Monday, January 16, 2006

My Big, Fat, Greek Epiphany!

(Photo of Plato from

Oh, how learning is the nutrition of living!!

I’ve not much time today, I’m trying to wrap my mind around the entire Symposium written by Plato. In my earlier ignorant bliss, I delighted in avoiding the ancient Greeks (the classics) because I really viewed them as the seat of patriarchy. Socrates this, Aristotle that, Plato the great, great dominant-male mind.

Well, guess what? I forgot all about humor, and irony and satire—of which the ancient Greeks were glorious masters, and missed out on the chance to embrace brilliance early! Perhaps as subtext to much classical, masculine posturing, I find a direct connection between Platonic reasoning and the foundations of feminist theory. Additionally I find a resonant concept of the boundaries of both empirical thinking and reasonable argument in this unbelievably sophisticated, glorious text—text written thousands of years ago!

I am particularly interested in this section from Diotima’s questioning of Socrates on page 46 (of the Nehamas and Woodruff translation) of Symposium:

‘“She said, ‘Watch your tongue! Do you really think that if a thing is not beautiful, it has to be ugly?’ … ‘If a thing’s not wise, it’s ignorant? Or haven’t you found out yet that there’s something in between wisdom and ignorance?’ … “It’s judging things correctly without being able to give a reason. Surely you see that this is not the same as knowing—for how could knowledge be unreasoning? And it’s not ignorance either—for how could what hits the truth be ignorance? Correct judgment, of course, has this character: it is in between
understanding and ignorance.’ “

This argument is exquisitely elegant. What could translate more clearly the tenets that many feminists (Donna Haraway and Judith Butler come to mind) go to great lengths to demonstrate? Diotima (how utterly feministic of Plato to cast this fictional character as a woman of infinite wisdom) presents—HURRAH!—the “grey zone” or the ways in which the world is not binary. This is so relevant in today’s political landscape—which, in a historical way, is bifurcating along a dichotomous template. I’m A-1 guilty of this. I’m leaning left I say to anyone who cares to hear, yet I believe that we must always, always, always strive to find the overlaps—or as Donna Haraway calls them, “the borderlands.”

This is how I believe feminist theory can save us—in the “third, fourth and fifth” ways. Any thoughts from anyone out there? Has anyone else ever viewed Plato as an “accidental” (or maybe not so accidental) feminist? It is so difficult, in our warp-speed world, to take the time to encounter things at a deeper level than face!

I’ll depart with these final words of simple rhetorical wisdom by Diotima:

"'Then don't force whatever is not beautiful to be ugly, or whatever is not good to be bad. It's the same with Love: when you agree he is neither good nor beautiful, you need not think he is ugly and gad; he could be something in between.'"


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