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

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Das Meer und die reine Lust des Augenblickes

Πόντος δὲ καὶ θάλασσα καὶ κλύδων καὶ παρὰ Πλάτωνι ἡ ὑλικὴ σύστασις (Fr. 33 Noumenios, DES PLACES).

Right now I am spending a week in Alonnisos, a picturesque island Northern of Euboea, which I visit for the second time. I am busy preparing my Politicus seminar and, when I take a break (and I take often a break here), I try to relate the sea to pure pleasure, departing from the Platonic view: We recall the Politicus myth to which the above quotation refers.
Perhaps I shall fail to do so or will not dare even to address the kind of “presence” with which I would like to connect the sea. In any case, I just wanted to wish nice remaining summer days and an equally beautiful start of the coming autumn. I am not so sure whether I shall write in my blog soon as there are quite many tasks waiting (im)patiently to be fulfilled …


Wednesday, 18 August 2010

In Search of Japanese Otherness: Cultural Moments in Tokyo

I did not want to experience Tokyo as a mere tourist but I had unfortunately not plenty of time at my disposal to initiate myself into Japanese culture. I purchased a ticket for Noh theater, the oldest among the four famous forms of Japanese theater, beside Kyogen (the slapsticks that take place between Noh acts), Kabuki and Buncaru or puppet theater.
It was difficult to decipher at what time the play should begin. I was pleased to be informed that there was some time before the performance, which I could spend in the National Museum. In my first visit I could cherry-pick some Japanese old paintings I thought. I had visited a very impressive exhibition of Japanese paintings in Zurich in 2003. What struck me above all, were the many uncovered surfaces on the canvas or the sliding doors, although the painting was not non-finito: this is another treatment and approach of the vacuum, if I am allowed to characterize those clean surfaces as „vacuum“. As if the Japanese painters did not bother to cover all surfaces but did want to invite empty surfaces as well and just let them be there, surrounded and respected by the painted areas. The first brief encounter with Japanese painting had prompted me to long for further encounters. I did not expect to find the same paintings I had encountered in Zurich. But there they were in the rooms of the National Museum in Tokyo. In Zurich the exhibition was small and the atmosphere was almost catanyctic. As if the cultural fragments need to leave the country of their origin time and again, and be presented somewhere else.
After the museum I bumped into Rodin’s Gates of Hell! I had forgotten there is a copy in Tokyo. Thanks to very polite, or Japanese, passengers, I could afterwards find my way to the subway station and finally reach the Noh theater.

The Noh play I attended had the title „Kasumikai“. I was the only non-Japanese among the audience. I encountered enough of the otherness I had eagerly anticipated to receive as far as this is possible. Not a single English word, no introduction for „beginners“ like myself was provided. Noh acts have often a comical intermezzo. I was unable to understand what was going on in the dramatic three parts but at least I could laugh at some moments of this comical scene. Extremely slow movements, psalmodic singing and dancing, and a lot of silence. I was alienated, but that was exactly what I wanted: an unmediated encounter of otherness in Japanese culture. Could someone of our Japanese friends give me some clue for the second and third acts of this play? Ms Maki Kajiyama (the IPS travel agent in Tokyo) kindly informed me of the story that takes place in the first act, which is called "The Wooden Cradle" (Izutsu), a classic Noh play written by Zeami, the dominant figure in the early history of Noh theatre. I recalled the three different narrations in Kurosawa’s „Rasomon“ as I read the Noh plot. In this Noh act, we observe a similar interest in different narrative perspectives. The same story (in the case of this Noh play a love story) is narrated twice by the ghost of the dead woman. For the ones who would have the leisure to delve into the Japanese Theater: Karen Brazell (ed.), Traditional Japanese Theater: An Anthology of Plays, New York 1998.

My brief cultural report ends with a tip for theater lovers: If you wish to contemplate peacefully a Noh experience, do avoid Shibuya Square afterwards: It must have been the Sunday rush hour; I haven’t been among such crowds in my entire life.


