Week 2

This week is fulfilling a dream for me: to talk about Plato, Pamuk, and Baldwin together. I only wish we were meeting in person for this discussion! But I will be eager to read your thoughts here, and then to talk to you about all of these things when we return to class.

(Also, that reminds me: A couple of you asked whether you have to respond to my questions when you write on the blog, and the answer is: oh, no, definitely not. I’m posting my thoughts here primarily to provide a frame that will keep the various strands of our conversation together from one week to the next, but if this week’s reading prompts you to a different kind of inquiry, I want to hear about that, too. And if you take off on a tangent, maybe see if you can circle back to think about the ways you are responding, too, to the big questions we’ve been asking in class– about the ethical, aesthetic, and political benefits of literature?

So with those questions in mind:

  • What can we learn about the good of literature by reading Plato, Pamuk, and Baldwin together?
  • What are the most important analytical questions we should ask about each of these three texts?
  • And what are the most important questions to ask about the three of them, ensemble?

I wonder.

We know from our reading last week that Plato (via Socrates!) puts a lot of emphasis on the symmetry between the individual and the polis. The polis is, in some sense, an imitation of a citizen– or, a citizen is an imitation of the polis.

And this language of “imitation” becomes very important to the way he talks about the arts– painting, poetry, etc. (And we know that “poetry” signifies all literary production here, because there were no novels at the time that Plato was writing.) A painting of a bed is an imitation of a carpenter’s bed, which is in turn an imitation of *the form* of a bed. And “form” is the English translation of Plato’s word for that ideal we talked about in class: the image we form in our minds when we think about a thing in the world.

So, Plato has this three-step narration of what it takes to paint a bed, and he uses that narration to lay the foundation for his theory of the politics of art. The section we read together in class provides the beginning of the chapter, but it’s also the beginning of Socrates’ lesson to Glaucon about the dangers of poetry to the nascent polis. But what makes the poets dangerous, and how does he get to that point?

In fact, the passage where Plato banishes the poets from the city is one of the most widely cited “events” in The Republic, but it’s often misunderstood. Let’s see if we can understand it.

Why does Plato want to ban the poets from the polis-– what possible dangers do they pose?

And, then, how could we use this way of thinking about the politics of literary experience to think in a new way about the rest of our reading? As The Republic dwells on the question of literature’s relation to the polis, so do Pamuk and Baldwin dwell on the question fo literature’s relation to the nation and to the world.

We talked a little in class about the ways that reading literature from a distant place can make us feel like we’re learning something about the ways that other people think and live; it might make us better “global citizens,” or something like that. How might we use Plato to think about this potential that literature has to produce good citizenship– possibly in relation to Baldwin, or Pamuk?

Here are some passages that come to my mind as I ponder answers to these questions– and I invite you, too, to find others:

  1. From The Museum of Innocence: “Having become– with the passage of time– the anthropologist of my own experience, I have no wish to disparage those obsessive souls who bring back crockery, artifacts, and utensils from distant lands and put them on display for us, the better to understand the lives of others and our own.” (pp. 30, near the end of Chapter 9)
  2. From “Who Do You Write For”: “In the age of global media, literary writers are no longer people who speak first and only to the middle classes of their own countries but are people who can speak, and speak immediately, to readers of ‘literary novels” all the world over.” (pp. 242)
  3. From “The Discovery of What it Means To Be An American”: “The American writer, in Europe, is released, first of all, from the necessity of apologizing for himself. It is not until he is released from the habit of flexing his muscles and proving that he is just a ‘regular guy’ that he realizes how crippling this habit has been for him.” (pp. 19)

Or you might think of something else, altogether.



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15 Responses to Week 2

  1. When reading Pamuk and Baldwin’s works I noticed that social class was a reoccurring theme in both works, while Plato’s “Republic” focused more on what makes an imitator in Book X. We see how social class is discussed in good literature when Pamuk writes, “Like so many formerly rich families that had squandered their fortunes, the Pamuks had turned in on themselves and found it upsetting to come face-to face with new money” (Pamuk, 116). This family that was invited to Kemal and Sibel’s engagement party clearly did not approve of people who had recently gotten wealthy. It also made me question how did they view people who are poor? Baldwin’s “Nobody Know My Name” also discusses social class but from the writer’s perspective, “I…knew all kinds of people, from pimps and prostitutes in Pigalle to Egyptian bankers in Neuilly. This may sound extremely unprincipled or even obscurely immortal: I found it healthy” (Baldwin, 21). I found it intriguing how Baldwin didn’t care about a person’s social class and decided to spend his time with different classes of people. Baldwin also uses the word “healthy” to show how it’s good to associate with various people especially people you wouldn’t normally associate with. I wanted to know how these people changed his perspective about the world?

    Then, there is Plato who explains what imitators are. Plato writes, “Therefore, a maker- through associating with and having to listen to the one who knows-has right opinion about whether something he makes is fine or bad, but the one who knows is the user” (601e). Plato discusses how the “maker” can only use their opinions to see if something is bad or good, but it’s the person who uses what the maker has made who actually knows if the product is good or not. He, then, goes on to discuss different situations where imitation is present. Pamuk also discusses imitation in his text when Fusun is speaking to Sibel, “If you ask me, people’s dislike of imitations has nothing to do with fake or real, but the fear that others might think they’d bought it cheap” (Pamuk, 144). Fusun tells Sibel that people don’t dislike imitations they only care what other people would tell them. Again, social class comes to play because Sibel does come from a wealthy family and refuses to be seen with a fake handbag while Fusun is poor and doesn’t care about if the handbag she has is real or fake. This form of imitation is similar to what Plato discusses because someone made this fake handbag, and it’s the user who knows if this is good or bad. After exploring all three text an important question that kept coming to mind is how does a person’s views of social class affect the way they choose to live their life? Even as I write this post I can’t help but wonder how the plot of Pamuk’s text would change if social class was not an issue for the characters.

