Saturday, June 20, 2009

Homer, Plato, and Obama

I've been reading for my comprehensive exams for the last few months, which has involved digging more into Homer and Plato than I ever have before, which has not been hard to do--my knowledge of Homer is mostly "d'oh," and Plato not much more. But the thing that leaps out immediately from Plato's reading of Homer is how he does seem to find there both the inspiration to call poets divinely inspired, and the start of his inspiration to boot them out of the republic, for being liars, of ill repute, etc., in his hammering away at the rhapsode of Homer, from whom Plato, or Socrates in the dialogue, seems to see a glimmer of the poet's role--one who just reiterates what's given to him from within, so that not only does thought not come into play, but the poetry that he recites has the effect of arguing against thought as the seat of identity, and its cultivation as the highest good. While Plato seems to throw more weight and page space behind condemning poets than calling them divine (which might be seen as an insult also, considering the Greek gods' behavior as represented by Homer), what starts as the root of his argument is that they partake of a higher reality, which supersedes the republic, and from which thought either grows or tries to fly. He takes on the rhapsode's role in quoting Homer himself, or having Socrates do it, and uses that role, or his version of it, to bring Socrates back to life on the page, in a way that suggests his belonging also to a space outside of the republic, not only by dying and going to the underworld, but by contemplating the will of the gods for his whole life before that.

Early in the election, some of Obama's poems surfaced, and were read and critiqued, maybe more as a joke than anything, but the discussion seemed to carry a spark about it, too, that confirmed a personal, original sense of the poetic in his work as an orator. I wonder if the sense of his charisma that comes across to us always carries this underpinning, not of the republic, but of the deeper sense of the spirit that lets us believe in it.

Either way, it is phenomenal to be getting paid to think about this stuff. Mizzou rules. So do you.


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