Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cookery v. Medicine :: Pleasure v. Health

Plato, "Gorgias"
SOCRATES: In my opinion then, Gorgias, the whole of which rhetoric is a part is not an art at all, but the habit of a bold and ready wit, which knows how to manage mankind: this habit I sum up under the word 'flattery'; and it appears to me to have many other parts, one of which is cookery, which may seem to be an art, but, as I maintain, is only an experience or routine and not an art:—another part is rhetoric, and the art of attiring and sophistry are two others: thus there are four branches, and four different things answering to them. And Polus may ask, if he likes, for he has not as yet been informed, what part of flattery is rhetoric: he did not see that I had not yet answered him when he proceeded to ask a further question: Whether I do not think rhetoric a fine thing? But I shall not tell him whether rhetoric is a fine thing or not, until I have first answered, 'What is rhetoric?' For that would not be right, Polus; but I shall be happy to answer, if you will ask me, What part of flattery is rhetoric?

POLUS: I will ask and do you answer? What part of flattery is rhetoric?

SOCRATES: Will you understand my answer? Rhetoric, according to my view, is the ghost or counterfeit of a part of politics.

POLUS: And noble or ignoble?

SOCRATES: Ignoble, I should say, if I am compelled to answer, for I call what is bad ignoble: though I doubt whether you understand what I was saying before.

GORGIAS: Indeed, Socrates, I cannot say that I understand myself.

SOCRATES: I do not wonder, Gorgias; for I have not as yet explained myself, and our friend Polus, colt by name and colt by nature, is apt to run away. (This is an untranslatable play on the name 'Polus,' which means 'a colt.')

GORGIAS: Never mind him, but explain to me what you mean by saying that rhetoric is the counterfeit of a part of politics.

SOCRATES: I will try, then, to explain my notion of rhetoric, and if I am mistaken, my friend Polus shall refute me. We may assume the existence of bodies and of souls?

GORGIAS: Of course.

SOCRATES: You would further admit that there is a good condition of either of them?


SOCRATES: Which condition may not be really good, but good only in appearance? I mean to say, that there are many persons who appear to be in good health, and whom only a physician or trainer will discern at first sight not to be in good health.


SOCRATES: And this applies not only to the body, but also to the soul: in either there may be that which gives the appearance of health and not the reality?

GORGIAS: Yes, certainly.

SOCRATES: And now I will endeavour to explain to you more clearly what I mean: The soul and body being two, have two arts corresponding to them: there is the art of politics attending on the soul; and another art attending on the body, of which I know no single name, but which may be described as having two divisions, one of them gymnastic, and the other medicine. And in politics there is a legislative part, which answers to gymnastic, as justice does to medicine; and the two parts run into one another, justice having to do with the same subject as legislation, and medicine with the same subject as gymnastic, but with a difference. Now, seeing that there are these four arts, two attending on the body and two on the soul for their highest good; flattery knowing, or rather guessing their natures, has distributed herself into four shams or simulations of them; she puts on the likeness of some one or other of them, and pretends to be that which she simulates, and having no regard for men's highest interests, is ever making pleasure the bait of the unwary, and deceiving them into the belief that she is of the highest value to them. Cookery simulates the disguise of medicine, and pretends to know what food is the best for the body; and if the physician and the cook had to enter into a competition in which children were the judges, or men who had no more sense than children, as to which of them best understands the goodness or badness of food, the physician would be starved to death. A flattery I deem this to be and of an ignoble sort, Polus, for to you I am now addressing myself, because it aims at pleasure without any thought of the best. An art I do not call it, but only an experience, because it is unable to explain or to give a reason of the nature of its own applications. And I do not call any irrational thing an art; but if you dispute my words, I am prepared to argue in defence of them.

Cookery, then, I maintain to be a flattery which takes the form of medicine; and attiring, in like manner, is a flattery which takes the form of gymnastic, and is knavish, false, ignoble, illiberal, working deceitfully by the help of lines, and colours, and enamels, and garments, and making men affect a spurious beauty to the neglect of the true beauty which is given by gymnastic.