  2. Venessa says:

    What Plato describes in Book X of Republic, is the harmfulness of imitation. For him, poetry and art are thrice removed from reality. They do not pose a true depiction of life, but rather individual perceptions. Being third removed from the world makes them third removed from the ideal form. Something so far removed from reality is dangerous, as it gives us false reliability. What these poets and artists create are not true representations of the world they live in, and therefore alter people’s thoughts from the true ideal. Plato says, “Then imitation is far removed from the truth, for it touches only a small part of each thing and a part that is itself only an image…. Nevertheless, if he is a good painter and displays his painting of a carpenter at a distance, he can deceive children and foolish people into thinking that it is truly a carpenter” (598b). Artists can alter a person’s perspectives, making them believe something that isn’t true. This is why he calls them dangerous, as they can affect the minds of ignorant people in whatever way they like.

    For Pamuk, literature is a way to express his culture. The Museum of Innocence combines Turkish language, culture, fashion, and perceptions all in one. It is a way for international readers to gain some insight into another culture’s life. In this sense, literature is a good thing. It is immersing the reader into the life of another and allowing them to become part of that culture for a brief while. Pamuk draws the reader in to be more than just a distant body. The reader becomes part of Kemal’s journey and knows the insights of his story. Kemal expresses what will be in his museum: “I have chosen to exhibit this floral batiste handkerchief, which she had folded so carefully and put in her bag that day but never removed. Let this crystal inkwell and pen set belonging to my mother that Fusün toyed with that afternoon…be a relic of the refinement and the fragile tenderness we felt for each other” (30-31). If an individual reading the story were to visit the museum, they would know what each artifact represented. They would become an insider, and feel like part of the story. That is one way in which literature produces beneficial effects. It allows individuals to connect to others in a way that they wouldn’t be able to without it. Baldwin also uses the argument that literature helps define society and the struggles of being in a particular society. It can open the doors to individuals’ personal experiences and memories that can be shared with others. In both these cases literature is used to expand the knowledge of others and provide a connection. It is seen as a positive and beneficial rather than dangerous experience.

  3. I, Idealism

    A writer walks into a bar.

    You’re already expecting me to finish the joke with “he orders a certain drink..” and so on and so forth. You’re already expecting the writer to look more Hemingway, half hung-over before noon and pining over the latest piece of unfinished work. You’re already expecting the rich oakwood counters that were once beautiful, keyed over time, gum stuck to them, the chairs scratching, and sweat from people flopped over on the stools ruining any hint of elegance the overhead lights might have tried to once persuade onlookers to imagine. You’re already feeling desperation, isolation, and the desire for human connection.

    Most of all, you imagine I’ve actually been to a bar. Or read Hemingway. Or care about Classic Literature (Do I? Ah, dear reader, but that’s a question for another day.)

    My point is, all the readings for this week hinge on the idea of idealism and our inescapable need for it. “Then imitation is far removed from the truth, for it touches only a small part of each thing and a part that is itself only an image. And that, it seems, is why it can produce everything” writes Plato in The Republic (Grube, 268). Blissfully intertextual with Baldwin’s “The Discovery of What It Means To Be American” and Pamuk’s “Who do you write for?” each piece asks the reader “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing trying to create anything?”

    Even more importantly, it asks; what are you going to accomplish making “good” literature?

    It’s no surprise we’re obsessed, America especially with the idea of making something “good” if not perfect-so what gives? Are we all just painters fooling ourselves into thinking we’re “good” painters, poets who fool themselves into thinking they’re “good poets” like Plato writes?


    Or maybe we need to destroy hegemony in order to make anything that might escape the confines the modern age shackles on creativity?

    Just a thought.

    “Nonetheless, he’ll go on imitating, even though he doesn’t know the good or bad qualities of anything, but what he’ll imitate, it seems, is what appears fine or beautiful to the majority of people who know nothing” writes Plato but rather than berate the person trying ,it’s the freeing aspect of Nihilism in his tone that makes it so encouraging.

    What if “good” and “bad” are imaginary concepts that also fall short, so whatever we make must be made outside of those parameters in order to achieve any sort of chance of truly existing?

    The writing handed in for a magazine is carefully tailored to the editors need so they sell more copies. The essay handed in to the professor is on skid row at 11:59P.M. the night before is crafted with a lilt that is trying to appeal to the reader in hopes of a semi-decent grade.

    But what do they do outside of that? What do books produced and negotiated do besides remind us how monetized everything has become, how even things as abstract and arcane as “creativity” and “thought” are concepts we want to dumb down to put a price on?

    Pamuk says “Writers write for their ideal reader…” but God, could imagine that pressure?
    They’re going to understand everything you’re writing. Everything.

    If that’s the case, you might as well tear up the draft before you even write it.

    “It is no wonder than, in the meantime that American writers keep running off to Europe” writes Baldwin in “The Discover Of What It Means To Be American” and he makes a fantastic point (Baldwin, 23). In our desire to create we find ourselves escaping, some people, quite literally to a foreign country, but the nagging sense America has instilled in us doesn’t go away (the same way the nagging sense of the ideal reader, to some, mustn’t either.)

    So is transcendence just a fancy name for escapism? Sure. So is writing in many ways one’s own private Europe? Maybe. Should we consider that identity isn’t rigid and to immerse oneself in enough of other cultures, people, ideas etc. might be the first step to letting go of making the bed (or writing the piece of literature) people think you’re going to make and more the one you had no idea you could?


