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

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Another (long) paper up.

I've put yet another paper of mine up at Scribd. The title is "Science as Suggestion: Cosmological & mythic intertext as background in Herodotus and Plato."

The first paper I put up was "Platonism as Praxis: the ancients and the moderns." This one, on the other hand, is pretty much just the ancients. Readers of that earlier paper will recall that I cite a good deal of Ernest McClain. McClain's read on the ancients is idiosyncratic and easily misunderstood as a kind of numerology-mongering. His argument, which I think he would characterize as not philosophical but scholarly, starts from the premise that when an ancient writer uses some hard-to-guess-at formulation, they usually aren't writing nonsense; they mean something by it, and we skip over those puzzles at our peril. (The example I usually use here is Socrates' account of the tyrant as 729 times less happy than the good man. That's 729, not 730, not 728. Pretty damn specific. So, why 729...? And once you've got an answer (in fact there are plenty of contending answers in the scholarship), does it matter? I'm betting the answer is yes.)

McClain's own specialty was music, and he painstakingly reconstructed Platonic cosmology (and not just cosmology) along musical lines; he then turned to a number of other texts (the Qur'an, the Bible, the Rg Veda, Homer) and discovered, to his own satisfaction, a similar musical grammar at work there. It needs underlining that McClain's arguments do not depend upon any difficult mathematics; he isn't always easy to follow, but the math itself is very straightforward if you take your time and don't skip over it. (I mention this because it could easily look like an obscurantist tactic that means to overwhelm you into conceding a point by throwing numbers at you, whereas McClain is adamant that in fact anyone at all can easily follow the math with a pocket calculator--it was all done with pebbles on the ground, back in the day.)

Even more worthy of emphasis: this is not a reductionist argument; Plato (or any other author McClain treats) is not being explained solely in terms of tuning theory, as if it were a pass-key to the hermeneutic Holy of Holies. I think McClain does hold that in music, for the ancients, this world and the divine intersected; that it is both a motive and expression of mathematics as such; and that amid the flux of history, the permanence of music stood as an invariant, to which one could try to afix, symbolically, what was most important. But neither music, astronomy, metrics, nor any other field of Aunciente Lore, will tell you what Plato (or the Bible, or etc., etc.) means; what they do is help you understand the language it's written in. And let's face it, when it comes to Plato we can use all the help we can get.

I find it best to read McClain in dialogue with other scholars. I tend to use John Michell, and de Santillana & von Dechend's still-indispensable Hamlet's Mill, as well as Eliade, Levi-Strauss, and Dumezil. I know very well that the first two of these raise eyebrows in some respectable circles, and the last three are all dated. (McClain frequently disagrees with them, too.) Supplement McClain with scholars of your choice if you like. The point is to read mythology and scripture, philosophy and scholarship, with a wide-angle lens, and then to focus in with the fine brushes and tweezers of specialization.

This paper is a very long one (50 pages), but it is organized--well, divided, anyway--into shorter sections. I will be fine-tuning the format of this paper, which in its current form is the product of several different word processing programs, but the content shan't be changed much unless I discover some glaring mistake--always possible, and anyone is welcome to point any error or irregularity out. And,
again as always, comments are especially welcome.

There are a couple other papers--shorter than this one but in the same line--that I need to post, but they still present some other proofing challenges.

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