The Ninth IPS Conference on Plato's Republic (Tokyo 2010): Agenda and One Riddle

There were two questions on my agenda for Tokyo: How did the land named Japan give birth to a scholar like Norio Fujisawa? How did Japan produce the film director Akira Kurosawa? The latter is well-known among all cinema lovers. The former has been a very important Platonist (1925-2004) and professor at Kyoto University. He promoted considerably the studies of ancient philosophy in Japan. I have read only one text of his: ἔχειν, μετέχειν and Idioms of "Paradeigmatism" in Plato's Theory of Forms, Phronesis XIX (1974), pp. 30-58. It is admirable how critical he could be when trying to make the best out of the Aristotelian critique of methexis. Moreover he considered it is necessary to unveil the prevailing hermeneutics that is confined to the Aristotelian framework. The Japanese Platonist fulfilled crucial steps upon this path, for the sake of a genuine understanding of Plato. This contribution of his may be a rather small piece, better to say a treasure. There he provides enough evidence for his agreement with the principle of harmony (between Plato and Aristotle), which this blog promotes. Just read his article and you will see my deep appreciation is well-grounded.

Needless to say, I had no illusion I would be able to answer the two above questions in my one-week stay in Tokyo. Still it was important for me to ask these two questions and appropriately direct my attention in search of possible answers.

The organisation of the International Plato Society Conference was absolutely flawless. It was splendid to observe the entire organising team at work and experience the results of the excellent coordination. Pisa (2013) and Brasilia (2016) will have to try pretty hard in order to live up to the high standards Tokyo just set. Every one, myself included, was happy to be a guest in Tokyo.

I learned as far as I could during the conference. Admittedly I was concerned with my own paper until Friday because I should shorten it. Now I know, it is advantageous to give your paper at the beginning of such an international conference. Then you are able to concentrate on the following papers with no distraction. Moreover I had another task to fulfill: I tried to find two words to say on my Plato book. I wanted to say something substantial despite the fact that I was allowed to speak only for two minutes: an almost impossible task. During the conference and thanks to interesting, challenging and encouraging chats, I realised what I will be working on for the written version of my paper and beyond: dunamis-phusis-ananke. To be a little bit more precise, I have to elaborate the meanings of the notion of necessity that becomes crucial for the philosopher’s descent but, nonetheless, has not received the adequate attention in the relevant secondary literature so far as I see it. For the first time in my blog, I shall give it a go and mention a concrete textual riddle that caused my aporia, which I gladly shared with best listeners. The text (R. VII, 540a4-b7) runs (in translation) as follows:

Then, when they are fifty years old, those who have survived (the tests) and gained every highest distinction in every field, both in actions and studies, should now be brought at last to the goal. We should compel them [ἀναγκαστέον] to lift up the bright light of the soul and gaze steadfastly at that which provides light for everything. And when they have seen the good itself, they have [(to be compelled to), ἀναγκαστέον] to order the city, the citizens and themselves using that as a model, throughout the rest of their lives, when the turn comes for each. They can spend most of their life in philosophy, but when their turn comes, then each one must labour at the business of politics and be ruler for the sake of the city. They will regard the task not as something fine but as necessary. And after educating others like themselves in this way, and leaving them behind as the city’s guardians, they have [to be compelled!! ἀναγκαστέον] to live in the islands of the blest after their departure.

In my paper I decided to quote the above passage because it indicates that Plato uses the concept of “necessity” quite often (in the seventh Book and not only). The passage shows that he is not extremely careful when he uses the word ἀνάγκη, which happens to be an especially important concept for the problem of descent. I underline the three infinitives that depend on ἀναγκαστέον (540a8). In the case of the first infinitive, we may understand that the educators of the ideal city compel the philosophers to reach the goal of the program. In the second case, compulsion is also relevant for the philosophers’ coming back to the cave, even if I regard it as derivative in my paper. But what about the third case? How can the dead philosophers be compelled, and by whom, to live in the islands of the blest?
Up to now, there have been two helpful reactions to this baffling passage. At first go, David Sedley tried to save Plato from nonsense in that he suggested the notion of compulsion doesn't really extend all the way through. In English, one may say to a child "I am going to force you to do your homework first, and to watch television afterwards", without meaning that one is going to force her to watch television. Christopher Rowe suggested that in this case Plato playfully alludes to a former instance regarding the islands of the blest. “The philosophers will be compelled to depart for the islands of the blest” means that they really have to be compelled to do so whereas they themselves prefer to do philosophy.
All I intended to do myself was not to blame Plato for such a mindless slip but to utter my reservations toward everyone who bases arguments (and every one does in the framework of the philosopher's descent and not only) on passages in which "necessity" occurs. Now I have to draw and elaborate my picture. Let us try and solve together the above riddle for the start.

Does anyone come up with any suggestion ad loc?