A Forum for and the Background of the Mediation of Dialogue in Ancient and Modern Academies

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Bodily and Intellectual Pains and Pleasures

I gave a paper at McMaster last week. It was (large) part of the Phaedo paper on the philosophers' pleasures of learning, as it has become in the meantime, thanks to wise critical comments and even wiser, amazingly wiser, constructive proposals. It was the best Q&A I ever had. There were many relevant questions on the Platonic pleasure project, made not only by faculty members but also by very promising graduate students: having made heavy use of the Philebus, it had to be examined to what extent I tread carefully as I should, and also, to what extent my analysis of the relation between pleasure and pain in the case of bodily and intellectual pleasures (the ones related to learning, like examining or teaching) is sound. 

But I was also pushed beyond the boundaries of the paper, and in very interesting ways, though it does not always happen to get this particular combination: One question, asked by Mark Johnstone, concerned Socrates' cheerfulness. Having focused on the Socrates of the Philebus and the Phaedo, my Socrateses were to say the least quite knowledgeable. But what about the other versions? How were they motivated if not by the uplifting possibility of attaining knowledge (Apology's oracle and the Socratic interpretation; as of late line represented by Rusty Jones' Socrates Felix?)? That mystery the paper does not solve (if the right way to deal with mysteries is by solving them), definitely not. I do not turn to claims on happiness from claims about pleasure, given that I think that Plato is not an hedonist and even less a utilitarian. But could we say and think as possible that those less "cheerful" portrays of Socrates were motivated by the possibilities of being refuted, and this small bit of progress made in those cases?

There was another marvellous question, I think by far the best I have gotten so far when giving papers on Plato and other chaps: Let us imagine that Oedipus (the one after all "self-knowledge" has happened and the deeds that followed it) and Socrates are in the same room. What kind of therapy would Socrates offer him? Well, for sure I would not like to be present in that room! I doubt that Socrates and his excellent cognitive therapy of intellectual depression can help there. Are we going to deliver him to psychoanalysis? Before deciding, we need to think harder.

Did you know that Hans-Georg Gadamer taught for three consecutive years as visiting professor at McMaster? How small the world has always been, and open to dialogue!

ὁ νοῦν ἔχων γεωργός, ὧν σπερμάτων κήδοιτο καὶ ἔγκαρπα βούλοιτο γενέσθαι, πότερα σπουδῇ ἂν θέρους εἰς Ἀδώνιδος κήπους ἀρῶν χαίροι θεωρῶν καλοὺς ἐν ἡμέραισιν ὀκτὼ γιγνομένους, ἢ ταῦτα μὲν δὴ παιδιᾶς τε καὶ ἑορτῆς χάριν δρῴη ἄν, ὅτε καὶ ποιοῖ· ἐφ' οἷς δὲ ἐσπούδακεν, τῇ γεωργικῇ χρώμενος ἂν τέχνῃ, σπείρας εἰς τὸ προσῆκον, ἀγαπῴη ἂν ἐν ὀγδόῳ μηνὶ ὅσα ἔσπειρεν τέλος λαβόντα; (Phdr. 276b2-8). Plato's words for the philosopher as a patient farmer against the background of Van Gogh's Sower.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Fruits of Patience

While the fall term was establishing itself in its frantic rhythms, and I was feeling more of a machine than a ghost, Stratford Ontario offered me the marvellous opportunity to experience two Shakespeare Classics again, and taste life's topsy-turviness from the comic and the tragic perspective: Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet. With all due respect to living the present moment and taking a delight in doing so, the acting was mostly disappointing, but I was motivated to watch some good, older performances with actors and actresses who were acting well instead of shouting lots. So all's well that ends well: Stratford was a (good) means to further good ends. Admittedly it is extremely daring and challenging to stage such classics. But why such a haste to stage Shakespeare? Why, for instance, turn a forty-year old actor into a Lear some years ago? Why such a rush, I am wondering.

And then European beauty entered (or in this case rather flooded) the scene in deed as beauty often does, seemingly suddenly, with a  film masterpiece and love letter to Van Gogh:

As for now, I am pleasantly anticipating some mesmerizing acting (one does not need more than two minutes to say that), King Lear, by Royal Shakespeare Company with Antony Sher in NYC next year:

While the term is coming to its end, I am working on Aristotle on Plato on pleasure (or how one becomes his own man by listening to another man), and, what a delight, on French, among other, much more important wonders. A couple of students amazed me. I am meeting and working with them so that the next steps are taken. I screened Malick's The Knight of Cups; perhaps Kurosawa's Idiot will follow.