    I think my favorite thing about these readings is that they all ask the reader to question “Is it better to write for nobody?”and “should one just never write at all?” because by the end of all of them you get a sense of futileness, that escaping any of this would be, well, useless.

    And that’s when you hit the nail on the head. Or rather, Oscar Wilde who was just as entrenched in the Ancient Greeks as any one could be put it “All art is quite useless.” In knowing it’s already been a conclusion and we continue to write there’s something so comforting. Maybe we’re all missing the mark everyday looking at ideals that don’t exist. Maybe we’re trying to break free from them and maybe we never will.

    Hey, strength in numbers, at least.

    Perhaps then, the importance of literature isn’t what makes it good, so long as it continues to be. You can’t theorize and debate on “perfect” literature because it doesn’t exist. By that extent, “good” literature also doesn’t exist. So we must settle for the imperfect (or adjective-less) in hopes that it may never end.

    In our boundless search for something more we may one day come to realize it’s better to doubt if an ideal is meaningful at all, (let alone relevant to the equation at hand;) to achieve anything beyond what Plato described maybe one must simply react, respond, think, and feel, towards the piece of literature they’re holding in their hands, instead.

  4. My biggest concern would have to be that of change especially, as it relates to Socrates’ views on literature. If literature is good only if it is “beneficial” and “pleasing” only in moderation, how was it expected for any change to come about? In my opinion, if users and makers produce the same thing over and over again, or as much as it is considered necessary by only these two people, a thing has less room to evolve into its most beneficial and pleasing form.

    Poets pose the dangers of inciting too much emotion and excitement about a thing. I would say that the most important part of poets being banished from the polis is that poets have the ability to create something (by thrice-removed imitation) that far from its true form. Why blame a poet for their imitation of any human condition (one that obviously entices people I one way or another) but not blame the person who cannot reason with and moderate those very natural emotions? Although, the concern is for the most weak and ignorant people, that imitation “is able to corrupt even decent people” is the “most serious charge against imitation,” according to Socrates (605c). Considering Plato and the potential that literature has to produce good citizenship, the most relevant passage for me to note is, “Is it right to look at someone behaving in a way that we would consider unworthy and shameful and to enjoy and praise it rather than being disgusted by it” (605e)? Together, these passages suggest that because there is any reconciliation to be made when it comes to how people engage with their own emotions and those of others, that it simply isn’t worth it at all.

    Focusing on Pamuk’s article, “Who do you Write For?” I favor the line, “But while a writer’s authenticity does depend on his ability to open his heart to the world in which he lives, it depends just as much on his ability to understand his own changing position in that world.” For me, this directly relates to the potential that literature has to produce good citizens. Here, I believe Pamuk to be saying that not only do writers have to write for themselves and those who may understand or have easier access to such writings, but also that writers should write for those who are thought to never have access or may not likely agree or understand what was written. Further, a writer must be aware of their sensibilities, how and why they may change throughout their place in the world, and why it is essential to share this—potential relatability.

    The Museum of Innocence is a time capsule that suggests, for me, that the good of literature is its ability to observe, measure, calculate, reason, and deduct things about any given place, but also the places that it compares itself to in all respects. Baldwin discusses the reality that people all have their opinions about a place saying, “They may love or hate or admire or fear or envy this country—they see it, in any case, from another point of view, and this forces the writer to reconsider many things he had always taken for granted” (21). This, taken with “Who do you Write For?” points to a writer’s responsibility to consider their audience and their message about any place—to speak their truth about it while taking into consideration other opinions.

    By reading Plato, Pamuk, and Baldwin together, what we learn about the good of literature is that it is held at a standard—that it should hold purpose and influence transformation—not shirk duty and entice chaos.

  5. Jude Binda says:

    Even though this was said in class, I never got over the fact that he starts off the chapter by saying his main argument is complete. What does this say about how much he values everything that follows that statement? Is there something to be said about the relationship between the ideas in book X and the previous books?
    Plato’s expulsion of the poets surprising because I suppose I always assumed that profound, old people loved poetry. His reasoning seems to be based on the claim that poets spread misinformation and unproductive imitations of life. He writes, “if he truly had knowledge of the things he imitates, he’d be much more serious about actions than imitations of them” (599b). Plato’s frustrations with poetry seem to stem from a lack of action on the writers’ parts. Is it possible he thinks poetry is like talking about how the world needs to be a better place but not actually doing anything to make it better? He also writes, “He himself knows nothing about them, but he imitates then in such a way that others, as ignorant as he, who judge by words, will think he speaks extremely well about cobblery or generalship or anything else” (601a). Plato makes the argument that the poet, in a way, tricks people into buying into their created version of the world. I don’t find anything inherently wrong about this, and it is up to each individual what they choose to read and believe.
    In “The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American,” Plato does not seem too far off because they both give recognize the power poetry has. Of course, the difference is that Baldwin does not want to get rid of all the poets. He states, “This freedom, like all freedom, has its dangers and its responsibilities” (21). Evidently, the difference between Baldwin and Plato is that Baldwin sees the potential for good. Also, Orhan Pamuk’s “Who Do You Write For?” is in conversation with these ideas because it directly addresses the aspect of writing where someone must consider who their audience is or who they want their audience to be. Pamuk writes, “A writer’s authenticity does depend on his ability to open his heart to the world in which he lives, it depends just as much on his ability to understand his own changing position in the world.” Everyone should be open to changing their stance on things once new information becomes available. In the same way, a writer must adjust their writing to coincide with their views and the constantly changing world.
    This seems like a natural progression from Plato (essentially saying poetry is bad) to Baldwin (saying freedom of expression through writing has the potential to be both good or bad) to Pamuk (writing is what you make of it and it is up to each person to decide for themselves what they think of something).

