Week 1

I’m so glad you’re here, and I’m so excited to hear your thoughts about the reading–  starting this week, starting now.

And I want to start with the Republic, partly because I know it may seem a bit alienating to you at first. It”s written in a form that few of us have been well trained to read, after all, and, besides, it’s just so old (380 BC!)But it’s also a really foundational text for the culture we live in– it’s super-canonical in the fields of politics and philosophy, and also in education and literary studies.

So, let’s keep that in mind as we work toward the answer to this question together: What passages or ideas seem most most relevant to the central question of this class– what good is literature?

As we work in that direction, it’ll help to note that Plato’s Republic is central to the cultural and political legacies we inherit as citizens of contemporary Western cultures, so we can assume that there are ideas in this book that have profoundly shaping effects on the world we inhabit. What are those effects? We probably won’t see them until we understand what Plato is doing in this dialogue, so, what is he doing?

The chapter begins with some discussion of the comparison between a city and a man– what is that about?–and Socrates talks at length about what makes a person tyrannical, or “badly governed on the inside” (579c).

And he uses that discussion to get to the point that a man “will always cultivate the harmony of his body for the sake of the consonance in his soul” if “he’s to be truly trained in music and poetry” (591c). But what does “harmony” mean in this context, and why does Socrates value it so highly?

Outside of this, what passages from the Republic seem to be particularly;

  • important, but also
  • hard to understand?

You might use your comment to call our attention to those, explaining why a given passage seems worth our time to you, and what you would like to understand about it.

Once we get that in place in our discussion, we’ll turn to The Museum of Innocence and ask: What kind of world is Pamuk constructing here, and how is he drawing us in– as readers who are far away from this author and his characters, culturally, politically, linguistically?

I am interested in the effect to which this novel opens in the past while it also foreshadows its characters’ futures, even in the first sentence: “It was the happiest moment of my life, although I didn’t know it.” Clearly, things are going to go downhill from here. What does Pamuk achieve by trapping his protagonists into a narrative that promises to get worse?

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19 Responses to Week 1

  1. gfisk says:

    Comment here, below!

    • Emily Abrams says:

      With regards to the effects that Plato’s The Republic has on our world — from what I garnered from “Book IX” — I would say Plato’s presentation of Socrates’ notions on the desires of men, on how those actions translate into social/political spheres, and on the examination of the human soul, are influential by their own right. The use of Socratic dialogue certainly lends itself to deconstructing these complex issues, making it easier for readers to follow his logic and digest his arguments. Accessibility in this educational sense aids the receptivity of Socrates’ ideas.

      Now, in “Book IX” of The Republic, Socrates argues how the soul of a man can be reflective of how a governed city. Plato paints the character of a tyrant (public-ruling or private) as utterly immoral in both his “erotic” desires and “mad” actions (573c). A tyrant, according to Socrates, is a “nightmare” who without hesitation enslaves others and is “most vicious also clearly most wretched” (576b-c). Here, through Socratic dialogue, parallels between a tyrant and city under tyrant rule are drawn, leading readers to conclude both are enslaved, poor, and full of fear (577d-578). Yet, Socrates distinguishes that a tyrant, when faced by external oppositions to his power, can too find himself “mostly confined to his own house” — enslaved himself (ironically) — yearning to move freely as his desires wish (579b), becoming a “body without any self-control (579d). In this perspective, Socrates informs readers that the whole soul of a tyrant, as it turns out, finds itself in a miserable state identical to those in the city which he oppresses. In turn, we the readers are surely left to consider whether or not Socrates’ example is one of cruelest irony.

      With regards to Socrates’ argument on man’s inclination towards harmony — the “consonance” — of the soul, he meant “harmony” in the sense that there is no disconnect between one’s soul and one’s actions. When these two factors are aligned, in unison, it is there there that what Socrates called “the consonance in [one’s] soul” is found (291c). The value of such harmony, from what I gathered from Socrates’ argument, in a state of harmony rests one’s convictions and their adherence to their principles. This kind of authenticity, but more so prioritization of harmony in one’s soul is what Socrates valued.

      Lastly, I point to the passages under section 582, where Socrates argues the superiority of the philosopher over the two other kinds of people, which he calls “victory-loving” and “profit-loving.” These passages are worth unpacking, in my opinion, because Socrates is making such bold claims that a philosopher’s life is one “most pleasant” (582d). The hierarchy he appears to establish can be logically followed, but I found it hard to not draw a counterargument to Socrates’, and question why the pleasures/values held by these three kinds of people are mutually exclusive. I would think reason, judgment, and arguments can arguably be found in all three types outlined to certain extents. Maybe I am overthinking or missing his argument all together? Hope we can discuss!

