By Brian George
“The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it.”—William Blake
The young Plato had ambitions as a dramatist. He would wrestle Sophocles. Upon becoming a philosopher—to atone for past delusions or to celebrate his exit from the cave—he burnt all but a few fragments from this period. Reason would revolutionize the music of the spheres, which, in their superabundance, had become too democratic. It was no fun to experience perfection if one had to share it with 10,000 others. A philosopher, when he took flight through the geometric playground of the gods, would do well to keep his joy hermetically sealed. Lest some beam put thoughts into the heads of the Hoi Polloi.
Fumes had driven mad the oracle at Delphi; her symbols were ambiguous, and thus offered something for everyone, words that each could interpret in his or her own way. Pindar was little better than a drunk. He believed that time flowed backward from the present to the past—that antediluvian shadows fed the gods, as well as the heroes, whose DNA had been scrambled. Homer was an early practitioner of Hitler's “Big Lie” theory. Each city in Greece corresponded to a city on a different planet. The sea was described as “red,” not blue, because the human body was not yet smaller than the Earth. The reader will note that I too am a poet. Therefore I cannot be trusted—as is demonstrated by the lies above.
Imagination did damage to the integrity of the Republic. A subject should obey, for such is the radioactive splendor of the object. Ignorant daydreamers should not impinge on the prerogatives of the philosopher-king. Knowledge intoxicated—yes, but it should not be assumed that intoxication was any guarantee of knowledge. To the mature Plato poetry was suspect—a dangerous force; it could even be seen as an instrument of the counterrevolution. Time now moved forward, as it must. A poet’s image, all too easily, became real, tempting slaves to think that they were still living in the Age of Gold.
Once as transparent as the Platonic Year was long, space must now move into differentiation, with each component rigorously in its place.
The Golden Age had long since disappeared. Gone too were the Ages of Silver and of Bronze. Telepathy had once made books irrelevant. No artificial lights were needed. Now, most human bodies were less bright than the sun. Tough love was a necessity, and, for the care and feeding of the higher worlds, a few adjustments must be made.
The new model was a simple one, of breathtaking practicality: All kings should be philosophers, since all philosophers could be trusted to agree upon the truth, and then to tell it.
At the heart of the cosmos, the philosopher found a paradox: The world was one, but only one world was real. So too, it was not that poetry, in and of itself, was bad, but rather that the Muse might lead poets to a world whose laws were somehow different than Plato’s. For the good of all, such deviance must be punished.
A new day had dawned for the inhabitants of the cave. Time now moved forward, and only forward, as it must. The whole of History had been pointed like an arrow.
Greece would expunge the ancestral pathologies that had billowed like a fog from Central Asia, with its derelict webs and domes. It would not prove easy, however, for the philosopher to do away with the avian apparatus of myth. Reason without love would not be able to take off. Skeletal wings would not be able to grow feathers.
It was always possible, of course, that the problem was not one of free association, as such, however much such irrational leaps might seem the flapping of a hungry ghost. No, instead, the problem could be attributed to the use of poetry by others. One poet, Plato, would be allowed to speak for the Many, who lacked virtue. They were slaves, and would soon be plowed beneath the field in which they worked. Transpersonal discourse would renew the body politic. As Stalin said, “All problems are caused by people. Remove the person, the problem disappears.” A conscious symbol could infiltrate the counterrevolution. In the same way that a concept can be a truth that distorts reality, so too a metaphor can be a lie that tells the truth.
But perhaps meaning is not abstract, after all, and the meaning beloved by the poet is only one obscure alternative out of many. If the meaning meant is only the foremost among equals, one's experience of the beloved must turn upon proximity.
Transfixed by her eyes, which are oceanic, the poet petitions to enter the beloved, within whose body every secret is contained. Sophia is up for grabs, like the garment that conceals her, but the arrogant demiurge finds no body underneath. Plato did; thus it is likely that the philosopher was productively mistaken. “The Symposium” is a kind of new and improved poem. He did what artists do, as vision drove him to ignore his own self-serving propaganda.
As Heraclitus said, “They do not apprehend how being in conflict it still agrees with itself; there is an opposing coherence, as in the tensions of the bow and lyre.” Ideal and shadow secretly collaborate. A daimon lends its supernatural weapons to the ego. No one knows from what indeterminate depth the first star has erupted.
Perhaps preexistent ideas do not create but only help to direct the reality behind appearances. They are actors, also, no better and no worse than their human counterparts. Dead voices carry. Archetypes give form to downwardly mobile dreams—such as that of time’s one-way arrow, or of the living dodecahedron, or of the radioactive city in a seed. A mask creates the cosmos. It is possible that the Human Consciousness Project can best be understood by you—whatever your impediments—as you follow the twists and turns of the even now devolving story.
The abstract adherents of the ideal have had their day. Reason has triumphed, in a fashion, but not so that humans are more objective in their views. The gods and their advocates have sent investigators below.
(Illustration: Rene Magritte)