  6. Representation is a core concept in not only literature, nor only art, but in all of human language. The letters on this screen are representative of sounds which make up the spoken English language, which are in turn representative of the ideas in my own mind. These representations allow such ideas to be transferred from my head into yours, creating understanding between us. The same can be said for representation in art and literature. While Plato may have feared poetic representation for its portrayal of the weaker, lesser aspects of the human soul, more recent artists and thinkers like Baldwin argue the opposite – that the accurate representation of the whole internal individual in art is necessary to foster understanding.

    I am inclined to agree with Baldwin.

    We can observe this at work as we read Pamuk’s “The Museum of Innocence,” in which we find a man named Kemal having an affair with a younger woman – a distant relation, no less – all the while he is planning an engagement to another. Kemal loves both women and makes decisions that we might consider poor in order to maintain relations with both. Even though we might consider these decisions poor, we as readers still find ourselves understanding Kemal, even though most of us have likely never been in a similar situation. I would argue that this is due to Pamuk’s deft representation of Kemal’s emotions.

    We may never have been in Kemal’s shoes, may not be able to relate to his circumstances or even setting, but we can relate to his feelings. Love, longing, uncertainty – as much as Plato would argue that these feelings are base and lead only to destruction, they are undeniably part of the human experience. Through the representation of this emotional complexity, Pamuk allows us, the reader, to relate to a set of circumstances which we will never experience, since they are encapsulated in a specific moment in history. Pamuk is aware of and thematically engaging with this notion of representation, as it is a core part of the narrative. The artifacts Kemal collects for his museum – the soda can, the earring – are each representative of a moment in his life. Pamuk is, as Baldwin puts it, not “apologizing for himself.”

    This raw, true representation of the individual is one of the most important good things literature can do. It allows creators and consumers of literature to understand one another, to experience perspectives we otherwise might not, and to generate genuine awareness and tolerance of one another.

  7. Emily Abrams says:

    In the distant recesses of my mind, I faintly remember my high school teacher discussing Plato and the banishing the poets. What I took from that lesson was a literal interpretation, assuming that this event actually happened; but, luckily, in reading “Book X” of THE REPUBLIC this week, my misconceptions have been realigned! Plato was speaking of the ideal society. It is fair to say that Plato had a “bone to pick” with poets, in layman’s terms. “Book X” is Plato’s discourse with his student Glaucon on the problems and (more so) the dangers he saw with poets. Central to his argument is perception of the truth and reasoning. Plato argues that all poets are imitators that have “no grasp of the truth” (660e). Plato believed that it was because of their “natural charm” with “meter, rhythm, and harmony,” poets should not be allowed in a city because their poetic imitations fueled the “inferior” part of the soul while “destroy[ing] the rational one” (601; 605b). Here, Plato recognizes the influence literature/poetry has on the citizenry, shifting passions (“childish passions” [608]) and impacting individual’s reasoning.

    All of the above made Plato was distrustful of the poets. But is this a fair assessment? We the readers may hear the echoes of the old phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Aha!

    The concerns I found with Plato’s argument dealt with his focus on truth and reasoning. Primarily, he contended with the poet’s only “imitate” with words and phrases, “having no grasp of the truth,” and just as easily influence those who know little about whatever the focus of said works (601). If I had been a student in Plato’s classroom, it would be here that I would disrupt the conciliatory Socratic discourse to remind us all of the notion that truth is subjective. I would have also contended with Plato’s perception that the general citizenry and their passions are so easily misled and misguided by whatever texts they come across. I might even have insinuated at his air of elitism; that is, if I, as the time-traveling woman, would have ever had a place in Plato’s academy, but I digress. To Plato’s credit, he does later on acknowledge that if the poets’ “defenders” – the lovers of poetry – present the argument that poetry “not only gives pleasure but is beneficial both to constitutions and to human life,” only then would he believe in allowing poetry back into the city, back from “exile” (607d).

    Surely, what Plato recognized the power of the pen. Writing itself held the power to influence Plato’s society, as is does to this day. Plato’s argument spoke to the need for functionality in works, where they would reinforce for virtue, good reasoning, rationality and justice in a society (608c). The notion of impacting a populous is echoed Orhan Pamuk’s “Who do you write for?” In this NYT article, Pamuk grapples with the tension between a writer’s conceived reader and the shifting conception of the reader as a whole, in light of a “global media age.” In this sense, where an author’s ideas can reverberate, moreover “can address immediately” readers on a global scale, according to Pamuk, we may come to understand the root of Plato’s recognition the nexus between literature and a nation. Pamuk saw himself striving to write authentic cultural reflections on Turkey amidst conflicting reader expectations. In a similar fashion, James Baldwin in NOBODY KNOWS MY NAME, while addressing the race in 1950-60’s America, adds to this understanding of literature’s relation to the world. He concludes that American writers are not using literatures to relay conceptions of “fixed society,” but rather use their writing as an opportunity to speak the world on the tensions in American life, with its “hidden laws,” and in turn “liberate” the society into a new vision, the new dream of its people. Where Plato was wary of literature misguiding a society, writers like Pamuk and Baldwin pose literature as communicative, illuminating, and transformative.