  2. Plato’s “Republic” was an interesting yet difficult text to comprehend if only read once. After reading Plato’s text multiple times there were several ideas that captured my attention. One statement that intrigued me was when Plato wrote, “He’ll willingly share in and taste those that he believes will make him better, but he’ll avoid any public or private honor that might overthrow the established condition of his soul” (592a). I thought this relates to good literature because this person Plato discusses appears to be different than the tyrants. He surrounds himself with people who “will make him better,” and avoids being publicly honored. This person is not as cruel as the tyrants, and appears to be a righteous person, which is what makes a text labeled as good. The second idea that stood out to me in Plato’s text is when he explains, “Even though his soul is really for it, he’s the only one in the whole city who can’t travel abroad or see the sights that other free people want to see” (579b). When I first read this sentence I started questioning how different a person’s life is from others when they’re living in fear? In other words, how do tyrants cope knowing there will be certain places they can’t see because of they’re actions. I also found it important when Plato goes on to speak about how, “Instead he lives like a woman, mostly confined to his own house, and envying any other citizen who happens to travel aboard and see something worthwhile” (579b). This sentence was important to me because it was sexist and offered readers a glimpse into the life of a woman. These tyrants who have to live in fear for their lives can’t freely travel and must be in their house every day. Basically, these tyrants got to experience how women had to live during this time.
    I also wanted to briefly discuss Orhan Pamuk’s “The Museum of Innocence.” He opens up his text by stating, “It was the happiest moment of my life though I didn’t know it” (Pamuk, 6). This sentence intrigued me as a reader because I started to wonder what happened to the main character? It also showed me how a good moment in his life didn’t always appear that way to him. As the chapters progressed I saw that this moment in his life was caused by a girl who he is no longer associated with.

  3. Deepika Khan says:

    After reading Aleksandar Hemon’s article, “Stop Making Sense, or How to Write in the Age of Trump” followed by Book IX of Plato’s The Republic, I cannot help but think of the current political climate America is in currently. Plato’s description of the “tyrannical man” as one who is “purged… of moderation and filled… with imported madness” was eerily similar to the way our president operates on a daily basis (573b) (243). I tried to read Plato’s work with the intention of answering the first question of “what good is literature?,” but I couldn’t help but relate every concept presented in Book IX to President Donald Trump. Considering Plato’s distaste for tyrannical rulers, I’m sure he would agree that Trump’s victory a few years ago as ruler of the free world brings forth “the fear of an unimaginable future” (Hemon 3). I hate to go off-topic since we should probably be reading The Republic in a literary way, but I couldn’t help focusing on the implied politics of Plato’s words. Almost every page, especially the first half of the reading, had at least one line or sentence that I could directly apply to the president of our country. For example, when describing the habits of a tyrant behind closed doors, Plato states, “a tyrannical man… associates primarily with flatterers who are ready to obey him in everything” (575e) (246). This reminded me of the president had his league of followers that will defend anything and everything he does or says. I’m not trying to bash our current president and purposely make this a political post, however, Plato’s The Republic is chock-full of political references. I really tried to read Book IX with my English major lenses on, but all I could see were politics.

    Orhan Pamuk’s novel, The Museum of Innocence, was a very different read from Plato. My first impression is that Pamuk is constructing a world in which his protagonist, Kemal, will travel back and forth from the past and present. It is also evident that class status in Istanbul at the time is of high importance. For example, the “Istanbul bourgeoisie” regards women that attend school in “Paris for any kind of study” as a desirable daughter-in-law (Pamuk 5). I get a sort of Romeo and Juliet vibe from the first few chapters of The Museum of Innocence because it seems Kemal and Füsun are about to face some opposition to their current arrangement.

    • Like Deepika, I too found it very easy to relate book IX to our current political climate. While reading I was reminded of Aleksandar Hemon’s article and the dramaticism in phrases and words he used in describing his own reaction and fear to a Trump Administration. Although many aspects of Sophocles’ first conversation with Adeimantus resonated with the feelings of a Trump presidency and the terror of the body of the state that is emphasized by Hemon; Sophocles’ second conversation with Glaucon brings about lessons that both parties can take from. In this conversation, the ‘man’ holds two meanings; there is the ‘man’ the leader and the ‘man’ the people. With the correlation between man and state made, there also is an importance of the people of the state is made as well since both ‘men’ create the state.
      In speaking of the man and state, the state represents the leader and people of said state. Sophocles asks, “and must not the tyrannical man be like the tyrannical, State, and the democratical man like the democratical State; and the same of the others?” Although written in a far different time, doesn’t the question still hold weight? Even in our time of a Trump Presidency and the times leading up to it did we see this question hold the same values. When it came to Trump rallies, Trump’s speech brought forth a population of America that agreed and believed in his values on immigrants and women. There, the political climate of Trump became the Trump state. What is also expressed in the same conversation is the evaluation of ‘man’ the people. Socrates also says, “we must not allow ourselves to be panic-stricken at the apparition of the tyrant… but let us go as we ought into every corner of the city and look all about, and then we will give our opinion.” From the negativity, as individuals revaluation must be done. Socrates tell to look closely at what is evident and make judgments. Whether knowingly or not, Hemon comes to this conclusion as well. A Trump Administration forces us all to look harder and see the condition of the country we live and come to many tough conclusions.

  4. Seeking An English Major For The End Of The World: A Juxtaposition In Which Madness Is Mediated On

    To say we’re far removed from the Ancient Greeks is like saying the surface level of the earth is far away from its core. Yes, there’s a great distance. Yes, they aren’t touching and there are many geological eras between them. Yes, they don’t technically exist during the same time and whatever lived in one era is dead now.

    But could one survive or exist without the other? Aren’t they still connected, one always threatening to redefine the shape of the crusts surface, parallel and intrinsic to its design?

    Well, Of course.

    Western society especially seems to play into the palm of the likes of Sappho and Virgil, Sophocles and Aeschylus. We forever are a thing that doesn’t so much circle its past but grows from it. From the dead we bury we also reuse the soil and grow vibrant flowers, not necessarily holistically original, but vibrant and alive all the same, adding to the canonical philosophy of both literature and life.

