instead Immortal Ideas as efficient causation engines of reality, he tells us they are accidents of time, that they are mortal; they are not sources of efficient causation, but rather the endpoint in a process of imminent production (not Schelling’s productivity, Ideas or not essences: rather ideas emerge from the pre-ontological forces of two vacuums in flux, etc.): that they emerge in time and are succeeded by other ideas and die off and are replaced (the main drift is Ideas exist, but only in time not outside it in some eternal sphere of immortal splendor, etc.). Yet, even Zizek is bound by the horizon of meaning that Plato set two thousand years ago and works against this tradition of meaning of Ideas. Zizek takes his notions from Den of Democritus and aspects of modern String Theory and quantum flux, etc..

Was Plato a Platonist: The Theory of Forms

My friend Virgilio A. Rivas over at Kafka’s Ruminations thinks I have reduced Plato to the tradition of Platonism, accusing him of being an Idealist. I was not the first, nor will I be the last to do so. It all hinges on Plato’s Theory of Forms. As Virgilio describes it:

The chief problem of reducing Plato to an idealist is the assumption rarely interrogated that Plato is Platonism. History should be our guide. Platonism is not Plato.

If anyone began the whole tradition of Platonism as Idealism it would have to be Plato’s prime pupil, Aristotle who described Plato in the first book of the Metaphysics  (Metaph. A6, 987a32–b10):

In his youth he [Plato] had become familiar first of all with Cratylus and with Heraclitean views to the effect that all perceptible things are always in flux, and there is no knowledge that relates to them. This is a position he later subscribed to in these terms. Socrates, on the other hand, engaged in discussion of ethics, and had nothing to say about the general system of nature. But he was intent on finding out what was universal in this field, and was the first to fix his thinking on definitions. Plato followed him in this, and subscribed to the position that definition relates to something else, and not to the perceptibles—on the kind of grounds indicated: he thought it impossible for there to be a common definition of any of the perceptibles, since they were always changing. Plato, then, called these kinds of realities “ideas,” and claimed that the perceptibles were something in addition to them, and were all spoken of in terms of them—what he said was that by virtue of participation, the many shared their names with the forms.1

This notion of imperceptible Universals (“ideas”, “Forms”: from Greek εἶδος (eidos) and ἰδέα (idea)) as the organizing force of perceptibles is the central tenet of both forms of Idealism: the two-world theory based on abstract Universals, and the one-world or immanent theory based on Hegel’s “concrete universals”, etc. This notion that perceptibles (objects of the senses) were supplements to the “ideas” or properties and appendages of the ideas themselves is central to Aristotle’s conception of Plato’s theory of forms. This intermingling of form and property begins the whole battle of what I’ve termed substantial formalism and its traditions in Platonism.

But before we tease out the history of Platonism we need to understand first what Plato himself taught us in his own dialogues. I’ll admit that for me (not being a scholar of ancient Greek) a handicap, in that I usually depend heavily on both etymological understanding and the history of translations and transliterations of terms. To speak of Plato or Aristotle would be to have invested in an understanding of the terms they used, otherwise one is truly handicapped and not able to tease out the nuances of the linguistic signs that harbor specific flavors and colors (i.e., tropes of rhetoric, figures of thought or speech, etc.).

As we find even on Wiki the notion of form has a pre-history in its linguistic use (here):

The Greek concept of form precedes the attested language and is represented by a number of words mainly having to do with vision: the sight or appearance of a thing. The main words, εἶδος (eidos) and ἰδέα (idea) come from the Indo-European root *weid-, “see”. Eidos (though not idea) is already attested in texts of the Homeric era, the earliest Greek literature. Equally ancient is μορφή (morphē), “shape”, from an obscure root. The φαινόμενα (phainomena), “appearances”, from φαίνω (phainō), “shine”, Indo-European *bhā-, was a synonym.

The point to be made here is that even for Plato there was a ready made concept floating in the language that he was able to appropriate and turn toward his theory of Universals (i.e., the notion of Forms has a history, and is not a neologism). Plato’s most explicit statement on the Theory of Forms (i.e., one finds in in many dialogues on Beauty, Goodness, Justice, etc., but implicit rather than explicit) comes late in his Republic where he describes the Allegory of the Cave.