    As a final note, I would like to write frankly on two small passages from Orhan Pamuk’s THE MUSEUM OF INNOCENCE, which raised jaded indifference in one instance and deep compassion in another. With Kemal’s love affair the arguable melodrama in the novel, I found myself by Chapter 17 somewhat worn out by his retrospective accounts. The end of the affair easily predictable—this sense of impending doom by all of Kemal’s accounts—left me eager to just see how it ends. By the time Kemal confides, “Sorrow was slowly consuming me, though at the time I couldn’t see it clearly, recognizing it only now, so many years later, as I tell this story,” I personally was hoping the story would fast-forward (Pamuk 73). At the same time, I remind myself at these points to digest his emotions and consider the weight of the circumstances. I try my best with Kemal, even when I find myself unsympathetic to him because of his perilous choices…

    The other passage comes from Chapter 22, a passage reminiscent of the opening line of the novel: “But to designate this as my happiest moment is to acknowledge that it is far in the past, that it will never return, and that awareness, therefore, of that very moment is painful. We can bear the pain only by possessing something that belongs to that instant. These mementos preserve the colors, textures, images, and delights as they were more faithfully, in fact, than can those who accompanied us through those moments” (Pamuk 97). I was moved by these lines in their almost lyrical beauty. Kemal’s shares his anguish and explains so perfectly the emotional weight placed on mementos to which I would believe many of us can relate. Materialistic, sure; but Kemal encapsulates to the luxury remembering happiness through concrete objects as compared to the transient memories of others and especially our own accounts. In lines like these, I find a compelling argument for Orhan Pamuk’s novel illustrating “good” literature through its profound ability to speak to a reader and deliver a compelling, relatable narrative, at least by my standards.

  8. From the quotes provided above, from The Museum of Innocence, “Who Do You Write For?” and “The Discovery of What It Means to Be An American” it’s clear that all three seem to indicate that you must be open to, or aware that there is something else which exists, so that you can see ideas and be aware that there is more that exists outside of the world you know. In The Museum of Innocence, the text states, “Having become–with the passage of time–the anthropologist of my own experience, I have no wish to disparage those obsessive souls who bring back crockery, artifacts, and utensils from distant lands and put them on display for us, the better to understand the lives of others and our own” (Pamuk 30). From the quote, the author seems to imply that in order to become your true self, you need to be open and aware of other things that exist around you. That way you can define and refine yourself into your best version. And from the quotes provided above by Baldwin and Pamuk, you understand that as someone in literature, that can truly use their voice, knowing their identity and being able to be your true self is crucial to getting the audience to understand why these various ideas are important in shaping literature. From reading, Plato, Pamuk, and Baldwin together, this is somewhat of what I understood. I understood that there is always various factors and contrasting ideas at play, but it doesn’t always mean that it’s wrong. Like from Baldwin’s text, his comparison of Americans and Europeans showed how that idea of how Americans looked at him, actually limited him, and he didn’t seem to realize that until he was aware of how things differed in Europe. Pamuk raises a similar point when he talks about how technology allows people to reply instantaneously, which really allows your mind to be open to much more than what surrounds you in your everyday life.

    Some questions which I think are important to ask when comparing these texts are:
    1. Why does Plato(or was it Socrates?) seem to limit their ideas, and limit themselves by not considering poets as serious writers? Why does the ideas of poets make them so “dangerous” because their ideas differ from those of Plato(or Socrates?)?

    2. Pamuk and Baldwin show that there are similarities in good literature, they seem to be saying that being open to other ideas, and being able to transform themselves, and their works is important to what the audience understands. Why is the transformation of the authors crucial to the audience understanding the literature written? And how does that transformation create “good literature”?

    What I did notice in all three texts is that there is a difference of power, or it seems to be that way. In Plato’s text, he makes it clear that there is a difference in people who create actual literature, when compared to poets, who don’t get much credit or recognition as people of literature, in Plato’s eyes. In Baldwin’s work, there’s also a comparison between American literature and European literature, as well as Baldwin indicating that there was a difference between a “negro” and a “nigger.” Even Pamuk does it, in his book, when he compares the main character to his cousin Fusun, showing that she was more along the lines of a prostitute, and he was someone who was more respected with a proper job, and creating a life. So it’s interesting to see that all the texts managed to have some sort of hierarchy to show the difference of power and status in the various social systems, no matter the place or time, this was constant throughout all three texts.

    So why does all three texts choose to point out that there is a hierarchy that exists? Or that there is always one group that has the upper hand when compared to the other group? Why is this so significant?

    It’s interesting to see that even though Plato’s ideas differed from authors like Pamuk or Baldwin, there’s still similarities throughout these texts. Could those similarities, those constants shared throughout various texts be what creates “good literature”?

  9. Reading both Pamuk and Baldwin’s pieces, a common reoccurrence revolved around this notion of authenticity, point of view, and imitation.

    Honing in on what Plato, Pamuk, and Baldwin all say I cannot help but think that all three works somewhat contradict one another. Using his carpenter/painter analogy, Plato believes a painter is merely an imitator, copying the skills of a carpenter and comments “a good painter… can deceive children and foolish people into think that it is truly a carpenter” (Plato 268). Plato seemingly holds a negative opinion towards anyone that cannot create new ideas/art for themselves and uses a painter as an example to demonstrate the public’s tendency to see something beautiful and use that to conclude it is original work by that individual. He believed that the praise should go to the individual that undertook the actual building of a product and thus has the right to associate their name with that work.

    Furthermore, it is during Plato’s Book X that the meaning of imitation has developed, now being something “a poem or painting does” (Plato 264), and concluding that an as a poet is considered an imitator because their “products are a third from the truth” (264), and thus, cannot be a considered virtuous. I question whether or not this applies to all forms of writing and authors?

    By believing that writers are not truthful, Plato undermines Baldwin’s claim that a writer is society’s “strongest arm” (Baldwin 23). Baldwin’s belief is that writers have a duty to uncover the hidden laws governing people, while simultaneously discovering methods to destroy taboos within society. This higher goal in life elevates the title of author and with this responsibility, surpasses Plato’s notions of a writer being dishonest. How can a writer be anything but truthful when their purpose in life is to uncover the truth?