    In The Republic, Plato mediates a lot on what it means to be tyrannical and give into things, such as desire, evil, trepidation, and perhaps simply, emotion. “I don’t think we have adequately distinguished the kinds and numbers of our desires, and, if that subject isn’t adequately dealt with, our entire investigation will be less clear,” he writes, thus leading the reader on an explored journey of such instances (Grube, 239).

    Yet, does it really solve anything? In true Platonic fashion…Nope! It simply leads into rings and spirals and drops us back right where we started, tyrant to tired, weary tyrant.

    However, this part “Then this leader of the soul adopts madness as its bodyguard and becomes frenzied” raises a few questions (Grube , 241.) If we say madness is something that’s frenzied, how can it also be a bodyguard? Can something unhinged also protect? Are the parts of your subconscious that are wild and free and utterly deadly, the things everyone else is convinced will one day kill you, in actuality, the thing that will save you?

    By turn of phrase, isn’t it the same on a worldly level? If we assign sanity to the external faucets of society then the “arts” are, without question,” the insane.” No one expects poetry or pottery or play writers to be the saviors of a society. There’s a joke about the NASA applications currently going around that “So long as you’re in the right major they’ll accept you now that it’s open again” and the reply is “Yeah well, the English Major is just the person for the job who else is going to explore the obvious homoerotic subtext on the other seven planets?” And while it’s a good laugh, it also makes you think; we’re a society that genuinely sees English and the rest of the arts as useless. Sure, we see entertainment and commodity, but we never think it’s going to be our last defense. We’re a society that forgets the power behind what an inference can mean in a life or death situation. We’re a society that sneers at the understanding of metaphor and steps over the knowledge someone can teach them piano or guitar as though it would never sharpen their hearing, the same way the cadence between prose could potentially save when used in the infection of a spoken conversation, a mediators last, great gift before they lose an entire room to madness.

    We told stories around fires once, why couldn’t it also be stories we tell when everything ends?
    Would you listen to a diplomat who’s trained to lie to the public? A politician who’s elected on god-knows-what-kind-of-premise? Someone who spends all their days in a lab seeing people as numbers and not flesh and blood?

    Yeah, me neither.

    Might you listen to someone who can breathe life into the written word? Who has all the fear-assuaging grace of the diplomat but the brutal honesty of the scientist? Would you trust a poet at the end of the world, would you trust a painter, a pianist, a video game designer, a dramatist, a sculpture, an essayist, a journalist and dare I say it, Would you trust an English Major?

    Hm, maybe.

    What a terrible juxtaposition then, when we learn in the future, it may not be wars or science that saved us because we were so entrenched in destruction, but what we decided to create is what saved us instead. Maybe our world doesn’t end because someone on another planet read Ulysses and thought “wow, these people are weird, like really weird, let’s talk to them instead of you know- Plan A: Armageddon!” Maybe they read the letters Virginia Woolf used to write to Vita Sackville-West and thought “Oh wow! These people also have mushy romantic feelings, huh, that’s-okay we can reason with them. Or at least appeal to their hearts.”

    Hell, maybe they just read the comics section of a suburban newspaper and thought “Oh. They have a sense of humor. Thank god. We’ll keep them around a little longer after all.”

    What if all of humanity hangs within the word itself; the humanities. Too easy, right? Platonic in nature, I mean, right back where we started, so why not? The answer stands right in front of you and weather by means of science fiction or not the same can apply when bargaining for peace against neighboring countries (or you know, maybe just bickering neighbors!) You don’t come together as a society because you agreed on the weather, but rather because of a visceral emotion.

    Which brings us to the near conclusion of this rant. If one supposes all of what I just said is utter bullshit (and I wouldn’t blame you) let’s keep in mind Plato’s mediation on page 262 “Fine things are those that subordinate the beast-like parts of our nature to the human— or better, perhaps, to the divine; shameful ones are those that enslave the gentle to the savage? Will he agree or what?” in which I, for one, must disagree with him (and am thrilled he’s no longer kicking because he was noted, if he, you know was actually a real person, for sparring up with people who disagreed with him and would take out all 5” 3’ of me before I could so much as finish rolling my cardigan sleeves up…)

    We’re a world that seems to adhere to this notion, the enslavement of the gentle to the savage, but what if…it’s actually the other way around? What if all of savageness yielded to the gentle? After all, there’s that old schtick about ‘the meek shall inherit,’ right? An entire dreamscape of nightmares dissipates into nothing at the quiet snap of the hypnotists fingers. The young musician Mitski writes “One word from you and I would jump off of this ledge I’m on, baby. Tell me “don’t” so I can crawl back in” and you realize it’s not a grand act that saves nor destroys someone, it’s something nearly whispered, minute, practically unseen. An entire creative team writing Hannibal thought the most psychologically logical route for a serial killer to turn himself in, wasn’t through means of violence but simply because the unspoken relationship between him and a sorely introverted detective persuaded him to. Bad comedians are booed off a stage, but downright offensive ones are given the cold shoulder until they pack up and leave themselves.

    We’re a society that parades around as believing in grand finales and sweeping gestures, but what about the pause, the near dead silence right before an explosion or a rousing speech?Would our narrative play out without it? No. I don’t think so. Maybe as much as we market extroversion, we can subconsciously never forget how much hinges on subtly. Maybe this world don’t end with a great bang, instead it’s done by the brush of a pair of hands, the bristle of a shoulder, the tap of a wrist against the binding of a book.

