Looking Inward from the Fallen World: Some Thoughts of Phaedrus and the Things We Choose to Read

So, in truth, I’ve found myself going back through a great deal of the classics that inhabit the bookshelves of my home office. First, I turned to grand ole Karl Marx. But after just going through the Communist Manifesto, the emotions of being a chronically underemployed and underpaid writer/editor definitely got to me a way that could only be described as anger over the manner in which so many of us today have so little control over our economic well-being. The world has great many greedy people and despite the things we read and say they seem unwilling to adjust their ways. So it comes to down to control of one’s self rather than understanding and continually being upset at the bad-hand given to multiple generations of people by the self-absorbed global elite. Finer men (and women) in history have fled from struggles of those types, if only because they are so far from our control that the only can drive us to the deepest of despair or the greatest anger. It is thus perhaps, better to look upon the things in our lives that we can manage.

So, fortune had me fall upon Plato’s Phaedrus. What is ostensibly a treatise on the notion of love and interpersonal relationships and power structures, I definitely came to this text with more of a fiction writer’s eye than a deeply philosophical exploration of love and interpersonal relationships in mind. That’s to say as I read the rather short text as a type of sample book to continue working on some of my more recent projects. Perhaps, most notably in terms of these projects the early sketchings of my upcoming poetry collection Devil in the Woods as well as the nearly complete first draft of mt Sci-Fi Novel What Lies Beneath. There are narrative as well as profound character explorations at work in Phaedrus, both of which I have thus far found useful for both these works.

To those that have read this classic before you will know that the text is primarily a construction of the conversation between Phaedrus and Socrates in the countryside outside of Athens. Structurally, the conversation revolves around Phaedrus offering up a speech on the presence of love in relationships and Socrates replying in kind with speeches that either add to or refute claims of rationale made by Phaedrus. What involves, simply through the narrative-structure of the work, is a mirroring of the ideal relationship of love/friendship between the two speakers as they work their way philosophically through the moral questions their respective speeches attempt to work through. While it could, and perhaps should be argued, that Phaedrus is not a work of fiction but rather a record of a conversation between these men in the ancient Greek countryside, it is worth noting that because it comes to us as a text through the printed word in English, the act of mentally decoding Phaedrus manages to turn this into a fiction. We are about as likely to encounter either of these men as we are to encounter Jamie Lannister or Gregers Werle in real life. It is the dialog that structure that matter in creating the world as much as our own mind’s ability to decode that it something we recognize. Therefore the structure matters here and can and should be seen as something apt for our own constructions of literature.

Perhaps it is the relationship between Phaedrus and Socrates that we turn to begin bringing out larger society concerns regarding power and relationships. They act with deep respect for each other as can be seen by the large portions of “oh, please tell me” and “I’m not worthy to do so” that hold the speeches into a narrative structure. In looking at the construction of Phaedrus itself, one can begin to get the idea that what we say and say to each other is as important in terms of relationships as those ways in which we act. This is a valuable realization to writers as well as those engaged in enterprises of social concern. For the writers out there, the things that happen on the page must interact with each other as much as they interact with the audience. And for those looking to produce social change (such was the cause with the aforementioned Marx) there is a clear need to produce a social dialog rather than a grand speech. Such may have been our malaise as both poor writers and poor agents of social change. There is a need to make the things we believe into social and humane constructions of our grand notions of social change and equity. Perhaps if our political figures and those that for better or for worse construct our cultural artifacts took into account these narrative and philosophical aspects, the works of men like Marx might not seem so hopeless and society itself might find itself in a more equitable situation.

In short, I would encourage you to give Phaedrus a good read. Do it again if you have already have. There are great notions of ideal relations between individuals and and how and when we should dole out that all important human trait of love.

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