    This entire notion of honesty and imitation brings me to Pamuk’s article, “Who do you write for?” Pamuk comments a “writer’s authenticity does depend on his ability to open his heart to the world in which he lives… understand his own changing position in that world” (Pamuk 3). While reading this I thought that from a humane standpoint, attempting view to the world through various perspectives and seeing the effect one’s actions have on the world around them is an important function in writing and the betterment of society. Nevertheless, I wondered how Plato would view this in his whole authenticity argument? Does attempting to change one’s point of view and adjust their outlook to understand other people mean that you are an imitator? Or does that agree with Baldwin’s view in that you are becoming an enlightened member of society in your attempt to understand the truth and society?

  10. Deepika Khan says:

    This week’s “The Republic” by Plato reading definitely focuses more on the art of literature instead of the realm of politics. Judging by the content of ‘Book X’, Socrates did not seem too fond of the poet, or “imitator” (264), in European society. He considered poets to be somewhat dangerous to the polis because of the writer’s ability to incite “pleasure and pain” in place of “law or… reason” in Greek society (607a) (278). Socrates, with Glaucon’s incessant approval, declares a poet’s work is “third removed” from the truth, the first being God’s work and the second, a craftsman (599a) (269). He believes poets, including all writers, publish work that is “easily produced without knowledge of the truth” (599a) (269). To say that Socrates is severely generalizing all forms of writers would be an understatement. Writers like Orhan Pamuk and James Baldwin produced various types of literary work that were written from personal experience. As opposed to Socrates’ declarations in ‘Book X’ in regard to “truth” (597e) (268), their ‘truth’ may be the first, or second, form of the truth. For example, in his essay, “The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American,” James Baldwin recounts his experience with race as a writer in America and Europe. Through his own experience in both America and France, Baldwin concludes “the color of [his] skin had stood between” he and himself while “in Europe, that barrier was down” (Baldwin 11). His experience as a writer is true, despite Socrates’ generalization that poets produce only imitated work. Baldwin, however, does agree with Socrates’ famous quote, “the unexamined life is not worth living” in the sense that he can not delude himself into believing the world can immediately change (Baldwin 12). As a writer, he has to accept “himself and the world” exactly as they are (Baldwin 12).
    One particular point that Socrates mentions during his lecture to Glaucon in ‘Book X’ that stood out to me was his assumptions about decent men and their behavior. Socrates states, “a decent man…when he’s alone I suppose he’ll… do lots of things that he’d be ashamed to be heard saying or seen doing” (603e-604a) (275), much like Orhan Pamuk’s protagonist in “The Museum of Innocence.” Kemal’s adulterous relationship with his relative, Füsun, is only possible behind closed doors because of Socrates’ belief in the ways a decent man is to behave. Though “reason and law” tell Kemal to resist the pain his sexual relationship with Füsun causes him (604b) (275), his experience with hurt allows Kemal to take on Füsun’s pain, “as if her pain became [his]” (Pamuk 29). Thus, according to Socrates, allowing writers into the formation of the polis may make them prone to “pleasure and pain” (607a) (278).

  11. Kaitlin Margaret McDermott says:

    In “Who Do You Write For,” Orhan Pamuk addresses queries of his ideal readership head-on, noting that the question itself is backed by a series of grand misconceptions about loss of “authenticity” of experience and faulty intention. In a nutshell, the piece traces the development of the novel as a literary form of art, highlighting that, in its historical context, a novel could be considered a “national discussion that was closed to the outside.” However, in an era of world connectivity – the allure of international travel, the decreased barrier of language, social media platforms that unite people around the world – this much is no longer true, says Pamuk.

    And yet, the question (perhaps it’s more appropriate to call it a cultural anxiety) of who he, for that matter, who anyone writes for remains.

    Astutely, in this op-ed Pamuk writes: “Behind this fear is a reader who longs to enter a foreign country that has severed its ties with the world, and to listen in while it argues with itself – much as one might overhear a family argument next door. If a writer is addressing an audience that includes readers living other cultures and speaking other languages, then this fantasy dies, too.” This idea is a uniting thread between Pamuk’s own novel and Plato’s Book X. On the topic of readership – imagined and real – it’s interesting to think more about this point raised by Pamuk: what is the intention of a reader when they pick up a piece of writing? Is it, as we have mentioned in class, for the aesthetic value of the text? For pure entertainment? Or, does it serve the purpose (as do Romance novels, apparently), of teaching a reader more about life in a particular place and time? It seems from this piece that Pamuk is not denying that any of these may be a valid answer. The tone of this particular statement, however, is interesting to me in thinking about the topic of our class – what good is literature?

    Are we, as international readers, coming to his text listening in on “the family argument next door”? And further, if we are hoping to learn something about the way in which people at that time and in that place lived through the vehicle of his fictional writing, are we not being, in some sense, voyeuristic? This question is one that I find myself asking often as I keep reading The Museum of Innocence. Kemal’s recounting of intimate moments between he and Füsun often feels extremely invasive. Further, moments of transition between the narrative and direct address of the “museum visitor” remind the reader that his story is one being told explicitly to an audience. While this may seem obvious – after all, this is a published novel being read by an audience – I believe that it is significant, especially moving forward, to think about the way in which the museum audience is characterized. Kemal speaks to them directly – “this cigarette I smoked during the five-minute intermission, this usher’s flashlight, and this Alaska Frigo ice cream (which I display as a reminder to all housewives and lazy truants who ever attended a matinee)” – and without warning for us, his textual readers (Pamuk 47). In this way, there is a sort of duality of the reader. The museum visitor is personally experiencing the imitation, through relics, of the love shared between Kemal and Füsun, while the reader (who is, in essence, also a museum visitor, albeit lacking tactical privileges) experiences the representation of their love via the characters and symbols on the page. Both versions of consumption are deeply voyeuristic but, to an extent, isn’t reading intrinsically a transitive mode of learning through imagined and vicarious experience?