    Or maybe, just maybe, that’s how it all begins again.

  5. Emily Abrams says:

    With regards to the effects that Plato’s The Republic has on our world — from what I garnered from “Book IX” — I would say Plato’s presentation of Socrates’ notions on the desires of men, on how those actions translate into social/political spheres, and on the examination of the human soul, are influential by their own right. The use of Socratic dialogue certainly lends itself to deconstructing these complex issues, making it easier for readers to follow his logic and digest his arguments. Accessibility in this educational sense aids the receptivity of Socrates’ ideas.

    Now, in “Book IX” of The Republic, Socrates argues how the soul of a man can be reflective of how a governed city. Plato paints the character of a tyrant (public-ruling or private) as utterly immoral in both his “erotic” desires and “mad” actions (573c). A tyrant, according to Socrates, is a “nightmare” who without hesitation enslaves others and is “most vicious also clearly most wretched” (576b-c). Here, through Socratic dialogue, parallels between a tyrant and city under tyrant rule are drawn, leading readers to conclude both are enslaved, poor, and full of fear (577d-578). Yet, Socrates distinguishes that a tyrant, when faced by external oppositions to his power, can too find himself “mostly confined to his own house” — enslaved himself (ironically) — yearning to move freely as his desires wish (579b), becoming a “body without any self-control (579d). In this perspective, Socrates informs readers that the whole soul of a tyrant, as it turns out, finds itself in a miserable state identical to those in the city which he oppresses. In turn, we the readers are surely left to consider whether or not Socrates’ example is one of cruelest irony.

    With regards to Socrates’ argument on man’s inclination towards harmony — the “consonance” — of the soul, he meant “harmony” in the sense that there is no disconnect between one’s soul and one’s actions. When these two factors are aligned, in unison, it is there there that what Socrates called “the consonance in [one’s] soul” is found (291c). The value of such harmony, from what I gathered from Socrates’ argument, in a state of harmony rests one’s convictions and their adherence to their principles. This kind of authenticity, but more so prioritization of harmony in one’s soul is what Socrates valued.

    Lastly, I point to the passages under section 582, where Socrates argues the superiority of the philosopher over the two other kinds of people, which he calls “victory-loving” and “profit-loving.” These passages are worth unpacking, in my opinion, because Socrates is making such bold claims that a philosopher’s life is one “most pleasant” (582d). The hierarchy he appears to establish can be logically followed, but I found it hard to not draw a counterargument to Socrates’, and question why the pleasures/values held by these three kinds of people are mutually exclusive. I would think reason, judgment, and arguments can arguably be found in all three types outlined to certain extents. Maybe I am overthinking or missing his argument all together? Hope we can discuss!

  6. Venessa says:

    The harmony that Plato is describing is the balance between body and soul. He feels that the body should be tended and cared for, but not to please ones’ deepest desires. It should be just to keep it nourished enough to survive, so that a person may pursue the cultivation of their mind. He feels that nourishing the soul is the greatest pursuit in life that one should strive for. A well-rounded soul of knowledge creates a well-rounded individual.

    An important part of the conversation was when he said:
    “Then the calm we described as being intermediate between pleasure and pain will sometimes be both.” “So it seems.” “Now, is it possible for that which is neither to become both?” “Not in my view.” (583e).
    I feel like there’s a contradiction there. He is proving how the clam can be pleasure and how it can be pain, yet that is can be neither. He is describing how calm when placed next to each feeling produces that effect of the other, is not a real feeling. People are simply feeling a calm that they call pleasure or pain in different circumstances. That’s what I made of the passage, but what are his true implications in saying that?

    In Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence, the setting is explicit from the beginning of the novel. Being set in Turkey, Pamuk uses names, streets, store signs, and designers specific to that country to set the culture for the readers. He even draws on cuisines and cultural names to invite the reader into his world. In foreshadowing that the narrative will go downhill, Pamuk pulls us into a world of curiosity. He captures our insatiable need to know what will happen to the characters in the novel. Why and how the story goes downhill are the questions in the readers mind as soon as the novel begins, and that propels them to want to keep reading.

  7. Jude Binda says:

    The ideas from Plato’s The Republic that I found most useful when considering question of “what good is literature” are his comments on the character and motivations of those who are in power. Being part of an allegedly democratic society but granting significant amounts of power to certain individuals has always been a conflicting issue for me. How do we decide who is worthy of such responsibility? How do we decide what they have the authority to do? Most importantly, what do they stand for? Plato discusses the extent by which tyrannical men are able to be happy, but it can be inferred that an unhappy leader entails unhappy communities. Leaders who have selfish and unjust values are bound to breed irritated citizens.

    That is where literature comes in. A professor once told me that all literature is about the time period it was written in, even if it is not set in that time. For example, if someone in 2018 were to publish a fictional novel about a black person living in the mid-1900’s, there would be references to acts of racism that occurred back then. Furthermore, the way the protagonist is treated and viewed would undoubtedly parallel today’s society to some extent. The setting may be 50 years in the past, but the novel would be a commentary on the prejudices happening in 2018. If people are unhappy with their society, they write about it, even if they do not do so explicitly. Literature is expression and documentation.

