Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Sunday, January 31, 2010

papers up

I've posted a long paper of mine at Scribd. It's in two parts, a main paper on Platonism as read by two very different contemporary interpreters (Alain Badiou and Ernest McClain) with some meandering about with Kojeve and Rosen and others; and a technical/speculative appendix that gets way beyond my competence, and admits it. The paper (with or without appendix) is actually meant to be more than just a presentation of Badiou or McClain; it argues pretty frankly for my own idiosyncratic take on what I think is at stake in philosophy whether in Plato's day or our own (I don't think the situation has changed much).

Badiou is too huge a presence to need introduction, but or those of you who don't know, McClain is an emeritus professor of music at Brooklyn College, who argues that many of the more difficult passages in ancient texts--passages that almost always involve numbers--become readable if we interpret these numbers in terms of ancient musical theory. The texts McClain looks at this way are
not just Plato, but also the Vedas, Homer, the Bible, and the Quran, among others. Though he might not endorse the juxtaposition, I'd compare McClain's work to Giorgio de Santillana's and Hertha von Dechend's Hamlet's Mill; but in place of archeo-astronomy, McClain gives pride of place to music--the other most universal experience, besides sex, death, and the sky. My paper argues that the spirit of McClain's exegesis has philosophical consequences, and suggests that among these are revisions of many of Badiou's arguments. Since Badiou is among the most rigorous and broad thinkers today (and the course-corrections I suggest would arise are not trivial), this is actually a less niggling argument than it might seem.

I'll be getting some other papers up eventually, as I work out formatting issues. I'll keep a permanent link up under my "About Me" to the right, where I've also put a link there to my LibraryThing page where I have a number of book reviews up of various lengths.

All the papers on Scribd, either now or eventually, are drafts and subject to revision, but I welcome comments. The two up now have circulated before, privately, so some of you will have seen them already.


  1. I think it high praise of your paper that it left me re-thinking "Plato was a freaking genius!". I like the way you celebrate the talents of the other philosophers you cite as well, even (especially) when you disagree with them.

    I'm still thinking through what a great bridge the comparison to tuning music makes for so many difficult moments of ideal vs practical. I'll give it a couple weeks and reread it once it has percolated in my mind for a while. I found myself wishing that someplace we might unearth the dialogs of Aristotle or the class notes of Plato--perhaps in the library of Pompeii which new technology has recently made readable. I think you're probably spot on that Plato was more pragmatic than we've given him credit, who knows the Nichomachean ethics may well have been mostly Plato's all along, just fine tuned by Aristotle. The fine tuning of behavior through praxis sure sounds familiar to the approximations you describe.

    As much as I'm enjoying the way your blog is pushing me to put down my classical prejudices and examine new philosophers, getting back to the ancients always gets my blood flowing.

  2. > I think it high praise of your paper that it left me re-thinking "Plato was a freaking genius!"

    di0genes: Actually, I think this is high praise of Ernest McClain. Eric Voegelin taught me that i really had no idea what the ancients we saying; Leo Strauss taught me to hope that it was possible to figure it out. But neither of them really look closely at the specific little tricks. McClain, of course, looks almost exclusively at the minutiae; but he does bother to ask, at least by the bye, what all these numbers have to do w/ philosophy proper (or theology-- a huge amount of his attention is on scriptural texts). This is a side-issue for him, however; in private he's more forthcoming than in his books about his own guesses about this, but he's mostly content to let the philosophers or theologians figure it out. So far, not many have been interested. One reason I wrote the paper was to explore the question. It struck me that the way every single dialogue ends more or less with having to "make do" with NOT knowing what justice, or love, or piety, or etc etc, is (which does not absolve us from having to engage ourselves with these very excellences), is so much like musical tuning (getting it close enough --which does have to be close, because ignoring the issue leads to cacophany) that McClain was clearly onto something. I am pretty sure that this extended metaphor was also extended through culture (I've written some other essays on this which I'll get up eventually); Plato didn't invent it. He was applying it and tweaking it to keep it relevant and alive. It's precisely when you catch the argument not working on the literal level that you have to be aware. That's where the "comma" is; that's where Plato is tuning. I think Nietzsche does this too-- albeit more awkwardly sometimes. He feeds you a line of bullshit and then as soon as you've swallowed the bait, calls you a sucker to your face, and asks you to figure out why he would do that.