I would rather not be tedious, and therefore I will only say, after the manner of the geometricians (for I think that by this time you will be able to follow)

as attiring: gymnastic:: cookery: medicine;

or rather,

as attiring: gymnastic:: sophistry: legislation;


as cookery: medicine:: rhetoric: justice.

And this, I say, is the natural difference between the rhetorician and the sophist, but by reason of their near connection, they are apt to be jumbled up together; neither do they know what to make of themselves, nor do other men know what to make of them. For if the body presided over itself, and were not under the guidance of the soul, and the soul did not discern and discriminate between cookery and medicine, but the body was made the judge of them, and the rule of judgment was the bodily delight which was given by them, then the word of Anaxagoras, that word with which you, friend Polus, are so well acquainted, would prevail far and wide: 'Chaos' would come again, and cookery, health, and medicine would mingle in an indiscriminate mass. And now I have told you my notion of rhetoric, which is, in relation to the soul, what cookery is to the body. I may have been inconsistent in making a long speech, when I would not allow you to discourse at length. But I think that I may be excused, because you did not understand me, and could make no use of my answer when I spoke shortly, and therefore I had to enter into an explanation. And if I show an equal inability to make use of yours, I hope that you will speak at equal length; but if I am able to understand you, let me have the benefit of your brevity, as is only fair: And now you may do what you please with my answer.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Swan Songs

Plato. "Phaedo"
Socrates - Will you not allow that I have as much of the spirit of prophecy in me as the swans? For they, when they perceive that they must die, having sung all their life long, do then sing more lustily than ever, rejoicing in the thought that they are about to go away to the god whose ministers they are. But men, because they are themselves afraid of death, slanderously affirm of the swans that they sing a lament at the last, not considering that no bird sings when cold, or hungry, or in pain, not even the nightingale, nor the swallow, nor yet the hoopoe; which are said indeed to tune a lay of sorrow, although I do not believe this to be true of them any more than of the swans. But because they are sacred to Apollo, they have the gift of prophecy, and anticipate the good things of another world, wherefore they sing and rejoice in that day more than they ever did before. And I too, believing myself to be the consecrated servant of the same God, and the fellow-servant of the swans, and thinking that I have received from my master gifts of prophecy which are not inferior to theirs, would not go out of life less merrily than the swans.
“Swans sing before they die—
't were no bad thing

Should certain persons die before they sing.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Dog Days Are Over

Aphrodite, in her swan-drawn chariot, had not yet reached Cyprus, when she heard coming up through mid-air the groans of her beloved, and turned back to earth. As she drew near and saw from on high his lifeless body bathed in blood, she alighted and, bending over it, beat her breast and tore her hair. Reproaching the Fates, she said, "Yet theirs shall be but a partial triumph; memorials of my grief shall endure, and the spectacle of your death, my Adonis, and of my lamentations shall be annually renewed. Your blood shall be changed into a flower; that consolation none can envy me." Thus speaking, she sprinkled nectar on the blood; and as they mingled, bubbles rose as in a pool on which raindrops fall, and in an hour's time there sprang up a flower of bloody hue like that of the pomegranate. But it is short-lived. It is said that the wind blows the blossoms open, and afterwards blows the petals away; so it is called Anemone, or Wind Flower, from the cause which assists equally in its production and its decay.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Escaping the Cave

"What is not started today is never finished tomorrow.”
~ Johann Wolfgang van Goethe

Friday, August 10, 2012

New Media Rat & Weasle Catching


I AM the bard known far and wide,
The travell'd rat-catcher beside;
A man most needful to this town,
So glorious through its old renown.
However many rats I see,
How many weasels there may be,
I cleanse the place from ev'ry one,
All needs must helter-skelter run.

Sometimes the bard so full of cheer
As a child-catcher will appear,
Who e'en the wildest captive brings,
Whene'er his golden tales he sings.
However proud each boy in heart,
However much the maidens start,
I bid the chords sweet music make,
And all must follow in my wake.

Sometimes the skilful bard ye view
In the form of maiden-catcher too;
For he no city enters e'er,
Without effecting wonders there.
However coy may be each maid,
However the women seem afraid,
Yet all will love-sick be ere long
To sound of magic lute and song.

