Saturday, April 07, 2007
Fragments of Alcaeus (aborted)
Some fragments by Alcaeus, who apparently was a lover of Sappho and with whom he exchanged poetry; somehow re-reading all this I happen to remember that book of Susan Ackerman 'When heroes love: the ambiguity of Eros in the stories of Gilgamesh and David' and I remember it because of the points she makes about the reception of the story of David and Jonathan in our literature. That makes me think why the Greeks always remain so much at home for us and 'home' themselves, although there are significant changes in the structure of life from the Archaic poets to Plato and beyond and somehow like S. pointed out to me we're speaking about a different culture in every possible meaning of the word, like for example when we examine the notions of love in Empedocles (perhaps the only secular-philosophical account of it, presented in the form of a philosophy of nature, that is available in the whole of the ancient philosophy); whether the Biblical concept of 'Love' can be juxtaposed to the classical one is rather ambiguous although I do believe this becomes possible not in the Decalogue, but in the Prophets particularly since the Book of Amoz. I doubt this is the product of Greek influence, certainly not until the Wisdom literature that is already inter-testamentary. Notwithstanding the Greek ideal remains the safest foundation of our political life as individuals but the individual would be a notion impossible to the ancient Athenian, on account of the perfect synthesis between the realms of morality, legality, art and religion achieved there, what in German is called 'Sittlichkeit'. The individual is of course the by-product of monotheism, although the 'I' does resound all through the archaic and classical philosophy and literature, albeit as Hegel discovered - it meant something else in the reallm of political life, reason for which he changed his mind about the political reality of Athens as the foundation of the modern state toward the eschaton of the ecclesia (the former seen in the Jenaschrifften and the latter in the 'Philosophy of Right'). Here I am not speaking about the rise of individuality and self (intimately bound to the coinage of 'privacy' in property relations, quite late in our history -perhaps I should add this to my essay or maybe include it into a new one on Machiavelli) but about the 'deciding individual'; this is also seen in many of the Greek tragedies in a negative dialectic and perhaps there's something decidedly religious about this individual of Sophocles and Euripides. The Bible does have a very different notion quite expressedly clear since the beginning of mankind's story but one should walk carefully in this field, lest one would like to enter in a confrontation with the whole of political philosophizing (perhaps with the exception of Machiavelli, at least until the postmetaphysical 'political sciences') and Christianity, but odds are, this is seemly impossible. Just by writing this did I realize how little of a philologist there's left in me and how often those confrontations with Greece often leave me more vexed than perplexed, more disappointed than secure; but at the same time it is the spirit of Greece whereby the only climax possibly granted to philosophy is available unless we were to measure the science of 'philosophy' and 'politics' against the world and not against ourselves, but that would implicate shaking too many old graves; last night I kept having those dreams where my thoughts keep developing incesantly during my sleep, it is quite troubling - so much restlessness, but on second thought it is preferable than those terrible dreams where I see myself living those impossible situations that sadden me so often in the mornings. I did dream something dealing with this relationship of Eros as the foundational principle of philosophy in relation to the individual - in political theory this could only mean a repression of violence which is in a way one of the memory devices of Western epistemology and a kernel of Modernity's anxiety over its own fragility; apparently I seem all too concerned with classical philosophy these days (and it's good to remember that one can still read classical philosophy or at least discuss it without embarrassment) but this time I have returned to her armed with just too much distrust. The foundational aspect of Greek philosophy in the shaping of our memory is beyond argument, but so is the failure of all moral philosophies living up to this aspect and the laziness of reason that the mystic experiences no less (and last night a certain fellow called me a 'mystic' even though he agreed my philosophizing has very little to do with mysticism - and I'm inclined to believe this is the case with most answers of continental philosophy to the challenges of modern political life, ever since Hegel!) and the curiosity and amazement inherent to the whole business of Greek philosophy and curiosity did kill the cat in the end. I haven't made up my mind as yet for the most part but somehow I've started to predict some of my conclusions but what is really at stake is which way one goes, sometimes wafting despair with a hand and others building castles on sand. My conviction is that Greek philosophy doesn't have speech nor faith (and rhaetoric is not speech, take Augustine for an example - you cannot build a Midrashic view on him, because you realize to your own dismise there's no previous conversation. That is what makes the Bible so important - you can think politics in the plural) and also that 'speech' is the most radical theology, Plato knew this I think but not as a 'deciding individual' but rather only as a philosopher, so did Lessing but in the end he fell back upon Gnosticism (Hermetism even) and so did a great deal of very interesting political theory in our age. This is what I like about poetry (even the Greek one, and the poet was by all means not too befriended by the philosopher or the statesman but altogether inseparable from both, remember the 'Sittlichkeit') and those 'poetical thinkers' that develop a view of things, a perspective... much more than epistemological devices. This is all about people like Hannah Arendt, Margarete Susman, Franz Rosenzweig (being careful here), Eugen Rosenstock, Eric Voegelin (not to be discussed now), Ernst Bloch. Well, wasn't I going to leave Alcaeus speak by himself? Yes sure. The Greek might be indeed the language of privacy and love when the world has been lost, but I curiously realized how much even the Greek poets have lost their innocence in my mind from the life of the streets. I give up on the fragments for now, it would not become this entirely un-Greek musing at all.