PS: Three Women at the Spring, Picasso, and "a line going for a walk" (Klee's definition of drawing), or else, Portrait of an Equilibrist, Klee, MoMA NYC)

PPS: Avant-garde is alive, and not only to be found in museums. See, for instance, how a young Greek artist, Fikos, marries byzantine art and ancient Greek motives with street art, which he calls "contemporary byzantine art":

His Earth and Sky
(for more consider: http://fikos.gr/portfolio/?lang=en)

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Amidst Summer 2017. A Strange Weighing of Value

"Αν κάποιος παράξενος των αξιών ζυγιαστής με πειθανάγκαζε να διαλέξω αποκλειστικά μεταξύ Παπαδιαμάντη και Καρκαβίτσα θα έστεκα ευλαβικά μπροστά στον πρώτο, θα του φιλούσα το χέρι και θα ψήφιζα τον δεύτερο."
                                                                                                                              Κωστής Παλαμάς

There has not been that much time available for literature in this summer, but after reading and discussing some Karkavitsas (Τα Λόγια της Πλώρης) we cannot but disagree with Palamas' words, our poet who has been sensitive and always hitting the mark in his analyses of other poets. We would do it the other way round: if compelled to choose, we would kiss Karkavitsas' hand, show gratitude to him for his fairy stories and his dreamingly embellished language, turning a deaf ear to his naive nationalism, so characteristic of the end of the 19th century in Greece, and vote for Papadiamantis.

How new London seems to be, or, rather, how delighted I am to discover new corners in it after coming back home. A spirit of discovery and adventure moves my dreams when asleep and my feet when awake: the adventure of feeling at home. How did this perspective emerge?

Pleasure and hedonism is the nutritious meal served on the plate for work for the time being, accompanied by some stimulating comments made by a referee who invites me to think together two aspects I tried to keep separated. So my lacks are being filled. Finally and only one step before despair for culture in the part of the world we live in, a friend and cinephil started screening masterpieces in the small cinema he has created. I had not watched Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Nor Murnau's Sunrise. Each and every scene in the latter I wished to interrupt and point to it: ὅδε ὁ κόσμος. I did not notice how time passed in the former; I wanted it to continue and wished to watch all his films in a row and without intermission: starting with The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (like Noh theater, with the addition of the Shakespeare's fool, marching through Japanese landscape: the only type of nationalism that my taste embraces), moving to his Ikiru... Masters of beauty may lead the way; philosophers and non-philosophers.

Remnants of three Ionian windmills
I must discover Canada's spectacular nature, but I always postpone because of spending my leisure swimming in the Greek sea. The lovely loners, the polar bears of Churchill and other places, will have to wait.

No nature for now. Just work and culture. No Wagner at the COC this year, so no risk. I subscribed.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Between Spring and Summer 2017

An excellent Tosca performance and an - as ever - inspirational - to say the least - Eifman's ballet, Red Giselle, in Toronto as the home for international avant-garde.

A very fruitful workshop on Plato's Gorgias in UCD (on my side of the ocean, Davis CA, not Dublin).

Now back to finishing business on an accepted piece.

Then a Plato workshop in Paris, in a Europe that gives me delight every time I visit (determined to spend a week in the Louvre this time; last visit was exclusively devoted to Rodin's Museum; and also determined to get back to the French liaisons after summer), and makes me numb whenever I hear about how and into what it is being transformed.

Then Greece and other pieces to finish, and for sure Papadiamantis and perhaps the early and the very last Angelopoulos for a couple of evenings: some among the chosen Greeks for this summer. Ernest Hemingway's language proved to be slightly disappointing, compared to the raised expectations, and so I decided to return to some Greeks, as far as literature breaks are concerned, not because of their being Greek, but because of the familiarity with the joy I take in their language.

Mere parataxis: no time for adding verbs, no time for formulating sentences, at least not on this blog; no time or soul to waste on imposing interpretations on the present moments: let the latter complete themselves in due time, a time we cannot force to emerge according to our whims and whose emergence we are bound not to miss. The Ascension of Christ is about to be welcomed in our time progression.

PS: It is only after the performances at the COC that I listen to Maria Callas. The same again with Tosca. Such an abysmal fragility in this superb voice; so much lurking egocentrism at the same time: or, is that combination surprising?

Olga Spessivtseva, the extraordinary Russian ballerina, is the focus of Eifman's Red Giselle.

Vermeer was travelling and absent from Louvre, but there was so much compensation for that; for instance, dozens of Delacroix, here his Souliotisses and his (pretty small) Pietà: plenty of an opportunity to admire and study his greatness in painting a bunch of human bodies as if woven together into a whole. I know no one but Rubens and him who are so successful in this undertaking.

