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[Xmca-l] Re: (no subject)


One thing I think you'll have to deal with is Plato's hostility to narrative, which for him was cast in the form of poetry. Eric Havelock's Preface to Plato would be a good place to start. 

I have to admit that I think accessing this particular line of thought through Plato is difficult, because he is so deeply suspicious of people becoming possessed, literally, by the attractiveness of imaginary worlds. I think he views imaginary narrative as suspect always, because even though it may be play for the narrator, narratives are dangerous for the audience: By subjecting themselves to the imagination of another, the audience becomes trapped in a world of shadows of shadows, until, ultimate horror of horrors, otherwise proto-sentient beings sit around in Harry Potter clubs ventriloquizing J.K. Rowling.   

On the other hand, from a cultural-historical psychology point of view, access to reality begins with internalizing what Bakhtin might call genres of sociocultural activity--the moral and intellectual tools available in the external world that arm the proto-sentient being with the means to comprehend society, culture, genres of thought and activity, and all the other things that internalizing the patterns of language and activity around us make available to our own use. Ventriloquizing is where thought begins. As Socrates might say, in dialogue with Plato, if he were to emerge out of the shadows of a cave somewhere for a time, to ponder the world as it has turned these many years: 

Soc. I have often heard you warn about the dangers of poetry, which can trap the minds of those who become bewitched by the muse. But suppose you have studiously avoided narrative, does it truly free someone to think more creatively?

Plato. Well, surely this is self-evident, is it not? For when is it possible to think for oneself about the world in the dead thoughts of another, such as we often see in those who become lost in plays and stories? These narratives are like a labyrinth, which, once entered, few have the power to leave. It is surely a matter of great good fortune that this modern age has so many who are free from the evils created by the poets. 

Soc. Would you agree that this new Internet technology has nothing to do with stories of long ago?

Plato. Yes, of course it does not. That is a very clear example of the foolishness of wasting time reading stories, rather than thinking for oneself. This wondrous techne clearly shows the advantage to be derived by devoting one's thought to the world as it is, rather than to imaginary worlds created by poets and writers, which are always derivative." 

Soc. Yet there are several features of this Internet that reflect a sense of stories. What do you suppose "World Wide Web" means?

Plato. Why, I should think that it refers to the strands of a spider's web. But that is not a story; that is simple observation of the real world.

Soc. Do you suppose that these strands of metal function like a spider's web, then? Do they trap those who wander into them?

Plato. But Socrates, of course I do not.

Soc. Or do you suppose that only daughters of Arachne are capable of weaving such webs? 

Plato: No--though surely you do not mean to say that one must know of Arachne, or indeed of spiders and webs, to be able to create such things?

Soc. No. But consider the matter this way: How would you describe the relation of a word like "web" to the design?

Plato: I think I might describe it as a kind of tool of thought. But there is no narrative there.

Soc. Very good. We are agreed that words are tools then. But suppose I find another word that makes no sense outside of a narrative context? Would you agree that narratives might be tools, too?

Plato: Surely there can be no such word, Socrates. 
Soc. There is a story told by certain barbarians of the North, which certain poets wrote down, much as Homer did, to communicate to the latest posterity the thoughts and deeds of ancestors--though most disreputably, they selected not history, but arrant lies. 

Plato: Indeed, that is very reprehensible, Socrates. I should describe such people as wolves in human form, who prey not just on the minds of the living, but of the future. Most terrible!

Soc. And yet one of their stories has a meaning in this techne of Internet, if I understand rightly. 

Plato. Surely not!

Soc. They say that a certain term describing one of the tools of craft to navigate on this web is called a "breadcrumb." I find this a very strange term. 

Plato: So do I, Socrates. It shows that there is no narrative about "web" that traps these wise craftsmen of this modern era. But what does it mean? 

Soc. I am told that this term refers to a story of these northern barbarians, called "Hansel and Gretel," about two children. These children scattered crumbs from a loaf of bread as they walked through a forest, so that they could find their way home again by returning along the path of crumbs they had left behind them. 

Plato. I see. So you are telling me that the word "breadcrumb" is used to describe a way of returning on a web site to the place from which one started, and moreover, that it is the very meaning of the word in the context of this story that gives the word "breadcrumb" its particular meaning? 

Soc. So I am given to understand. In fact, unless I am very much mistaken, it appears that the knowledge of this story was specifically the inspiration for crafting this particular kind of technology. What do you think "breadcrumb" means in the context of this usage? 

Plato: Why, I must concede, Socrates, that it appears to be a signifier representing a pattern of thought that is embodied in this narrative of the barbarians. 

Soc. Do you think that this is a form of creative thought? Or is it a case of modern craftspeople becoming imprisoned by narratives, and unable to think outside of them? Is it creative to use an idea from a story about children who never existed to craft a way of doing things? Or is this modern era filled with victims of their foolish ancestors, who filled their minds with lies and delusions? 

Plato. I suppose I must regard the use of this story as a creative form of thought, because surely the people who use such tools must be able to free themselves from the limits of the story from which the word "breadcrumb" is drawn. 

Soc. Do you suppose that it is possible someone who does not know such stories is at a disadvantage, such as a carpenter might be if he had one kind of adze? 

Plato. I do not like to think that someone requires a narrative to think with, but I suppose it could be true, Socrates. 

Soc. Is it possible, then, my dear Plato, that the poet is not always a danger to society?

Plato. I am unwilling to go so far, Socrates. Yet I must concede that in some ways, and in some cases, poets may have some value to society. 

Soc. Perhaps I hear a muse murmuring in my ears, like the sound of the flute in the ears of the mystic; that voice, I say, is humming in my ears, and prevents me from hearing any other. This muse tells me that poetry is, after all, a gift of the gods, just as is any other gift. And I know that anything more which you will say against the value of narratives will be in vain. Yet speak, if you have anything to say.

Plato. I have nothing to say, Socrates.

Soc. Then let me follow the intimations of the will of the god. 


On Wednesday, October 9, 2013 10:06 AM, CAITLIN WUBBENA <cwubbena@gse.upenn.edu> wrote:
Hi! I am a graduate student at Penn working on my Master's paper in
foundations/philosophy of education. I am taking a course with Andrew
Babson and he recommended I post here for some feedback/advice.

Loosely, my topic is centered on Plato's notion of play/seriousness. I want
to explore why intellectual play is vital for success in higher ed and
envision this particular project (it's a relatively short lit review) as an
analysis of the historical context that has allowed this conversation to
happen in academia. At this point, I plan to cite Plato, Kierkegaard
(Socratic irony), and Dewey. I've also been introduced to Vygotsky and
Kendall Walton. The main challenge is bridging the conversation to higher

Any advice on where to go, books/articles to look into, etc would be
greatly appreciated!

Status: O