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

Monday, 16 July 2012

Some Confessions or How to Deal With the "Eternal Female": What Follows is Not a Guide Nor a Comment on Genders.

One of the reasons for periodically keeping this blog “alive and kicking” is my wish and need to express myself in a different way than in scientific publications. So here is some of the background of my work on Plato’s receptacle. After having finished my article, I allow myself to choose a different narrative for my post. From time to time, I have wondered about the “fate” I cherished and embraced so warmly: What attracted me in Plato, this “Eternal Female” that flees any determination, and whose writings have been functioning like a "mirror" in the history of philosophy?

And to those who may (have) say (said) that he is a Sceptic, I shall gladly respond, together with Stenzel and other, even more modern, or older, Platonists: no, he is an Educator. Everyone after him projected and mirrored themselves into his writings, whatever their intentions may have been: they found the “historical Plato” or reduplicated themselves, or, what a wonder: they stumbled upon, and found, themselves, their skepticism, their idealism or an adequate playground for their newly-born analytical method. And this “eternal Female” became a precursor of Kant (so Natorp), or Wittgenstein (so Ryle) and Frege (so Ackrill)!

I have to "confess" that sometimes I wished to have taken a slightly different path: from Aristotle back to Plato: from the one who decided and knew how to write and influence history to the one who wished to stay behind the scenes as the perpetual object of love: the one never to be reached and grasped, in deep awareness that he would haunt the history of philosophy in the most remarkable and efficient way. And how often he was utilized like a kind of “toolkit” for the contemporary, very creative, transformations.

Why has chora attracted my intense interest? Because from the very beginning, I was certain that we can read this text and reconstruct our reading in such a way that we show how we should read our Plato, and I mean one way of reading, of course, which would nonetheless have normative character. I raised the claim not to let any text on the receptacle off my hand unless I had found the way and means to say something new. Well, nothing new, everyone does, or at least maintains so; every single article should fulfill this claim in order to be published, right? Right, of course this is right. So what was at stake during my tedious endeavor? What was my deepest desire when dealing with the darkest entity in the Platonic corpus? Partly, I became, in a way, “contaminated” by this “Eternal Female”, i.e. Plato, and I could not help it but imitate his educational “femininity”: How can we do justice to this “Eternal Female” but by rejecting all paths in the aftermath of determining and pushing into one direction some of its plethora of traits? As Sarah Broadie hits the mark in her latest book on the Timaeus, Nature and Divinity in Plato’s Timaeus, p. 198:
Perhaps the Receptacle’s greatest service to philosophy has been to launch the effort of disentangling those distinctions from each other, or of carving them out from the proto-concept that held them all suspended in potentia.
But then, what should we do?! And so I stunned and baffled, again and anew; and became even desperate in quite a few moments. In those moments, I was just about to give up my undertaking, it seemed so, at least momentarily. Other projects and articles were finished, and I kept on asking myself: How can we deal with this Timaean passage other than by translating or retranslating it into one of the given interpretations, perhaps using some more trendy terms than the older ones, in historical awareness or ignorance; and both historical awareness are interesting and revealing. Oh dear! Had I only been a woman, mirroring my female nature upon the chora-passage? Oh, the fear arose: this will have no end: I will never make up my mind about the appropriate method! My last resort was that I remembered I am also Greek. And, more (or is it worse?) than that, I love myths. So I recalled what Critias says about the Greeks and their “ability” to forget the past history and create anew and –seemingly- ex nihilo. I put my full stop here: this is some of my background. Enjoy your summer.

PS: Every fine educator and writer, like Plato, takes on the responsibility for whatever happens in the aftermath. His "writing like a mirror" has been an extremely rare virtue, which he knew how to cultivate, but has also given rise even to playing around with his texts. Every exegete and philosopher has been/is playing seriously, of course, no doubt. There is no special need to mention any examples for relativistic interpretations but highlight Plato's responsibility, of which he is well aware (check the Phaedrus' critique of writing, and the digression in Plato's/the Platonic VII. Letter).

PPS: It would be fascinating to narrate the history and adventures of Platonism in a way similar to Heinrich Heine's narration of the German philosophical context of his era in his Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland: just in order to keep a kind of subtle balance between scientific publications, and less austere, and more playful and humorous narratives.

PPPS: Warm, summer greetings, Michael.