[Da Capo.]
-Goethe (1803)

Monday, August 6, 2012



VAINLY wouldst thou, to gain a heart,

Heap up a maiden's lap with gold;
The joys of love thou must impart,

Wouldst thou e'er see those joys unfold.
The voices of the throng gold buys,

No single heart 'twill win for thee;
Wouldst thou a maiden make thy prize,

Thyself alone the bribe must be.

If by no sacred tie thou'rt bound,

Oh youth, thou must thyself restrain!
Well may true liberty be found,

Tho' man may seem to wear a chain.
Let one alone inflame thee e'er,

And if her heart with love o'erflows,
Let tenderness unite you there,

If duty's self no fetter knows.

First feel, oh youth! A girl then find

Worthy thy choice,--let her choose thee,
In body fair, and fair in mind,

And then thou wilt be blessed, like me.
I who have made this art mine own,

A girl have chosen such as this
The blessing of the priest alone

Is wanting to complete our bliss.

Nought but my rapture is her guide,

Only for me she cares to please,--
Ne'er wanton save when by my side,

And modest when the world she sees;
That time our glow may never chill,

She yields no right through frailty;
Her favour is a favour still,

And I must ever grateful be.

Yet I'm content, and full of joy,

If she'll but grant her smile so sweet,
Or if at table she'll employ,

To pillow hers, her lover's feet,
Give me the apple that she bit,

The glass from which she drank, bestow,
And when my kiss so orders it,

Her bosom, veil'd till then, will show.

And when she wills of love to speak,

In fond and silent hours of bliss,
Words from her mouth are all I seek,

Nought else I crave,--not e'en a kiss.
With what a soul her mind is fraught,

Wreath'd round with charms unceasingly!
She's perfect,--and she fails in nought

Save in her deigning to love me.

My rev'rence throws me at her feet,

My longing throws me on her breast;
This, youth, is rapture true and sweet,

Be wise, thus seeking to be blest.
When death shall take thee from her side,

To join the angelic choir above,
In heaven's bright mansions to abide,--
No diff'rence at the change thoult prove.
-Goethe (1767-8)

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Spectator Society... Driven to Distraction

In his essay, “The Work of Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Walter Benjamin discusses a shift in perception and its affects in the wake of the advent of film and photography in the twentieth century. He writes of the sense changes within humanity’s entire mode of existence; the way we look and see the visual work of art has is different now and its consequences remain to be determined. How does human sense perception related to history? Is it a universal perspective that is being critiqued here? Can there be a universal perspective in the first place?

Benjamin here attempts to mark something specific about the modern age; of the effects of modernity on the work of art in particular. Film and photography point to this movement. Benjamin writes of the loss of the aura through the mechanical reproduction of art itself. The aura for Benjamin represents the originality and authenticity of a work of art that has not been reproduced. A painting as an aura while a photograph does not; the photograph is an image of an image while the painting remains utterly original.

The sense of the aura is lost on film and the reproducible image itself demonstrates a historical shift that we have to take account of even if when we don’t necessarily notice it. What does it mean when the aura is lost? How does it function and how does it come about? Benjamin writes of the loss of the aura as a loss of a singular authority within the work of art itself. But what comes through in this new space left by the death to the aura? How does the mechanically reproduced work of art manage to make up for this void?

As Benjamin continues, a tension between new modes of perception and the aura arise. The removal of authority within the original work of art infers a loss of authority, however, in regards to mass consumption, this liberation is not necessarily contingent. The cameraman, for example, intervenes with what we see in a way which a painting can never do. It directs the eye towards a specific place and a specific story; at the same time it is radical and revolutionary it is also totalitarian. It guides us to a particular side of a story and leaves other parts out. It dulls our perception towards the work of art and introduces distraction as a mode of reception. The location of anything we might call the aura has to be moved into a mythological space; into the cult of genius. This cult of genius relates back to the cultish characteristic of the aura itself; in its absence there is a grabbling for a replacement. What does it mean to place an aura on “someone” or “something”? Is it even necessary to reclaim the aura in the first place? The mystical cult of the original in broken with the loss of the aura, and now every one can go to a gallery, a museum, the theater or the cinema. A whole new appreciation of art is introduced while at the same time, a whole new mode of deception and distraction also enters.