    Literature is also huge part of culture and knowledge. One would hope that books about history would be objectively written because they are supposed to be factual. Yet, it is usually those who emerge victorious throughout history who are allowed to write about it, which leaves a gross amount about of room for misinformation. There was an incident in Texas not too long ago because a company published books which referred to slaves as “workers” and “immigrants.” This caused a great deal of controversy because it erases the struggles of millions of slaves and could have completely changed the way someone understood the past. Literature has the power to shape minds and subsequently shape society.

    The unhappiness felt by tyrannical men in Plato’s The Republic can be indicative of the zeitgeist of the time. No one can live forever, but an idea can. Literature makes it possible to make statements about what was going on so that others can be exposed to different experiences. What those statements say is at the discretion of the writer, but great literature is thought provoking. Someone should be able to read something written 100 years ago and still get some sense of what it was like to live in that time.

  8. So, this being my first time reading Plato, I’m unsurprised to find that I’m left with more questions than answers and not really feeling that I understand what’s going on in this snippet of the book. I’m also certain that Socrates’ audience doesn’t get it either, despite their constant “yes-ands” and “oh-but-of-courses”. In some ways, reading it made me feel like one of them, as Socrates continued onto his next point and I kept reading on, still contemplated what his last four statements meant. That may be the point of it all, though. I don’t think you’re supposed to get it, definitely not at first.

    I understand the roundabout point being made here – people and cities are similar in their divisions and are driven by some of the same desires, motivations, and fears. There are five different types of both, and they can be ranked in terms of the just-ness of their existences in a precise 1-5 order, despite the order itself seeming arbitrary “A tyrant is somehow third from an oligarch” (258, 587c). He comes to the conclusion (as I understand it) that the philosopher lives the most justly, for their desire and drive for knowledge tempers their other desires and grounds them to only desire what is appropriate, and not let the other desires (honor and appetite, as he describes them) outweigh any of the others. This is the harmony of the body for the sake of the consonance of the soul that Socrates says all people strive for. I have a simple and probably sacrilegious question – what does anyone expect Socrates to say? That any of the other four types of people lived more “justly” than himself? People are supposed to flock to Socrates to be taught, if he wasn’t a paragon of a just life, why would they come to him? Maybe we’re just supposed to assume that Socrates is the greatest teacher and that his word can’t be tainted by bias. But wouldn’t that make him tyrannical even in some small way? If Socrates is this great purveyor of knowledge and his method is to constantly ask question, isn’t it then necessary for his audience to question him too?

    Moving away from Plato, I did find reading The Museum of Innocence right after The Republic and interesting experience, and definitely colored my view of Kemal. Because things are definitely trending down for him. Kemal seems remorseful that he didn’t quite realize that his time spent with his kind-of-sort-of cousin was the happiest he would ever be, but doesn’t seem to care much (and I’m speculating here) that whatever ill fortune comes next is probably his fault for being unfaithful to Sibel. From the first ten pages it’s already evident what Kemal’s chief desire is; physical beauty. Despite Sibel being “the perfect match” (Pamuk 4), and “…a very special, very charming, very lovely…” (Pamuk 10), we know literally nothing about her physical appearance. Kemal spends the entire first chapter going into great detail about their sexual encounter, and spends a lot of time describing how attractive he finds Fusun at the shop. At one point, he even mentions envying the playboy lifestyle (Pamuk 5). At first glance, Kemal seems to be the quintessential tyrannical man, governed almost entirely by his appetite. If Socrates is right, Kemal is going to live a cursed life, “…without being friends with anyone, always a master to one man or a slave to another and never getting a taste of either freedom or true friendship.” (246, 576a).

  9. Plato’s text, The Republic (Book IX) focuses on tyranny which is clearly linked to the article we read by Alexander Hemon, “Stop Making Sense, or How to Write in the Age of Trump” because between the two we can see that there is a clear connection between the tyrannical men that Plato talks about and Trump. From The Republic (Book IX), that text states, “And you know that a man who is deranged and not right in his mind, will fancy that he is able to rule, not only over men, but also over the gods?” The quote seems to make a clear indication that a man who thinks he is all knowing or has extreme power can believe that his dictatorship will ultimately get his way. It also indicates that with these types of men, they don’t seem to have a sense of shame, instead they are blinded by their own ego, constantly believing that their way is the only way anything can change or happen. Plato’s text clearly related to Hemon’s article, “Stop Making Sense, or How to Write in the Age of Trump” as well see him discuss how Trump’s role as a America’s president shocked many watching the election and how that somewhat given a reality check to many people in America, bringing back the division that we once knew in the past. Trump, is often associated with being a negative figure, although he is the president, many still don’t associate him as a positive individual of America. Instead, he actually fits into the idea that his ego is too big, and that he simply does not care, he just says what he wants without realizing the repercussions. Between Plato’s text, and Hermon’s it is clear that history repeats itself, that tyrannical men still exist and they still feel very much entitled to the power they have over others, so much so that they often feel as powerful as god, if not more powerful than god themselves. That relationship of how history repeats itself is interesting to see play out in Plato’s The Republic (Book IX) and today’s political environment with Trump himself. When thinking about these ideas it’s interesting to wonder what good is literature?

    So what good is literature? What is it’s actual role?

    Literature it seems could be the key to it all, or at the same time maybe it could not. If we looked at literature positively, we would be able to see all the information and secrets it holds, the significance of literature being a part of our lives is crucial. Literature is the way we get our information and understand it. Through literature we are able to understand people’s personal stories, like in memoirs, it gives us a personal connection to really understand how events may have taken place. But in a slightly negative light, literature could also be not so great. Instead, literature could be used as a tool to help hide this information. Layers of dramatizations, and too many details, which could throw you off the information you should focus on, could hide everything you would need and want to know in plain sight.

