Thursday, March 19, 2009

Love's Fool: the Philosopher

I'm about to teach my student's the "punch-line" of Plato's _Symposium_, one of the greatest texts in the West about love, namely: there is no philosophical system that contains love. We have 5 speeches, all of which have built such beautiful edifices, and then in bursts Alcibiades, who obliterates the ethereal constructs of every previous speaker with his account of the sheer lived experience of being in (frustrated) love.

The conclusion I wish to draw: Plato purposefully leads us through an exercise in sampling our ideologies--ethical, legalistic, scientific, mythical, poetic, philosophical--and then collapses the possibility of extricating the lived tension of love from our thinking about love.
Plato was no fool, nor was he, however, a lover.

Nietzsche _was_ a lover, and a fool--and for this reason a brilliant writer.
"Our Ultimate Gratitude to Art:
If we had not welcomed the arts and invented this kind of cult of the untrue, then realization of general untruth and mendaciousness that now comes to us through science--the realization that delusion and error are conditions of human knowledge and sensation--would be utterly unbearable. _Honesty_ would lead to nausea and suicide. But now there is a counterforce against our honesty that helps us avoid such consequences: art as the _good_ will to appearance.... As an aesthetic phenomenon existence is still _bearable_ for us, and art furnishes us with eyes and hands and above all the good conscience to be _able_ to turn ourselves into such a phenomenon. At times we need rest from ourselves by looking upon, by looking _down_ upon, ourselves and, from an artistic distance, laughing _over_ ourselves or weeping _over_ ourselves. We must discover the _hero_ no less than the _fool_ in our passion for knowledge; me must occasionally find pleasure in our folly, or we cannot continue to find pleasure in our wisdom. Precisely because we are at bottom grave and serious human beings--really, more weights than human beings--nothing does us as much good as a _fool's cap_: we need it in relation to ourselves--we need all exuberant, floating, dancing, mocking, childish, and blissful art lest we lose the _freedom above things_ that our ideal demands of us.... How then could we possibly dispense with art--and with the fool?--And as long as you are in any way _ashamed_ before yourselves, you do not yet belong with us." (G/S, #107)

"What has so far been the greatest sin here on earth? Was it not the word of him who said, 'Woe unto those who laugh here'? Did he himself find no reasons on earth for laughing? Then he searched very badly. Even a child could find reasons here. He did not love enough: else we would have loved us who laugh." (TSZ, "On the Higher Man, 16")

Nietzsche links love to laughter, and laughter to the artistic ability to see oneself as a fool, and to, from a distance, laugh and weep _over_ oneself.
Loving, I find, is predicated upon the ability to laugh at oneself, to be capable of playing the fool. It means, I think, to see oneself from a different perspective, to be able to play (like a child), with your memories, yourself.
How else, but for the "good conscience" to turn myself into an aesthetic phenomenon--to be hero and fool--will I ever be able to stand before you unashamed?

Comment From Matt Linck:
"But won't Socrates, Sam, be a problem for you, just as he was for Nietzsche? Does he not laugh? Is he not playful? And, I wonder, are you not in love with something like wisdom?"

My Reply:
"Of course Socrates is playful, and he laughs! I do think, however, that Plato is incapable of allowing Socrates to be a fool--he is, as Alcibiades says, always playing the game of irony, which may or may not be hiding profound contempt. (I'm having them read Irigaray's "Sorcerer Love" to see how Diotima/Socrates miscarry on their claim love is a mediator, a perpetual becoming. I think this mistake is remedied in _Phaedrus_.) The erotic joy of becoming is the pleasure of Nietzsche's artist, which brings Socrates closer to Nietzsche than to "Plato". Also, there is the trouble of the hierarchy of the mind and body in Plato, which I find troublesome (which I think might be at play in your question regarding my love of wisdom). I've been reading a lot of Freud, especially as regards the super-ego, with an eye towards Nietzsche and Plato re. exemplars.
(Thanks for the reply, Matt! Hope all is well!)"

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