10 March 2008

Alternatives to the Allegory of the Cave

Reading: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens; Possession by A. S. Byatt
watching: Harry Potter 5
listening to: Sense & Sensibility on tape; Loreena McKennitt's An Ancient Muse

Well, the second Platonic post didn’t elicit many responses at all! Let’s try this final topic.

Can you suggest alternatives to the Allegory of the Cave? These could be new allegories or modes of explaining the Platonic conception. They could be other understandings of the universe and meta-universe. In other words, if you are not a Platonist, what are you and how do you explain physical and extra-physical realities and their relationships? Can you devise an allegory for an Aristotelian understanding, or for a Berkleyian idealism, or for any other conception? Or, you could suggest works of art, literature, or other media that present either a new way of visualizing Plato’s controlling concept or an alternative worldview?

So I shall begin.

There are many works of art that present new ways of understanding Plato’s worldview. I have endeavored to present most of them in classes. These are, I believe, the best:
The Matrix
The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis
The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis
The Place of the Lion by Charles Williams
I read Dante’s Divine Comedy in a Christian neo-Platonic light (allusive pun intended), as the narrator travels through projected images reflective of the real condition of saints in the Heavenly Rose.

Oh, and another you’ve never heard of, “Danaher: The Musical.” This musical, based on the life of a professor of philosophy at Nyack College, was written by a professor of English (and an Inklings specialist), Dr. Charles Franklin Beach, and the music was composed by a classmate of my sister’s, James Gardener. My sister, Nadine, played Prof. Danaher’s wife. It’s a hilarious and uneven work with more potential than polish, written mostly for the amusement and accolades of its own community, Nyack College. The young Danaher, an avid reader of Plato, tripping on LSD, experiences a psychedelic vision of Christ accompanied by a multi-layered distortion of “Bridge over Troubled Waters” and disco-style strobe lights. The result is his conversion to Christianity and a song entitled “Out of the Cave and Into the Light.” Very sophomoric, but entertaining and not without truth.

Other than that, I think I’ve already done my share of developing a Christian reverse neo-Platonism that sees its ultimate reality in Heaven, rather than in a pre-existent world of forms.

Here’s a poem of my own that works off of the shadow and copy concept, plus a little sehnsucht thrown in to connect the Forms with Desire.

The Myth of Memory

I finally learned to dive,
and found joy hovered there:
a sphere of longing sublimed with the lake.
Below me, an indeterminate color hung
like shadows cast on grass;
above, desire quivering in a sunlit circle.

Well-mouth, cave-mouth, it shone:
compelling, fixing my imagination
on its unknown and unlabeled hues.
That strange, inviting light held me;
I crystallized, became the prism,
casting scattered shafts
from each toe and finger, every hair.
Is it that light I long for in my dreams?

In an underwater limbo
suspense and longing intermingled.
Delicious, like a taste;
refreshing, as if I drank and it were pure;
wet and pulsing like the act of love.
That unity in isolation seemed
the archetype of other, severed, pleasures:
I swam submerged and drowning in desire.

What did I want? Not that muddy lake,
that real dive split in fragments by my five
unpracticed senses, spluttering in fact.
Not to catch the fascinating disc of sunlight
on the surface. Not to stay and drown;
no, not to stay and contemplate.
Fish do not live suspended in a state
of constant wonder—or perhaps they do.
Maybe that explains the lack of eyelids,
always awake, always in sudden shock.

Everything that happens goes too fast.
I never felt desire while I dove.

And yet, I read my recollections
as if feelings will be real,
as if every ecstasy will be itself
and every moment, lingering.
I live like longing will be unified and re-embodied
in the consummation and consecration of desire.

~ Admonit


Darllin said...

Does imagining or thinking something make said something real ?

This allegory, as allegories & microcosms in general boggle me...For I [and any man] have no connection to anything through words...which is what we attempt to relate this to...relate us to...but it has absolutly nothing to do with said somthing.

Therefore does any of it really exist, to us, if we have no connection to it?

God, because he spoke us into existence, can literally relate to us with words and forms, because that was the manner in which they were made. We are merely sustituting abstract and concrete with words that mean nothing and making nothing of distant from the perfect Idea in our minds...leaving us totally disconnected.

The thing is we cannot compare say...hugs...with H-U-G-S.
It doesnt make sense....

So being the man not set free from being connected to the one with 'connection's' [the Creator]
Caught up in the philosophy...I see it all as an acoustic shadow.

MuleChewingBriars said...

I would recommend Borges' little fable Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius .

And the third volume of Dick's final trilogy, The Transmigration Of Timothy Archer.

I guess you could call me a Neo-Platonist. I think Western thought took a wrong turn after John Scotus Eriugena.

Anonymous said...

If I may be permitted to interject a thought. Plato's Allegory is a fine one from a theological stand point, trying to understand the relationship between this world and the next. I don't think there needs to be an alternative to it.
HOWEVER, I don't think that the Allegory is the full idea. There is fullness here on Earth as well. In The Last Battle, the final country was beautiful beyond belief, but that doesn't mean that the children weren't to enjoy Narnia. Just because Narnia was a shadow of the original does not mean that is it wrong. Chesterton's MANALIVE is probably one of the best books to read to illustrate a lived life.

Darlin said...

Dear anonymous,
I do not feel that it is a matter of 'fullness'. rather I feel that it is a matter that is a copy or a shadow.
And not so much that it is not real but that it is a copy of the real.
I think that it is like the difference between [excuse the shallow example] a designer bag...and a mock off.
I do not think that it was ever the problem of not enjoying life...or you fake designer bag. =]

Just a thought.

Annelise Holwerda said...

So this is less of a poem than your exquisite one here, but I realised tonight that it (which fell semi-consciously onto paper the other day) must be a response to this post (which I read quite some time ago) :) I love your notion of a Christian neo-Platonism with its ultimate reality in Heaven- which is so unlike the world of forms as to be truly foreign to it, though the shadow image lingers. So maybe the 'eternal moment' takes a different, deeper meaning than we had first thought.

I take thee, Brevities; I take Thee, Fullness of all things.

Among all the sounds
when we jump into the icy pool,
the shouts
not of terror, not exhilaration
but the simple fullness of enjoyment-
all but a few of our senses are
completely stopped,
asleep or eyes braced closed
like the dark scene
that bears forth lightning.

Sight and sound are
tied to the time.
We know the jump, and the cold,
the water and chlorine
and the bright, blessed day,
and all the sounds come back:
we swam. In memory,

The touches of cold water
on skin are tiny
in the vanished past and unknown future,
and I want to go back soon.

Rosie Perera said...

Wow, Annelise, I've never seen anyone interact so thoroughly and brilliantly with a blog as you do with this one. You've outdone yourself with this post. I love the poem. Impressive that your mind was still churning on a blog post from two years ago, too.

Annelise Holwerda said...

Rosie, thanks! It is a wonderful post to comment on :)

It would have been only around a year ago that I read it, when I found this blog through a conversation on Michael Ward (of Planet Narnia)'s Facebook page. I think this piece stayed with me because it cuts right to the heart of so many important things in our culture; really yet-to-explore, somewhat beyond (and for!) exploring. The poem in its own right is very beautiful.