In the allegory, Plato likens people untutored in the Theory of Forms to prisoners chained in a cave, unable to turn their heads. All they can see is the wall of the cave. Behind them burns a fire. Between the fire and the prisoners there is a parapet, along which puppeteers can walk. The puppeteers, who are behind the prisoners, hold up puppets that cast shadows on the wall of the cave. The prisoners are unable to see these puppets, the real objects, that pass behind them. What the prisoners see and hear are shadows and echoes cast by objects that they do not see. 

What Plato hints at is that these prisoners because of their place in the cave, unknowing of the real world behind and above them will mistake appearance (φαινόμενα (phainomena), shadows) for reality. They will take the shadows on the wall of the cave for the real, never knowing that it is the ideas casting their shadows on the wall. All of this comes to Plato’s point that when we speak of things we are wrong, when I point to a dog, the dog I point to is a shadow of the real dog lodged somewhere behind and above me in the real world of Ideas or Forms. My concrete dog in front of me is an illusion of the senses according to Plato.

If the prisoners are released Plato tells us, they can turn their heads and see the real objects. Then they realize their error. What can we do that is analogous to turning our heads and seeing the causes of the shadows? We can come to grasp the Forms with our minds he tells us. For Plato every appearance we perceive through the senses participates in these eternal Forms: what we see is a reflection of the Forms rather than their reality. Yet, we can never gain access to this eternal realm of ideas by way of the senses, but only through Reason and the arduous path of philosophy Plato tells us.

At the end of the Phaedo when Socrates confronts his friend Crito with the stark fact of his physical death, he reminds Crito that his corpse is not Socrates, that Socrates will continue on because his true Form is deathless:

I do not convince  Crito that I am this Socrates talking to you here and ordering all I say, but he thinks that I am the thing which he will soon be looking at as a corpse, and so he asks how he shall bury me. I have been saying for some time and at some length that after I have drunk the poison I shall no longer be with you but will leave you to go and enjoy some good fortunes of the blessed, but it seems that I have said all this to him in vain in an attempt to reassure you and myself too. Give a pledge to Crito on my behalf, he said, the opposite pledge to that he gave the jury. He pledged that I would  stay; you must pledge that I will not stay after I die, but that I shall go away, so that Crito will bear it more easily when he sees my body being burned or buried and will not be angry on my behalf, as if I were suffering terribly, and so that he should not say at the funeral that he is laying out, or carrying out, or burying Socrates.2

The point Plato makes here is that the Idea, the real Socrates, the Idea that is concrete (here and now) is not the physical appearance of Socrates, but rather the idea that immanently organizes and orders his speech and thoughts is the real Socrates, not the dead corpse (physis) that Crito will bury or burn later on. Rather it is this very soul, the essence, the very real eidos and substance of Socrates that will soon be sitting at the banquet table of the gods making merry, etc.

One could provide example after example to illustrate the point of the Forms, but now I need to turn to its reception and use within what my friend Virgilio calls “Platonism”. For Platonism is this very reception of the terms of Plato and their use or abuse in the long shadow of Plato’s infestation across the centuries within other followers and detractors of Plato’s Ideas.

I’ll take this up in another post… I need a break and a moment to walk my old bones, being a “lover of the body” rather than a “lover of learning” I like to wander among the shadows. 🙂

1. Fine, Gail (2008-07-16). The Oxford Handbook of Plato (Oxford Handbooks) (p. 50). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Plato; Cooper, John M.; Hutchinson, D. S. (2011-08-25). Complete Works (Kindle Locations 3129-3136). Hackett Publishing. Kindle Edition.

The Phaedo: The Art of Dying

I am afraid that other people do not realize that the one aim of those who practice philosophy in the proper manner is to practice for dying and death.

Plato, Phaedo

In my pursuit of tracing down the battles of philosophy between the Parmedian (Idealist) and Democretian (Materialist) traditions there is probably no better place to start than with Plato’s great manifesto on the Art of Dying: the Phaedo.