    Book X – the “end” of Plato’s formal argument – explores the value of literature within the polis. As we read in class, Socrates rails pretty hard against the “painter” in the early section of the chapter. Following his own line of reasoning, he claims that the poet – also an imitator—should be exiled from the city, based on his claims of knowledge that mistake real insight for observations of mere representations of things. The connection to Pamuk’s novel seems quite direct: the poet, in savoring representations of things and writing thus, is a peril to the city because of his wayward attitude towards authenticity. Thinking of the painter: a representation of a table is not a real table, nor does it understand the true essence of what a table is. Rather, it shows only the appearance of a table, without any of the backing substance. Kemal’s museum and the pieces within are mere representations of his relationship with Füsun – snippets of a soul-in-peril. Poets are to be exiled from the polis because of their power to lead souls astray using representations and faulty imitations. But, notably, this exile is walked-back when Socrates demands only to hear a good argument for it to be undone. That the souls of tyrants are corrupted and yet they live is one, perhaps bleak, point in favor of the value of literature.

    Moving onto next week’s readings, I wonder if our discussion about the good of literature would benefit from a slight shift in outlook. Rather than asking, when reading a work, what the text tells the reader about a particular place at a particular time (as we may consider when reading a work for its aesthetic or cultural value), maybe asking why a reader, living in a particular place and time, would be attracted to a text could be more generative. What does the fact that a reader – whether from the novelist’s own nation, or international—picked up this piece of writing tell us about them? About the society that they are coming from? Placing the reader, and his or her intentions, firmly at the center of the question, hopefully can move the discussion beyond tensions over authenticity and towards fruitful meditations on literature’s value in the polis, the nation, and the classroom.

  12. Stacey McDonald says:

    “A European writer considers himself to be part of an old and honorable tradition- and his choice of a vocation does not cause him any uneasy wonder as to whether or not it will cost him all his friends. But this tradition does not exist in America” (Baldwin, 19).
    Welcome to America, where nothing is good enough.
    The America that only encourages you to chase after your dreams once you have already caught them, and found success.
    The America that discourages passion projects in favor of “real jobs”.
    Baldwin’s exposé of America’s “deep-seated distrust of real intellectual effort” falls in line with the ideas that Orhan Pamuk expressed in his op-ed “Who do you write for?”. Reminiscing on “the suggestion that ‘someone as educated and cultivated as yourself’ might serve the nation more usefully as a doctor fighting epidemics or an engineer building bridges”, Pamuk expresses the same frustration with the way society views writers, however he is not talking about America, but Turkey.
    For whatever reason, the writing profession has come barreling down from a once revered place in society to a glorified hobby that many do not believe requires any actual skill or intelligence. Obviously, this is incredibly false, and the maintenance of such a view toward the vocation only hurts humanity in the long run.
    Similarly, Plato (through Socrates) seems to believe that poetry should only be permitted in the polis after it has “successfully defended itself” and proven that “it not only gives pleasure but is beneficial both to constitutions and to human life” (607d). This seems to bring us back to the very question of our seminar this year- what is the good in literature? Why does it belong? What makes it so necessary?
    In reading Plato, Baldwin, and Pamuk in conjunction with one another, we are able to begin to answer these questions. For Pamuk, both in his op-ed and The Museum of Innocence, writing is a means of preservation, not only the preservation of oneself, but the preservation of a moment in time, a moment that will be able to greet later generations in its original form. For Baldwin, it is essential for discovery, both of the self and of the world. And for Plato, it is clear that it is for expression, for the empathy that his Socrates finds so blasphemous that he wishes to ban it from his society, for the mourning that is “womanish” (605e).
    Literature is good for the progression of the human race, it is essential to the understanding of ourselves, and others, and moments, and days to come.

  13. Zara Diaby says:

    Reading Book X in THE REPUBLIC made me question a lot about myself and world that I lived in Plato seems to reinforce the notion that nothing that is real and that everything we think is real, is not really real, the only real that is real is inside your mind.
    Right, so I am not real, or at least not in the way that I believe myself to be real, I exist as I am concurrent to what society says is really existing, how interesting. Plato’s reasoning behind this is to say that anything that deviates from the mind is an imitation of the original thing, he uses a bed for his example citing that there are three types of “creations”, we will focus on the latter form the form constructed by the painter, or in our case author. Plato states, “he is by nature third from the king and the truth, as are all other imitators,” authors are imitators, they are fraudulent in their undertakings, incapable of creating something that can be tangible in form. This is somewhat true, while you are incapable of physically touching a person, can you not touch their heart or mind, well you can which is why Plato is against poetry because it arouses people to anger and all other useless feelings(his sentiments not mine). There is a line in his speech that surprised me, “
    Imitation is far removed from the truth, for it touches only a small part of each thing and apart that is itself only an image. And that, it seems, is why it can produce everything…a painter can paint a cobbler…or any other craftsman, even though he knows nothing about these crafts…if he is a good painter and [c] and displays his painting at a distance he can deceive children and foolish people into thinking that it is truly a carpenter.”
    I disagree, this is like saying that you need to have intricate knowledge of what a chair looks like in order to describe a chair to someone, though it is the idealized version of the world, as we said in class it is the platonic ideal. A poet does not have to have extensive background knowledge of war to discuss the horrors and troubles of war or to communicate that to their reader. The emotions that are felt by the reader are not foolish nor are they tricked into having them, the ideas they write about are the truths of the world, Plato has this snide notion that the only ones capable of communicating the truth to people are those that share his world view. For example, he says, “then shall we conclude that all poetic imitators, beginning with Homer imitate images of virtue and all other things they write about and have no grasp of the truth,” seriously, one has to be a paragon of Plato’s virtue in order to be truthful, how pompous is that!
    The notion that poets take away the truth because they transcribe it is just hot garbage, to put it plain and simple, thoughts and emotions are ever flowing there is no right or wrong, we are in an influx of expanding thoughts and feelings and because this world does not exist in the confines that we believe that it does, poets will always be truthful in their transcriptions because truth and understanding is relative.
    In Pamuk’s NYT article, “Who do you write for,” he states that need to write for a nation at large and to keep the authenticity of said nation, has long since changed with the rise of modern literature being regarded as art. Writers do not have to reflect what is considered to be “truth” mostly because truth exists in the heart of the reader not so much the writer, when Western readers consume “authentic foreign texts” its for them to get a feel of a world they know nothing of, what we see is an imitation of that world, though we know what we are consuming is in no way the real thing. Readers will always hold a suspension of belief when reading, not because we expect to get the real thing (the really real thing) but a version of said thing, the authors version.