    In this case of tyrannical men, what good is literature?

    Well, like I mentioned before there is both a positive and a negative. In literature, we’ve definitely seen tyrannical men multiple times. In the text, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beacher Stowe, a slave owner, Simon, constantly beats the character Tom, and sexually abuses other slaves without remorse, which could be an example of a tyrannical man in literature. Another example of a tyrannical man is McTeague in McTeague by Frank Norris when he physically abuses his wife Trina, so much so that he ends up accidentally killing her one night out of his greediness and need to prove how powerful he was.

  10. Zara Diaby says:

    During the past presidential election, I spent most of my time in a quasi-self-imposed exile, I was in no position to stomach the thought of the free world being led by Donald J Trump. To me he was just a slimy slithery jackal that spouted bargain brand slogans at the American people and had no place in politics. He made promises on fixing the state of America, though xenophobic and inherently racist statements, while managing to never say much of anything, like a peddler of snake oil, he pulled at the fascist stings of red America.
    The pompous oaf that is 45, Trump, is what springs to mind while reading through Plato’s The Republic, the mind of a tyrant is a man who is fueled by his lust and need to control not only the minds of men but of gods as well, and in this state they believe that they are within their rights to do so (243). They are men who are driven by their insatiable appetite for power and lust, controlled by a spirit of ecstasy they are, the embodiment of narcissism and evoke every feeling of detestation. The question is how did a person like this gain control of the free world and how do we go about undoing this action? As Hemon writes in his article, “Stop Making Sense, or How to Write in the Age of Trump”, “what could never happen happily happened on November 8,” reality became inverted, we left a world we understood to stand face to face with a world in which Nazi rally’s are willed with “good people”. I digress.
    Have tyrants changed much since 350 B.C. , have people always been grubby mealy creatures that only look out for their own self interests or was Plato clairvoyant and had the uncanny ability to predict major social events? Because our loving Cheeto absolutely fits the bill, from his dependency on his parents to fund his lavish “self-made” lifestyle, to his exasperatingly shady dealings with practically anyone acquires as a business partner (bankruptcy, floating loans from Russia, and his defunct real estate school comes to mind, to his inappropriate sexual commentary (towards women in general but in particular his daughter) and there are more, that is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
    Plato remarks that a tyrant is not a tyrant without people to lord over, he needs a city or a home to exercise his tyrannical reign, most people during the election tuned in to watch the buffoonery that was paraded on their screens. Before my exile I was unlucky enough to catch a Trump rally, watching his speak was amazing, the conviction and fever with which he spewed his nocuous rhetoric to his rally goers was awe inspiring. Not only did his message lack substance, it lacked everything it was circular nonsense laced with trigger words that hinged on xenophobic and racist themes, “Make America Great Again” and “Build that Wall”. Ah, nostalgia. Tyrants are not tyrants without a congregation from which to lord over, to cheat, to beguile, to steal.
    While I make no claims to understand Plato in his entirety, much of book IX, reminded me of the president we have now, of the political climate we are in and the steps we need to take to revamp our environment. Plato explains that the heart of the city is directly related to the leader of the city, a city with a tyrant as a leader is a city with a corrupted heart. While I would love to lay the blame of this squarely on the shoulders of Trump, America’s heart blackened long ago, since Columbus set foot on its shores, though Trump’s America did not do much to relieve those tensions. The bad feeling or the dying soul we have as a nation is described by Hemon as, the same feeling he had when his daughter was sick and dying or the same “paranoid” feeling where he would scope out locations of possible attacks, where his mind was preparing for the worst, seeing things as they “could” be and most likely were. A state where you are always on edge because you do not know who is on your side or is a possible enemy, a state that the tyrant always lives in, fear because of the things he has done, is his punishment nigh?

  11. I found myself tracing two main threads through this week’s readings: (1) the idea of continuity, particularly as it relates to self-image, and (2) personal identity in an often invasive public sphere. While considering these ideas and the interconnectedness of them, the significant and apt metaphor of the prison of outside opinion, used both by Smith in her piece for the New Yorker and in Plato’s The Republic, remained at the front of my mind. The shared idea of actual or imagined imprisonment at the hands of others with contrary views – in Smith’s piece, the “cancelled” person falling “beyond the pale,” and in Plato the public tyrant who cannot leave his city lest he be “surrounded by nothing but vigilant enemies” (Line 579b) – collapses the time between the two texts. It offers, I believe, an interesting point of departure for thinking about the tension that lay between discourse and action and the role of literature as an arbiter (or, as per Hemon’s piece, as an accelerant) of this fiery tension.

    Smith’s piece is a literalization of the blame, shame, and finger-pointing that has become so ordinary in American political and social discourse with the 2016 election, the #MeToo movement, the increasing frequency at which celebrities and other public figures are “cancelled” by the public because of their affiliations. Throughout, the narrator – who the reader may assume to be some iteration of Smith herself – navigates, successfully, at first, rounds of conversations requiring political correctness and absolute surety of/in the self/the crowd. As the piece goes on, this narrator, once content to hold the literal arrow pointing to the traitor among the crowd, wonders what it would be like to be “one day totally and finally placed beyond the pale…curiously free. Of expectation. Of the opinions of others. Of a lot of things” (Smith 10). The expectation of constant, consistent, and continuous righteousness –a need to always be “on” – delivers this narrator to the brink of asking what lay beyond agreeability with the masses. Keeping up appearances, as it turns out, is a type of prison. Not only is there a dramatic chilling effect on speech, but the physically imposing presence of all eyes being on he who is singled out by the “large signs with black arrows on them” (Smith 3). The prison of public opinion, an unending accountability for actions, words, even thoughts, exists as a limitation on free movement and expression. The narrator (we?) are doomed to live inside of these confines, lest we move deliberately beyond them.