Plato found the body disgusting and a detriment to the pursuit of reality and truth. His hatred of the senses and the physical realm of bodily pleasure is well known. It is this long shadow of Plato’s conceptions of reality and truth that still haunt philosophy like an insidious worm that gnaws at its entrails. His belief in an immortal soul that could be slowly purified of the senses and raised to know the truth is at the heart of this so called Art of Dying:

“There is likely to be something such as a path to guide us out of our confusion, because as long as we have a body and our soul is fused with such an evil we shall never adequately attain what we desire, which we affirm to be the truth.”1

This notion that the truth will never be attained through the senses is at the core of Plato’s dialogue in the Phaedo, along with the ensuing notion that there is a true art of philosophy and that Plato himself can teach it through the imaginative figure of his fictional Socrates. He will place a high price on this acetic practice of attaining truth through purity and against the body and all its desires: “if we are ever to have pure knowledge, [e] we must escape from the body and observe things-in-themselves with the soul by itself.”2 (One wonders if the old Kant was looking at this passage when he forever closed the door on things-in-themselves”; the noumenal realm? Closing us off in finitude, limited to intuition and the curse of the body, etc.)

Plato through the mouth of his figural Socrates on his deathbed will promote this practice of purification as the only possible way to truth: “[a]nd does purification not turn out to be what we mentioned in our argument some time ago, namely, to separate the soul as far as possible from the body and accustom it to gather itself and collect itself out of [d] every part of the body and to dwell by itself as far as it can both now and in the future, freed, as it were, from the bonds of the body?” This art of dying well is actually an apology for suicide, which is the point Socrates makes with his friends. The idea that it “is only those who practice philosophy in the right way, we say, who always most want to free the soul; and this release and separation of the soul from the body is the preoccupation of the philosophers?”4

The whole opening of the Phaedo is Socrates’s apology against resentment, against resenting dying and death; instead, for Socrates we should affirm death and dying as the ultimate goal of philosophy and wisdom: the purification of the mind in truth. Reading the Phaedo one gets the feeling that Plato is more of an Orphic Priest than a philosopher, and that his philosophy is not truly about understanding truth as it is a spiritual practice and path to purification and transcendence rather than philosophy as we’ve come to know it. Of course one can point to such books as Algis Uzdavinys’s Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism that affirm that as the central tenet of Plato’s program, etc., and that the Phaedo is the first manifesto of this new praxis: the Orphico-Pythagorean soteriological manifesto.5 As Uzdavinys reminds us, for Plato “the souls of pious philosophers (the knowers of Ideas, or Forms) are purified of the mortal body and thereby join the immortal gods” (76-77).

Plato’s Socrates will admit: “

Will then a true lover of wisdom, who has a similar hope and knows that he will never find it to any extent except in Hades, be resentful of dying and not gladly undertake the journey thither?6

At every point Plato will pit the “lover of wisdom” against the  “lover of the body” as if to have been born were itself the most heinous of crimes against the gods. Yet, this would also be false, because for Plato humans are and will remain slaves of the gods, subordinated to their hierarchical dictates.7 Against the lovers of body these lovers of wisdom will enact moderation, courage, and justice; and, most of all they will enact wisdom, which “itself is a kind of cleansing or purification”.8 Plato will even buy into the Orphic mythologies and their mystics, saying: “

It is likely that those who established the mystic rites for us were not inferior persons but were speaking in riddles long ago when they said that whoever arrives in the underworld uninitiated and unsanctified will wallow in the mire, whereas he who arrives there purified and initiated will dwell with the gods.9

 This opposition of the uninitiated and unsanctified “lovers of the body”, against the purified and initiated “lovers of wisdom” is central to his program attack on the Athenians of his day who killed or murdered Socrates. For the Phaedo above all things is a final tribute to his master, Socrates. A promissory note marking both goodbye and Plato’s own manifesto and stretching of his young wings toward his own projects.  

