Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mating the First Four Speeches of the Symposium

Mating the First Four Speeches of the Symposium,
plus My Digressions

Eros, Dionysus, Artisan

Phaedrus lays the pillars of thought for this discussion by painting, with broad strokes and blinding highlights, a picture (Artisan) of Love from the role of the deity to the role of the child beloved. Phaedrus describes an overpowering, erotic and sexual Love (Eros) that revels in its excesses (Dionysus) of Shame and Pride in order to bring unity of purpose.

Phaedrus does not get deeply into what Love is, though his speech does lay the foundation upon which the others build on. He argues that Eros is one of the most ancient entities, preceded only by Chaos and Earth. Phaedrus thus declares that Love is a primal God, powerful and universal. Eros, it is implied, is therefore only constrained by the Laws of Chaos and Earth, and not by any of the Gods or mortals that come after him. As such, Eros deserves honor and respect. Mortal Humans infused by Love can be lifted through the raw passions of Shame and Pride to heroics that please the Gods. Phaedrus gives the example of an army of male soldiers made up of mature lovers and their immature beloveds. He states they would be undefeatable because, in the company of their lovers, Eros would cause them to experience all-encompassing Pride in succeeding, and all encompassing Shame if they fail. Phaedrus thinks that wish for one and the fear of the other are the natural effects of Love, and are the only way to ascend to great achievements. He describes Love in its pure form as properly being from a mature man for an immature boy. He also claims that beauty is a characteristic of the loved one, and not of the lover.

I find fault in his portrayal of the avoidance of Shame and the attainment of Pride as constructive forces. In moderation they can be a part of a holistic experience, but in the all-or-nothing world of Phaedrus these emotions are, to my thinking, fatally destructive. His description of Love as one-sided, with Eros within one causing him to love another is restrictively selfish and self-obsessed. The requirement that the loved one have Beauty, or at least more of it than the lover, only strengthens the self-centered nature of this Love. This is a controlling emotion he is describing, a master that needs a slave. But then he claims the Gods honor more the loved one who loves back, then the lover. Perhaps the loved one is not a slave, but a pet. I don't know quite what to make of the sexual mores he shows me, except to highlight that sexual customs are chaotic -- Chaos being one of two that have power over Love in this scenario. Since his thoughts are control oriented I would have to say that his sexual preference for youth indicates the same thing then as it does now: inability to have a relationship on an equal basis, and a weakness that necessitates controlling children. Is it a cultural or emotional disability? Both.

Nomos, Epimetheus, Guardian

Pausanias delineates two levels of Love, one divine and one common, and lists the rules that are designed to harvest good Love in society (Nomos). Pausanias is stubborn in his beliefs, though well intentioned and, in his mind, caring (Epimetheus). Pausanias makes a clear distinction between the group he belongs to, and all other groups. Together with the customs he describes, that shows a clear need to belong, and in that belonging be confident that his views are legitimate (Guardian).

Pausanias starts off by giving more detail to Phaedrus' foundation by splitting Love away from the God Eros, and into the province of two Goddesses (yet he strangely calls them by the male pronoun, regardless), one divine (Urania) and one base (Pandemos). He claims Love is not in itself a noble emotion, it depends on what Love causes us to do, and how we do it. But he argues that if others recognize Love as the impelling motion within us, we are allowed more latitude by society in our actions. He also argues there are no rules in Love because the emotion clouds judgment. The Divine aspect represents a love that needs a caring relationship, while the Common aspect wants only momentary sexual fulfillment. Pausanias then descends into a diatribe of rules, regulations and their wherefores that society puts on the proper application of Love. He also deplores the concepts of Love in communities that have different opinions than he.

I was kind to Pausanias in describing his ideal relationship as a "caring" one. That he thinks it is a caring relationship is certain. However, it strikes me as nothing other than a predatory, or perhaps parasitic, relationship. He denounces any kind of Love that is not between a mature man and immature boy. This strikes me as simply rationalizing his own preferences. That there were societies with different mores that were familiar to him, and that he could not see past his own prejudice and lust indicates to me that Pausanias is a cultural barbarian, a common rednecked drunk stuck in his sophomoric fantasies. That Athens was also open to a wide variety of relationships, even between males and females of equal maturity, you would never know from Pausanias' speech. He is extremely myopic in his views. He goes so far to make an argument that heavenly Love is purely Male, yet even in his example he can't quite rid himself of the Female in the form of Aphrodite.