    “’It’s like a prison,’ he said, not uncheerfully” (Smith 10). On the flip side, existence outside of the realm of public acceptability means isolation. Perhaps, it means even exile from society itself. The narrator’s conversation partner, a man notably without “victims,” casts his “exile” in a positive light. If she who goes with the crowd is doomed to the prison of public opinion, the dissenter is in what can be understood, following the metaphor, to exist in a sort of self-made prison – a solitary confinement in which actions and words are free to be performed, albeit without an audience.

    This idea of the prison crafted around he or she whose values, words, or actions depart from the margin of acceptability links Smith’s piece interestingly with the section of Plato’s The Republic spanning from approximately lines 578-581. In these, Socrates teases out of Glaucon that he who is most wretched is not the tyrant himself, acting in his own home, but rather the tyrant who is publically known to be a tyrant. “A real tyrant is really a slave, compelled to engage in the worst kind of fawning, slavery, and pandering to the worst kind of people,” Socrates notes (579d). Sound familiar? Existing in this sense – “like a woman, mostly confined to his own house, and envying any other citizen who happens to travel abroad and see something worthwhile” – the public tyrant is a prisoner of circumstance, trapped within his station because of who he fundamentally is. I found this section of Plato’s text to be extremely interesting, especially in the context of the other readings from this week. In this moment it seems, to me at least, that the tyrant is the recipient of an ever-so-mild degree of pity from Socrates. If the tyrant’s confinement is similar to that of a woman, is his condition not– tragically, one might add – related to his fundamental state of being? Surely the actions he takes are reprehensible, but what is there to say of his rotting soul? If he is such because, as the beginning of Book IX notes, the wicked thoughts within him take hold in his waking as well as sleeping hours, what can be said about his permanent condition in life? Is there, as noted in Smith’s piece, an underlying state of continuity in personhood? Or, could there be hope for change, for evolution, for finding oneself, as it were, catching up with the fashion of the time? Is there hope for any of us – the oligarch, democrat, citizen, tyrant – or are we all stuck, in the prison within, with no hope of moving beyond that pale?

  12. In the ninth book of Plato’s Republic, Plato and Socrates ruminate on what makes a man a tyrant. While reading their thoughts on these tyrannical qualities, I, like Deepika, found myself thinking of our sitting president. It was hard not to, really, but I won’t go into that.

    Something else that really caught my attention was their comparison of a tyrant to a king. Whereas a tyrant’s mind is compared to that of a drunk, a king is laid out as one whose “entire soul follows the philosophic art” (Grube, 243, 258). To Plato and Socrates, a king is not a tyrant because a true king engages in a higher order of philosophical thinking. What struck me about this comparison is that to my contemporary understanding of the ideas of governmental leadership, a king (or queen or any other monarch) is a tyrant by nature, regardless of thoughts philosophized or wine consumed. A cursory Google defines a tyrant as a “cruel and oppressive ruler.” One might argue that a monarch need not necessarily be cruel or oppressive, and so is not necessarily a tyrant. With that, I would disagree. I monarch is sovereign over his or her kingdom, and even if they are the kindest ruler in history, their denial of the people to participate in and vote on governmental goings-on is oppressive, and therefore tyrannical. Tyrant, king, oligarch – none have a place in the democratic process, regardless of disposition.

    This notion of the democratic process being integral to the functioning of a free state led me back to our brief discussion during the last class session. Should convicted felons be stripped of their right to vote? At the time, I was conflicted. I saw some sense in both sides. After thinking on it, however, I’m convinced that stripping a criminal’s right to vote is ill-advised. The disallowance of a felon’s voting privileges disincentivizes them from being invested in society, and therefore works counter to the justice system’s supposed end goal of rehabilitation.

  13. gfisk says:

    I’m so excited for our discussion– in just a few minutes! I’m going to pull out a few threads that I hope we’ll discuss:

    What can we learn from Plato about the relationship between the literary and the political, broadly speaking? Deepika says that she “really tried to read Book IX with my English major lenses on, but all [she] could see were politics.” Let’s try to define that difference!

    And when we do, we might think of the point that Emily and Jordan suggest, about the symmetry that Plato sees between the just citizen and the just republic. If we believe that the relationship between the individual and the collective is that symmetrical, does that change:

    a) the relationship we see between the literary and the political? (This will prepare us for Book X, next week.)

    b) the way we think about the good of literature in our current moment (cf. Anjila, Zara, Zachary, and Emily)?

    And Jordan points to some ways that we might use these insights to think about Kemal. How?

    I’m so glad to read this, and I’m very curious to hear more of your thoughts-!

  14. Khurram says:

    I read Book IX with the course’s central question in mind, and in doing so, tried to find a word or words that I could swap out for “literature.”

    So, where could literature be swapped in? I think the “kinds of people” trio makes the best entry point, and it even has some evidence to support a word-swap. Literature could slot into the philosophic –also learning-loving—descriptor.