After the long defense and preamble of Socrates defending dying and death, initiation and the purification of the soul of the body his friend Cebes will tell him that it is all good and well but that most people will not get it, that most people will plainly disagree with Socrates and argue for the mortality of the soul along with the body rather than the immortal transcension of the soul into a realm of wisdom, saying, of the soul that

…after it has left the body it no longer exists anywhere, but that it is destroyed and dissolved on the day the man dies, as soon as it leaves the body; and that, on leaving it, it is dispersed like breath or smoke, has flown away and gone and is no longer anything anywhere.10

Socrates for his part will begin a discussion on causality (i.e., whence the emergence of humans, animals, plants, etc. in the world?) Everything that is or comes to be must come out of it’s opposite will be his starting point in the discussion. Old Socrates once again is shown to be a master of rhetoric and dialectic in these passages, as if he’d finally succumbed to the art of the Sophist and Dialectician, leading poor Cebes through a gallery of objects that arise out of their opposite, and coming to a final resolution of life arising out of death and vice versa:

What comes to be from being alive? Being dead.
And what comes to be from being dead?
One must agree that it is being alive.
Then, Cebes, living creatures and things come to be from the dead?11

Poor Cebes seems so befuddled at this point that his question seems more tentative as if he were in a state of utter confusion and was unsure if he had just been tricked by Socrates or not. Socrates, ever the rhetorician, outdoes all Sophists everywhere with his dialectical tricks. Yet, one wonders why he did not win his freedom from the Athenian judges? Or did he? Maybe the truth is that Plato’s Socrates always did want to be free in the Plato’s philosophical sense: of his own purification of the body and mind by way of death, etc. At least this is what Plato imagines for us. The actual Socrates of the body is gone beyond that strange shadow world forever. What remains is the fictions of Plato and others figural plays of rhetoric, pages filled with this mind that floats through time on the mind’s of those who have battled with such things: the philosophers.

In my next post I’ll take up the Phaedo again demarcating Plato’s emerging Theory of substantial forms or Ideas, etc.

1. Plato; Cooper, John M.; Hutchinson, D. S. (2011-08-25). Complete Works (Kindle Locations 2096-2098). Hackett Publishing. Kindle Edition.
2. ibid. (KL 2104-2105).
3. ibid. (KL 2118-2120).
4. ibid. (KL 2123-2124).
5. Algis Uzdavinys. Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism. (Matheson Trust, 2011)
6. ibid. (KL 2134-2135).
7. ibid. (KL 2139)
8. ibid. (KL 2163-2164)
9. ibid. (KL 2164-2166).
10. ibid. (KL 2174-2176).
11. ibid. (KL 2219-2222).

Deleuze’s Anti-Platonism

In the same moment that Greece gave birth to democracy (demos) it also gave birth to its greatest enemy, Plato. Plato reduced the fragmented authority of tradition to the syllabus of the Laws and Republic. Out of Plato came the new authority of Philosophy itself: its distinctions and judgments, of a supposed superior authority as one of its greatest inventions, and of its greatest triumph: the concept of  ‘transcendence’, the Idea, the metaphysics of representation, imitation, and participation.

The real world of the Idea as opposed to the apparent world of simulacra became both the tool and means for the dialectic: the art of hierarchical theory and exclusionary practices, as well as an elitism in philosophical theory and practice, aesthetics and political rule.  As Miguel de Beistegui remarks:

Platonism is a response and a solution to a problem brought about by the birth of Athenian democracy, in which, in the words of a commentator, “anyone could lay claim to anything, and could carry the day by the force of rhetoric.” Such is the reason why Platonism seeks to nip this anarchy and rebellion in the bud, by hunting down, as Plato says, simulacra and rogue images of all kinds (57).1

Continue reading

Quote of the Day: Badiou on Plato and Love

Plato is quite precise in what he says about love: a seed of universality resides in the impulse towards love. The experience of love is an impulse towards something that he calls the Idea. Thus, even when I am merely admiring a beautiful body, whether I like it or not, I am in movement towards the idea of Beauty. I think – in quite different terms, naturally – along the same lines, namely that love encompasses the experience of the possible transition from the pure randomness of chance to a state that has universal value. Starting out from something that is simply an encounter, a trifle, you learn that you can experience the world on the basis of difference and not only in terms of identity. And you can even be tested and suffer in the process. In today’s world, it is generally thought that individuals only pursue their own self-interest. Love is an antidote to that. Provided it isn’t conceived only as an exchange of mutual favours, or isn’t calculated way in advance as a profitable investment, love really is a unique trust placed in chance. It takes us into key areas of the experience of what is difference and, essentially, leads to