  14. I found that issues of authenticity were most prevalent in the readings this week. Specifically in reading both Baldwin’s essay and Pamuk’s op-ed, I think the core question both authors are grappling with is how to write while being authentic. The question of who is that authenticity for is where they diverge, but there is some nuance when reading them together. Pamuk’s primary concern is layered as an author whose novels are translated into so many different languages. The political pitfalls of answering the question of who he writes for are many as he describes. And yet, by the end, I don’t think he’s entirely concerned with the nitty-gritty of his authenticity – he knows that there is something implicitly authentic in writing that will always be at the forefront. Pamuk notes than an author’s position in the world is always changing, and that as long as they are cognizant of it in their work they will remain authentic.

    Baldwin too is dealing with his own issues of authenticity, but his struggle is internal. In his essay Baldwin struggles to how to be authentic to himself. His journey of self-discovery is only possible through his sojourn to Europe. Only in finding himself away from his home (which Pamuk points out in his op-ed: “a writer’s authenticity does depend on his ability to open his heart to the world in which he lives”.) does he come to the realization that it wasn’t as detrimental to his place as a writer that he thought. Baldwin, in some ways, realizes that the nature of literature in the west places unnecessary constraints on the writer being “down to earth” (something Pamuk also points out: “There is a parallel suspicion in the West, where many readers believe that local literatures should remain local, pure and true to their national roots: Their secret fear is that a writer who addresses an international readership and draws from traditions outside his own culture will lose his authenticity”). I think at the end, Baldwin comes up with something of the same conclusion Pamuk does – that their is always something purely authentic about writing that is unavoidable and unapologetic.

    And then we come to Plato, who believes that Baldwin and Pamuk’s authenticities are all for naught, that they are imitators furthest from the truth. I am surprised at the hardened stance against poetry that Plato takes, especially given both his and Socrates’ apparent love for Homer and his works (also that Aristotle was a student of Plato’s and was much more favorable of the status of poets and artists). As English majors, I’m sure none of us got through this reading without some resentment towards the two philosophers. I certainly didn’t. The notion that imitation is somehow not also the truth is what I have the biggest problem with. How different really, using Socrates’ examples” is the space between the craftsmans table and the painting of the table? They are both crafted with skill from the crafter, and a representation of the first form of the table. But they serve similar purposes. The table is a gathering place for people to sit, but art also gathers people to view it and have similar discussions that sitting around a table might have. The author is no different from a craftsmen, both crafting an authentic vision of the world for another to experience. This, I think, is the inescapably authentic aspect of writing that both Pamuk and Baldwin grappled with.

  15. Khurram says:

    As I read the three works associated with this prompt, thoughts on tangibility and identity swirled around the words. The good of writing/literature is that it’s real: Baldwin and Plato prove the writer real in that the former points out many have been killed, and the latter advocates for their banishment. Real by persecution. Meanwhile, Pamuk’s work of fiction centers on building something tangible to represent someone tangible and something perhaps intangible, and in turn, it leads to a non-fictional setting that is tangible based on an intangible world made tangible by fiction. That works out, I swear.

    But thoughts can be killed or banished, and are they as concrete as the writer or her written, repeated, imitated work?

    What of identity? Baldwin suggests that writing can confirm your identity, and his essay ends with the idea that writing can represent a future majority while it is still a minority, a real life and a real world that hasn’t found its influence yet, because writing can get into those nooks better than, say, political representation. Plato/Socrates is/are clearly concerned with the weight of writing and how it can take hold and essentially rally people as if it was a shared identity. Parmuk, in “Who Do You Write For?” traces the rise of the novel to, effectively, the rise of the nation-state and nationalism, one of the most popular influencers of identity.

    But Baldwin also writes of separation from one’s inherited identity. Parmuk confronts the conflict of local or national identity and a shrinking-yet-diverse audience. The good of writing could be that it doesn’t necessarily confirm your identity; it can detach you from it.

    Can these two things be four things simultaneously? I suppose yes, though it’s work-to-work. Should you distrust writing that’s not what you want it to represent? Person-to-person. I like this idea that Baldwin plays with that writing can be prophetic, ahead of the curve on representation. Writing can be good for that.

    But I kind of like this idea that writing can be dangerous a lot more. If we’re threatening writers, banning writers, killing writers, then they’re at least tangible. Most dangers may not be as dangerous as we make them out to be, but if the perception is they need to be dealt with, then writing can be good for making works — and people — that are very real.

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