    This swap is admittedly tenuous: it is based on a bit of word association, as well as what the other two descriptors—profit-loving and honor-loving—are not. At different points, Socrates says that the philosophic process involves learning and study and that the instrument of the philosopher is argument, which I’m taking to mean reasoning and not literally an oratory exchange only. These are qualities that can be associated with literature—something to study, to learn from, and something that makes a case based on its material.

    Literature serves the learning-loving person, then. And since Socrates determined that the learning-loving person is the premier person and that when a soul follows the philosophic (learning-loving) it is in a state of balance among equal, exclusive parts, able to achieve pleasure without being unjust, and is less concerned with what’s lacking than what fills it, literature creates the best type of person.

    The relational implication here is that, since Socrates establishes in the first part of Book IX that a city or society is a reflection of its people—that man and city are alike—then literature, which has a role in fulfilling the best soul, which forms the best people (not necessarily in majority, but in influence), who populate the best city, is good for transitively creating the best cities/societies.

  15. As I read through Book IX, one passage that particularly stuck out to me was “From every point of view, then, anyone who praises justice speaks truly, and anyone who praises injustice speaks falsely. Whether we look at the matter from the point of view of pleasure, good reputation, or advantage, a praiser of justice tells the truth, while one who condemns it has nothing sound to say and condemns without knowing what he is condemning. In my opinion, at least, he knows nothing about it” (589c). Khurram’s post inspired me to look back at the reading in order to find a passage that would work within the context of”What good is literature?”, and I believe that this post, while applicable to the idea of justice, applies to literary culture as well.
    Two prime examples that occurred to me while considering this passage were book burners and book banners. It absolutely baffles my mind that there exists still, in 2018, groups of close-minded individuals that think it is better to man a book from a being taught, as their means of breeding future generations of humans that have nothing in their lives to shake up the norms and inspire them. It is people like these that fit Plato’s description of “..someone that maintains that injustice profits this human being and that doing just things brings no advantage” (589C), because literature is SO important, not only to those in the midst of their primary and secondary education, but to adults that wish to expand their mindsets, their ideas, and their understandings of the world as it is was, as it is, and as it has the potential to be.
    If not for literature, the world is left starving. Just as Plato, via Socrates, stated that “…being filled with what is appropriate to our nature is pleasure, that which is more filled with things that are more enjoys more really and truly a more true pleasure, while that which partakes of things that are less is truly and surely filled and partakes of a less trustworthy and less true pleasure” (585e), without literature, it is impossible for us to know pleasure at all.

  16. After a while of reading “Book IX” of The Republic I began to take notice of the manner of dialogue. Glaucon agreed to mostly everything Socrates said and mostly without question, discontent, or disagreement. This may just be me, and it may be irrelevant, but I found the topic of discussion about tyrants ironic taking this into account. Literature discusses past, present, and current conditions of the world. I think that the reading is a good explanation of how diverse groups of people in society influence each other—colleagues, family, and schools of thought. Socrates shows that a tyrant or king is created and evolves through either pleasure seeking or philosophical thinking among other factors. A particularly important passage for me was “Then, how can it be right to think that the absence of pain is pleasure or that the absence of pleasure is pain” (584a). This slightly contradicts everything I’d read in the chapter. How can anything, then, be what it is devoid of? How can the tyrant not be philosophical, and how can the king not be tyrannical? It seems that everything is relative, and there are no clear boundaries despite efforts to prove same.

    In The Museum of Innocence, Pamuk seems to be constructing a world that operates by ideals and judgments. Pamuk does well to incorporate several themes in the first few pages alone: memory, materialism, sex, family, economy, class, and education. Protagonist Kemal begins by posing an important dilemma: “It was the happiest moment of my life, though I didn’t know,” and in continuation asks himself, “would everything have turned out differently” (Pamuk, 3). The opening is eerily familiar to anyone who has thought about how they got somewhere and if they could’ve done something to alter the circumstances they find themselves in. More often than not, we torture ourselves with these questions. This is all of us. This draws readers in. It seems as though a big question here also rests in the inability to walk the road well-paved. Instead, we choose the unpaved, unsure, and even dangerous and shameful road—all in the name of love, or perhaps according to Plato, erotic love.

    By trapping his protagonists into a narrative that promises to get worse Pamuk provides readers with some background as to either how they should feel or how they may likely feel towards the issue(s) that arise. Something that promises to get worse leaves room for looming dramatic changes and allows for insight into an inevitable lesson to be learned. Further, Pamuk “draws us in– as readers who are far away from this author and his characters, culturally, politically, linguistically” by allowing us to experience what their stereotypes are and how the society functions, whether truth or fiction. For example, when Kemal’s mother asks, “Can there be anyone in this country who doesn’t know what kind of girl, what kind of woman, enters a beauty contest,” it signals readers to essential information on this topic in Instanbul (Pamuk, 9).

    The question what good is literature can be analyzed by how the texts make readers feel: confused, reassured, liberated, curious. Indeed, The Republic can make one feel all of these things at some point and some event at the same time. In that way, I think that the good of literature is that it challenges and or reaffirms readers deepest passions and their biggest fears in life, and for good reason—that a circumstance does, or can very well exist in our world. In my opinion, good literature doesn’t just settle and dissipate, it forces us to inquire into our very existence—human behavior and the unknown. Then, of course, history repeats itself.

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