– Alain Badiou,  In Praise of Love

Wisdom’s Lover: The Philosopher and the Poet

In those eloquent passages of the Phaedrus on the divine madness of prophets, mystics, poets, and lovers, Plato’s mentor Socrates with subtle irony and elliptic elegance, his own madness notwithstanding,  once offered this advice to the poets:

If anyone comes to the gates of poetry and expects to become an adequate poet by acquiring expert knowledge of the subject without the Muses’ madness, he will fail, and his self-controlled verses will be eclipsed by the poetry of men who have been driven out of their minds. 1

(Translated by A. Nehamas and P. Woodruff)

That this divine madness was a divine gift not to be confused with physical disease the ancients knew well. As E.R. Dodds in his excellent study The Greeks and the Irrational reminds us it is not clear in what this “given” element consists; but if we consider the occasions on which the Iliad-poet himself appeals to the Muses for help, we shall see that it falls on the side of content and not of form.2

The idea of poetic knowledge coming as a reliable gift of the Muses is central to poetry – as Dodds reminds us, for in an age which possessed no written documents, where should first-hand evidence be found? Just as the truth about the future would be attained only if man were in touch with a knowledge wider than his own, so the truth about the past could be preserved only on a like condition. Its human repositories, the poets, had (like the seers) their technical resources, their professional training; but vision of the past, like insight into the future, remained a mysterious faculty, only partially under its owner’s control, and dependent in the last resort on divine grace. By that grace poet and seer alike enjoyed a knowledge denied to other men. Dodds mentions that it is recent scholars who have emphasized that it is to Democritus, rather than to Plato, that we must assign the credit of having introduced into literary theory this conception of the poet as a man set apart from common humanity by an abnormal inner experience, and of poetry as a revelation apart from reason and above reason. Maybe this is another reason Plato hated Democritus and never even mentioned that great progenitor of materialism. *(Kindle Locations 1606-1609)

Continue reading

Notes on the Theory of Forms: Plato, Aristotle, and…

Sometimes we need to spend time tracing down both the etymological and philosophical history of certain terms that have subtly ensconced themselves within our discourse. Our theoretical understanding of Forms is one such term. The Greek concept of form is represented by a number of words mainly having to do with vision: the sight or appearance of a thing. The main words, εἶδος (eidos) and ἰδέα (idea) come from the Indo-European root *weid-, “see”. Both words are already there in the works of Homer, the earliest Greek literature. Equally ancient is μορφή (morphē), “shape”, from an obscure root. The φαινόμενα (phainomena), “appearances”, from φαίνω (phainō), “shine”, Indo-European *bhā-, was a synonym.1

What’s interesting is that all these etymological derivations return us to perception, sight, vision, shape, shine, appearance. And that eidos and idea are rooted in seeing or sighting. Why should human perception of things come into play at all? Why is our study of natural processes always based on sight? Is the tyranny of all the eye what forces us to make such distinctions as form and content as if form (eidos, idea, etc.) is the active element and content (substance, matter, content, material, etc.) as passive?

We know that Plato was a realist of Ideas, that he formulated a theory of Forms or theory of Ideas which asserts that non-material abstract (but substantial) forms (or ideas) were the only real, and that the material world of change known to us through sensation was a shadow world of mimicry and play. For Plato the Forms are the only true objects of study, and they are the only source of all genuine knowledge. Most philosophers have disagreed with Plato’s assessment of Forms. Even Plato himself through his fictional young and older versions of Socrates plays with the dangerous notion of representationalism to account for the truth of universals and particulars, introducing the notions that particulars do not exist as such, that whatever they are, they “mime” the Forms, appearing to be particulars. This dualism of universals in particulars, appearance and reality is with us still.

Continue reading