Agape, Apollo, Idealist

Eryximachus emphasizes Harmony (Idealist) and Order (Apollo) in all things, and the divine nature of true Love (Agape).

Eryximachus expands the domain of Love to include animals, plants and the entire Universe. He goes so far as to equate Love to the physical health of the body, and in so doing demonstrates that the principles of Love can be applied to all things. He continues upon this line comparing Love to Harmony, using musical harmony as an example. Indeed, Eryximachus states that all science is simply the knowledge of how Love, the absolute power, operates within that specific field. Eryximachus further distinguishes the split of Heavenly Love (Urania) and Common Love (who he designates as Polyhymnia). The high Love is noble and beautiful, while the low Love is ugly and disgraceful. When the divine Love is in control of anything, as in the weather, all things are mild, pleasant and abundant. When the base Love is in control there are storms, blights, disease and all manner of ill winds blow. The divine Love is Harmony; the common Love is Discord to Eryximachus. Finally he reaches the art of divination, and describes it as attempting to maintain a balance of Heavenly and Common Love in our relations with the Gods. Love is absolute when guided by temperance and justice. This is an evolution of the argument at this point, because Eryximachus takes Pausanias' division of the two kinds of Love and firmly places each at opposite ends of a spectrum. He councils aspiring to a careful balance of both in order to enjoy the pleasures of the base Love while remaining within the saving grace of the divine Love.

I agree with Eryximachus about divination as I think it is an attunement of the individual Spirit to the Collective Spirit of the Universe (i.e. Deity). But I begin to diverge from Eryximachus when he divides love into good and evil, and attributes all things bad to the Muse of Many Songs. That is quite dastardly treatment of fair Polyhymnia, I must say. He conceives a dark (evil) and light (good) side to everything, and the state of anything is determined by the interplay of darkness and light. I agree with his concept of Harmony, but find fault in his dismissal of Polyhymnia as an evil and dark influence. This Muse could serve extraordinarily well, I reckon, as a patron spirit of philosophers. I would rather he look elsewhere for his personification of Lust, but I understand him to be saying that there is one right way to Love, and many wrong ways. To this I do not agree, or else philosophy itself is evil. I would reverse and add a twist to the example he defines, with the Many being the way to the light (good), and the One and Only way leading to darkness (evil). But even the One is not wholly evil as it does illuminate a wisdom. I think only the absence (i.e. refusal) of a path is darkness (evil). The light of one lamp holds back the darkness, while the light of many lamps reveals what is hidden by the darkness. The light of No-Lamp is the Paradox here.

Philia, Prometheus, Rationalist

Aristophanes seeks to develop a logical progression of events to explain (Rationalist) the Idealist goal of communal harmony (Philia) within a system full of discord that prevent true lovers from finding each other and reuniting forever despite an unending attempt (Prometheus) to do so.

Aristophanes speaks out of turn as he was tending a case of the hiccups caused by overindulgence, and could not speak before this. Evidently he was interrupting continuously during the speech by Eryximachus, and that matches his speech in one aspect. The hiccups were discordant to the harmonious speech of Eryximachus, and now Aristophanes attempts to rationalize Love as a Discordant state attempting to find Harmony. He uses a fable of the origin of humans from an ancient double-sided, circular human being in order to make this clear. Aristophanes works out all the details with explanations aplenty. He makes a logical progression from the beginning to the present. He states the goal is to recreate the beginning, but since we are now Two instead of One we cannot remain joined. Therefore we must wander through life, occasionally united with our other half through sexual union. However, without divine intervention we can only merge for brief moments before wandering through time and space again as two related, but separate individuals.

