Anyone that works in the mimetic arts eventually runs up against a criticism first raised in Plato's Republic. In books 2, 3, and 10, Plato's Socrates -- who serves as a mouthpiece for Plato's ideas throughout the work and is not really Socrates -- makes the argument that there is no need for artists or storytellers in a perfect society. He claims that because they are focused on mimesis instead of the eternal realm and are three steps removed from the gods, plus because they're corruptors of children, they should be banished from the ideal society. This is obviously total bullshit.
The first logical flaw is probably the most obvious. Plato says that stories like the one he tells you you should be banned from the greatest possible world. Let me repeat that. Plato says that stories like the one he tells you you should be banned from the greatest possible world. I'm glad to hear that this book will never be published in Heaven, and that we are now able to expel him from the great Platoland writing community.
Second flaw: Plato was not right about everything. Despite what your philosophy teacher might have said, or how large he wrote up that famous quote on the blackboard on the first day of class, Plato had some not-so-good ideas. This is essentially the point Derrida is trying to get at in ""Plato's Pharmacy," but I'm going to try to break it down for you in non-obscurantist style. Here is some of the bullshit found in Republic.
But first, an ad hominem attack about some things Plato really liked: totalitarianism, eugenics, and sex with very young boys. These are not good things.
Now, onto his actual theories: the Guardians, the leaders of this great land, "must not be laughter-loving. For ordinarily when anyone abandons himself to violent laughter, his condition provokes a violent reaction." Musicians? They're gone too. "Our songs and airs, then, will not need instruments of large compass capable of modulation into all the modes, and we shall not maintain craftsmen to make them, in particular the flute, which has the largest compass of all. That leaves the lyre and the cithara for use in the town; and in the country the herdsmen may have some sort of pipe." You see, Plato doesn't think that we should make flutes due to some obtuse moral principle.
Sounds like a fun society!
If I were having dinner with this guy, I would already be a little pissed off. He has already talked way too much and been a little presumptuous in his ability to construct Platoland. But in book 10, we get treated to these passages:
He starts out with "We are pretty well agreed that the imitator has no knowledge worth mentioning of what he imitates. Imitation is only a kind of play or sport, and the tragic poets, whether they write in iambic or in Heroic verse, are imitators in the highest degree." No knowledge worth mentioning? How much research has gone into the creation of novels, paintings, music, or theater? This statement is absurd on its face, but Plato's fanclub responds with a cheer. "Shall I propose, then, that [poets and poetry] be allowed to return from exile, but upon this condition only --that she make a defence of herself in lyrical or some other metre?" That's right. He just gave all artists the boot.
Wait, art is not permitted in the greatest society? And this is coming from a philosopher? Either Plato was an asshole or he just wanted to get poets angry so they would write more. Plato's student Aristotle took him up on this offer. Sir Philip Sidney also wrote one, and so did Percy Shelley. Then after them, everyone else started. You could say that in a way, each great poem ever written is a defense of poetry. Each great painting made is a defense of visual art, each great story is a defense of stories, and each great film is a defense of great films.
So basically, the only good thing about Republic is that no one else really bought the idea. Do you know what this means? It means that in the war between artists and philosophers, artists are winning. With that said, in my ideal society, people would make art almost all the time, and people whose name started with a Plat- would not be allowed for my own arbitrary reasons.
Goodman Carter, Esq.
Posted by kevin on Sun, 16 Mar 2008 12:42:29 -0400 -- permanent link