Year One

Back in Black

So I opted to skip all the awkward bits. The Christmas Special will have to wait until next year...

Here is something new. Apologies for the academic theme, I don't always get to choose it.

Homer describes Achilles' confrontation with the reality of Hades, a cavern of gibbering dusty shades, as a withering experience where even the heros of heros proclaims it better to be a slave on earth than a king among the dead. In the Republic, Socrates cites this in his criticism of the tragic poets, who served as the key cultural underpinnings of the day.

The gibbering shades we become in death, are not some ethereal creature, some second consciousness, a metaphysical echo. They are the faded garbled memories of us in the minds of others. Purely impressions, like the faint words that form in the surface of a weathered writing desk, long after the pen is gone.

To get a sense of what I mean, you can indulge in the rather morbid neuroticism of pondering how you might be remembered after you die. This is what Cephalus does in the Republic, he attends to the longevity of his memory with an uncertain diligence. He has a vague sense of how he might be remembered, and how he might improve that, but he has no clear picture of the whole of what he will amount to once he is gone.

It is typically agreed that Socrates' criticism of the poets is that they depict Hades as a terrible place and death therefore as a terrible thing. This is no good in a city that needs warriors to protect it. Some will then say that this is really just there to start a discussion about the problem of courage and the dangers it poses to political life. This is all fine and good, but I think it too quickly overlooks its starting point in order to chase ladders. I think Plato's real concern is that the poets hit too close to home, perhaps without even realizing it.

To die is to be nothing, a foe in the face of which courage is meaningless. What is needed is a kind of ignorance, a veil as Nietzsche put it. This veil lies at the heart of the so called Socratic philosophy of learning to die. Plato offers us snow goggles to protect us from the overwhelming blindness, a jagged burning white gluttony of illumination. It is only with these that we can see the trail beneath us and ascend to the peaks.