Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Instead of dutifully reading Ockham today I've been reading the Symposium and Allan Bloom's commentary. I confess that whenever I read Plato I feel that he is both the most beautiful and most profound of philosophers and become tempted to just keep reading him and ignore all his footnoters.

I remember vividly the first time I read the Symposium, at fifteen or sixteen, in the old Jowett translation in the Britannica Great Books set. It certainly made more of an impression on me than any of the other Plato I read around the same. I'll never forget my initial impression at the speech of Aristophanes, which I didn't understand was supposed to be funny and found simply absurd and ludicrous and a bit grotesque.

And too I remember vividly the second time I read it, a few years later as a college freshman. For many years at St John's College there had been a tradition of making the Symposium seminar an actual symposium, with everyone drinking and talking. Federal funding regulations had made this wise and beneficent custom impracticable for a program in which Plato comes in the first year when nearly all the participants were underage, and by the time I got there the practice had been "officially" discontinued. Unofficially, however, most people got plenty drunk beforehand and a few intrepid souls snuck their wine into class in things like Snapple bottles. I stayed totally sober - I was very careful not to drink for the first two years of college - and participated in the discussion and watched in amazement as various usually dour or carefree or vice-hardened classmates began to pour their hearts out, some even weeping, as we all wondered together about love and beauty and transcendence and being fundamentally incomplete.

Perhaps part of the reason that Plato has such attractions for me is (in addition to his astonishing excellence) merely personal, in that I read so much of him as a freshman, which was such a formative period and has so many intense associations. For instance, I can't read the Phaedrus without thinking of another seminar, after which I met up with my girlfriend who had just had her own (at St John's all the seminars in the College happen at the same time, from 8-10 PM on Monday and Thursday nights; it's almost like a community liturgy around which all other time is structured). We were talking and she mentioned how proud she was that we had kept the black horses of our souls in check so well, which was ironic, for I had partly spent my seminar worrying that my own black horse might be champing at the bit more than I could handle.

Anyway. I read a great deal besides my studies in scholastic philosophy and theology, but since the blog is explicitly centered around these, it's always hard to tell what place if any other matter have here. "What's this tripe?" I can hear my vast crowd of frothing readers protest. "We came here for the good stuff, and he's trying to pass off his nostalgia instead of thinking like a man!" Fair enough. Back to the trenches tomorrow.

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