Reading: Plato — Symposium and the Death of Socrates

This is the last of the six I picked up because of Jo Walton’s Among Others, (one of which is so dreadfully bad I won’t mention it), which has sent me to sleep several times already. Plato, who is unavoidable for anyone with even a passing interest in Western philosophy, is someone I’ve managed to successfully avoid, having more of a preference for Lucretius and others of the minor echelons.

Plato, I wasn’t intending on mentioning him here either — the Symposium and the Death of Socrates — but last night while well-bondaged, a pair remarked how we were tied was like the original nature before Zeus and Apollo hacked the three sexes into two (leading to hetero and homo and other things), which I thought dead funny because I’d just read that part; Aristophenes account of Eros in the Symposium.

I don’t have much to say about this or Plato in general, given I’ve read so little of him directly and not much of this book, but it seems a pity that Western philosophy has spend two and an half thousand years circulating around a drunken bore. Drunken bores. Socrates isn’t much better.

It might be that it is however a clear representation of why I don’t bother with Marx (or Freud for that matter), more than just because my philosophical upbringing by way of Deleuze and Guattari encouraged a scepticism and distance to the grand canon. Making willful generalisations here, it’s just that at their best and when not outright wrong, they’re not that good. Other philosophers have covered the same territory in far more considered terms, yet there is a constant demand to regard issues through the lens of these names. It may be that because of they paint their arguments in such dialectical terms they are attractive in their ultimate simplicity and resolution; they provide certainty, even if it’s on first glance buried.

I have been thinking of Chuang Tzu (The Inner Chapters) while reading this, who was around the same time as Plato, and who by comparison I would say engages in serious philosophical thought; even The Water Margin manages this, and the drunkenness is funnier. But these Chinese texts are regarded as either more or less, somewhat religious and not properly philosophical and deserving consideration alongside the Western canon (the former), or classical literature of the populist kind, again not proper philosophy (the latter), both things it’s pretty easy to say about the Symposium.