There is much truth to what Aristophanes says about discordance. I think it is important to pay attention to the discordance in order to perceive the harmony. It is akin to a Beethoven symphony. The music rises time and again to near crescendo (discordance), only to back away and allow the ever-present melody (the counterpoint that creates harmony) to reaffirm itself. As the symphony grows, the loud and the soft build off each other until they progress, note by note, to the point they merge to create a unified climax. So we need to heed the Dionysonian discords within the Promethean struggle to capture the raw passion of Eros so that we can attain the harmony of Apollo. Ta-da!

There is also some truth, I think, to Aristophanes' concept of true lovers being part of the same whole. But since I am a more Apollonian sort, I see the potentiality of everything in the Universe being part of that same great Whole. Thus all of us have the ability of becoming lovers in the harmonious symphony that, to me, is the Communal Spirit (i.e. Deity). OK, so I'm still a hippie at heart. Regardless of my orientation, if, as I put forth in my last homework, the Love each of us seeks is the common Spirit within everything, then there is potential for Love to be found in everything. To go further than last week's homework on this topic, that point of light within everything, each Thing's Spirit, glitters along a spider web of continuity, all linked to all else. The same quivering web thread that emanates from Beethoven finds itself connected to tribal music, to Joan Jett, to all people. The vibrating web doesn't stop there, but continues on to Animals, Plants, Rock, and all the way down to Atom. Past Atom on this road is Idea. Idea creates Movement, and thus the symphony begins anew. Everything exists through the vibrations that reverberate through our collective consciousness -- which is Love, which is Spirit, which is Deity, which is Idea. This is The Logos.

The concept of having only one true love, as Aristophanes declares, has caused a lot of unnecessary grief and misery through the ages. Add this concept to Phaedrus and his love that needs a master-slave relationship, to Pausanias and his love which is a predatory relationship, and to Eryximachus who declares good and evil types of Love, and we see why our culture's mainstream sexual mores are in crisis. These four speeches form the foundation of our own society's deleterious attitudes and laws regarding Love. At this stage let me say I find fault with Aristophanes' statements that perfect love is about the union of two like individuals. I know through the properties of magnetism that opposites attract and like repels. As above, so below. It seems to me that the attraction of opposites is greater than any number of superficial bonds of sameness. There is a magic about it that is omnipotent . . . barring ol' Paradox, of course. It is telling that the myth describes sexual union as the only way to become one again in this halved state. I know from experience that the union of Love is not dependent on a sexual union. By this rendition of the story Aristophanes kneels his Love at the feet of Lust. There is another shortcoming of the fable, this one more serious. The allegory doesn't stand up to scrutiny regarding the Androgynous ones (male-female) and the Female ones (female-female). Aristophanes focuses the lesson on the Male ones (male-male). The comparison of sowing seed and reproducing like cicadas from the ground, while poetic, applies only to the Male. The Female is not a factor. The tale describes a wholly Male oriented progression that minimizes the Female role to an object of mere insult, when it does not relegate it to triviality. This is a polarizing and destructive counterpoint to the Neolithic matriarchal society that is generally held to have existed before the Bronze Age. I have to conclude that the fable as told by Aristophanes is not about harmony at all. The absence of the Female aspect of this yarn shuts out half the Human Race.

On the other hand, I think in his fable he tantalizingly describes the geometric Lemniscate of Bernoulli, which has the algebraic expression -- (x^2+y^2)^2=2c^2(x^2-y^2) -- which is not understandable by me anymore, if it ever was, but it strikes me intuitively that it resonates with relativity to this topic. If it is not applicable, it is still a path to knowledge. However I cannot find my way in that direction without a guide. In any case, a lemniscate is the result of two circles having a mutual attraction. The result being a warping toward each other that results in a single conjoined point. This is called a polar curve in geometric parlance. The formula, when plotted, is what we use as the symbol for infinity. Aristophanes' contention, I think, is that we travel along the curves of the lemniscate, and when we meet our other half in the middle, for one glorious moment we are One again. I extrapolate from that to mean we seek to merge the two halves of that lemniscate into a circle by a permanent and total union of the two polar orbits into one.

I have a question: what is Hate?

The gift from the Muse Polyhymnia that aided inspiration for this writing was: Lillian Eichler Watson (ed.), 1951, "Light From Many Lamps", USA, Simon & Schuster).

No comments: