Slow Reading Proposal

I would like to propose a little Slow Reading Project. I launched this blog into the world about Plato’s Republic, mindful that not everyone, indeed very few of anyone, happened to be actively reading it or thinking about it. I appreciate those of you have have been reading the blog, despite doing other things. But my real goal can only be attained within the context of philia, of friendship, and friendship always has a third partner, some object or activity of mutual interest. So let me make my offer:

Let’s take some time this upcoming week to read together slowly and discuss Republic, Book I. Some of you may have never read the Republic before, so here’s a chance to start. Some of you may have read it a while ago, and here is a chance to notice some things that you didn’t notice the first time — it may even present itself as an entirely new dialogue taken slowly.

In any case, here is an excuse to open the book again. Exciting, yes? Any translation is fine, whatever you have on your shelf. (I like Grube/Reeve or Bloom or Sachs, but any modern translation will do.) There are (more…)

Did Plato write three drafts?

I mentioned in my last post that a sense of the Republic’s structure attunes its reader to notice certain discontinuities that seem to mar its implicit order. One of these is the transition from Book IV to Book V, which is the opening of the middle (climatic) act of the five act division I gave of the Republic as a whole. The end of Book IV seems, on a first reading, to reach a climax:  the characters were trying to trying to answer the question, “What is justice?” and Book IV reaches consummation with a set of satisfying (or at least agreed upon) definitions of justice and the other (more…)

On Defective Reading

I call my project the “Defective Reading” of Platonic philosophy. My working hypothesis is that defects can only be experienced as defects if there is at work an anterior/immanent norm of completion or wholeness. The defect is “seen” by the “light” provided by the sense of wholeness/completion animating the beholder. The light is not seen, but seen by. Once one become aware of a defect, in an argument for instance, an inner norm becomes energetic and operative. Defects excite such norms, whereas self-satisfied opinions depress them. Moments of such defective awareness thus present the best chance (more…)

Upcoming posts

Here are a few posts that you can look forward to over the coming weeks/months:

1. A continuation of my introduction to Mimetic Theory, including the following topics: the gospel unmasking of sacrificial myths, the apocalyptic situation that results from this unmasking, the notion of “structural innocence”, the “interdividual” status of human beings, the mimetic origins of occult phenomena, hominization and the birth of meaning, and (more…)

Education and the Liturgical Formation of Desire

I want to write on the “liturgical” character of Plato’s education program as laid out in the Republic, particularly Book VII. My thinking on this subject has been shaped primarily from three sources:

1) Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formations by James K. A. Smith — the first volume in a projected trilogy called Cultural Liturgies;
2) “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God,” an essay by Simone Weil;
3) Personal Knowledge by Michael Polanyi.

This post will be rather longer than usual, but I hesitated to divide up these confluent sources of inspiration, since their ideas overlap in interesting ways — with each other and with Plato’s thought. (I will relate Girardian mimetic theory to these later.) Such moments of agreement (homologia) are often a first sign that one may be on to something… (more…)

Mencken and Socrates and St. Paul on Political Doxa

Mencken on American voters:They like phrases which thunder like salvos of artillery.  Let that thunder sound, and they take all the rest on trust.  If a sentence begins furiously and then peters out into fatuity, they are still satisfied.  If a phrase has a punch in it, they do not ask that it also have a meaning.  If a word slides off the tongue like a ship going down the ways, they are content and applaud it and await the next.” – From page 43 of the 1996 Johns Hopkins University Press edition of H.L. Mencken’s 1956 collection, On Politics: A Carnival of Buncombe (more…)

Felt Absence and the Quest for Virtue

In Book II of the Republic, Socrates lays out a strategy for determining the meaning of dikaiosyne, a word translated almost universally in Plato translations as “justice,” and just as universally in New Testament translations as “righteousness”. His strategy is peculiar to say the least: let’s make the soul large to our view by creating a city in speech; let’s look for the three (other) virtues of wisdom, courage and moderation; whatever virtue is left over must be justice. How can we take this method of discovery seriously? Questions abound: (more…)

Provisional Aims of My Book Project

I intend to write a book about Plato’s Republic, particularly about his notion of doxa (opinion/seeming) as it relates to the quest for wisdom. My working title is “A Defective Reading of Plato’s Republic.” A truncated list of the theses I intend to defend in my book and to begin airing out in my blog:

1) That knowledge is something above (not reproducible to) doxa and yet the communication of knowledge must be mediated by opinion/doxa.
2) That opinion/doxa is defective in relation to knowledge and its defect must become focal in order to ascend to knowledge.
3) That desire/eros requires an awareness of defect joined to an anticipation of satisfying what is missing, what I am calling “felt absence.”
4) That the question arising from the defect in opinion/doxa, that shapes a search, is properly erotic.
5) That the Divided Line is the interpretive key to the Republic and that its function is to establish a form of erotic exhortation/protrepsis to overcome the intentional defects of the dialogue.
6) That the constructions of the “city in speech” in the Republic is a concrete illustration of the groping toward Form schematized in the Divide Line
7) That the Platonic educational program is one devoted to the liturgical shaping of philosophical desire.
8) That dialogic irony is a rhetorical form that attempts to avoid the premature satisfaction of scandalized belief.
9) That the conversion/periagoge which constitutes the end of education cannot be reduced to doxa.
10) That forms are heuristic anticipations of the overcoming of doxic defect produced by nonrivalrous forms of mediation.
11) That friendship/philia  is an essential component of true philosophical praxis.
12) That the Republic is intentionally defective and its true teaching is not given in the dialogue itself.

I realize that these theses are too truncated and thus incapable in themselves of communicating my interpretation of Plato’s thought. (This incapacity of direct speech to communicate vital truth is something that I believe Kierkegaard learned from Plato.) But one can point, direct attention and provoke thought in a particular direction. One of the ironies of my book is the attempt to say directly what cannot really be said directly. Wallace Stephens wrote that “The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.” I am worried that my book will be all too successful in this resistance!