If Sirens were in need of a particular place to be in so as to exist, this could be it.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

On Chrysippus' and Marcus Aurelius' Cylinders and Other Images

The Marcus Aurelius' seminar was the second best I have ever given. Pure pleasure of learning was mixed with pure pleasure of teaching. Particularly interesting sessions, if I have to choose only two among them, were the ones devoted to the metaphor of the cylinder, as applied by Chrysippus and Marcus Aurelius, and the one on the notion of time and the present moment in early Stoa (the subtle work on the meta-physics of time and grammar) and the primacy of the present moment in Marcus Aurelius.

Classes came to an end and a marvellous interdisciplinary conference on psychotherapy took place in Glasgow. On the way back and over the ocean, I was enjoying reading Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales, Sir Conan Doyle, Alasdair MacLean and Joseph Jacobs. Some stories float like bubbles that are carried away by the evening breeze. Some others, like the Scottish, root in the earth instead, haunted by the past narratives and pregnant with the future retellings.

Time has been unraveling like a spring flower whose scent anticipates Easter.

Bellini's Madonna in Kelvingrove Art Gallery (Glasgow).
One of those blues that one would like to gaze at in all eternity

PS: It was possible to say goodbye to Europe and return to London Ontario after Glasgow. Things might prove to be slightly more difficult with Paris later this year.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Varley's Portrays and Wagner's Götterdämmerung (COC 2017)

"Art is not merely recording surface life: incidents, emotions. The Artist divines the causes beneath which create the outward result." F.H.Varley

Another discovery, another painter among "the Seven", one of the finest: Varley the portraitist. Everything he has painted is a portrait: sometimes humans, crowds of immigrants or his life companion, sometimes suns and trees or mountains, and once Ferdinand the Bull under a tree (or did Ferdinand transform into the tree? Hard to tell...). His British finesse in discovering landscapes in faces and the way he portrayed landscapes was embraced by the Canadian "Group of Seven", and Sheffield's painter co-defined Canadian painting.

The last part of Wagner's Ring at the COC had a terrible staging and great voices. The first and last scenes were excellent, but the way that what happened in between was staged was not that harmonious with the lines of the text: businessmen on a large office desk singing about sacrificing oxen...and Brunnhilde sitting on an office chair while rolling down the hill of her passion...Really? Oh how unbearable that was. Why not choose Gogol, whom I particularly like, instead, and leave aside Wagner if one wishes to highlight the struggle of classes? Oh how I miss Germany sometimes. That said, so far there have been only good experiences with Wagner in Toronto, namely, with Walkuere and Siegfried.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Beginning of the New Academic Year 2016/17

Verum gaudium res severa est.

Preserving some fond memories of stimulating philosophical discussions in Marco Zingano's circle in São Paulo (on Plato's immortality in the Phaedo and the tripartition of the soul in the Republic), I am back in London's fall. I have been enjoying taking care of the last paper on Marcus while also setting up the WT upper level class on my beloved Stoic philosopher and emperor, with the focus on plasticity of mind and time.

For now I am having a great time in the class and out of it. For our Phaedo bit, I have been asking my students to come up with their explanation of why Socrates' friends are saddened and fall into despair after the two objections that Simmers and Cebes raise, whereas Socrates himself is not depressed when his expectations are not met by Anaxagoras. We are reading the Phaedo as a dialogue that makes a fuss, and rightly so, about the right attitude toward pleasure and the bodily realm, and toward arguments. No surprise that the piece on the pure pleasures of learning in the Phaedo is being expanded.

Step by step, I am preparing myself for the last session and the metaphor of the cylinder and the problem of determinism and compatibilism in Stoicism: both Chrysippus' and Marcus Aurelius' cylinders. It is a pleasure to get some good help on this.

PS: My attention was lately drawn to the poem "Golden Anniversary", composed by the Polish poet, who was awarded with the Nobel prize in literature 1996, Wislawa Szymborska. The original is in Polish. The beauty radiates in the English translation, and amazingly so. Some of Alice Munro's short stories from her "Runaway", on three of which Almodóvar based his last film, and which I had wished to read, have been back-burnered.

PPS: I am very happy that I will be presenting on Marcus Aurelius, the experience of time and the cure of affective disorders at an interdisciplinary conference in Glasgow next year, a venue that is devoted to psychotherapy. This I call the delight of 2016. I wish the good trends of collaboration between mental health people and philosophers, among others, would spread in North America. UK is blazing a trail. Let's learn how to follow.