Something Named. An Imitation

When I was younger, I experimented in the extreme of expecting much of names, like love and goodness, which I invested with ideal meaning until I began to see (does one ever finish seeing this) how steeply the ideal drops off from word into practice. Among those around me, I can see other illustrations of word-investment: some are vociferously atheist while others are ultra religious and often there is a need for these various factions to make their ideals into unwitting darts targeting those who do not subscribe to their same verbal understanding. As I had tried taking a fixed view of some words myself, any criticism here is of myself: for thinking that one can have the names for things. I do not think we own those names.
Today, I would explain our relationship to knowing things as Taoist: intuited when not controlled. I ask myself at this time: do you want meaning, or do you want to attain the illusion of control?
To be the guest-friend may also mean to be released from strict social norms: the name of the guest is not revealed after the first meal, but then, this is not any guest but one who was led in to the palace by a goddess and one who has waited for signs that he is among friends before he reveals his name. For it is posited that he learned the hard way (viz. Susan B. Levin's reading of the Polyphemus encounter) not to reveal his name lest it be used as a means to curse him. This is a very different social approach than the LinkedIn here is my life laid out for your scrutinising pleasure (I feel too embarrassed to look at my friends' profiles: if it's important, they will email me is my view - I further wonder at the difference between being present on such a platform and actually using it and how much illusion is trapped in the naming of what we do).
From Odysseus we see there may be vital reasons as to why the name may be willfully obscured. In this way, there is something to be learned from the geomancer, wherein the time when something appears is as important as the thing itself. It may be a contemporary Western conceit that the name can be pinned into a box like a butterfly. The great natural historian Agassiz wrote, after all, that there is a superiority in perceiving the similarities among facts over finding the fact.
And these names are flying around: it is the same metaphor we see in the Theaetetus (197 on), which concedes that in that context: at that time, and with those words, the attempt to figure out knowledge was "wind-eggs". Yet we are left, from that dialogue, with the ideas that intertwining ideas (202b) and noting their differences ("assign things to the right imprints" 195a - crucial for there to be recognition 193c) are exercises of particular importance in naming, that the combination assists the approach to the winged things we seek to name and know.

The dialogue also leaves us with the sense of the malleability and fallibility of that which we think we know. My favourite passage illustrating this begins in 201a: "you have a whole profession which declares that true opinion is not knowledge ... The profession of those who are greatest in wisdom, who are called orators and lawyers; for they persuade men by the art which they possess, not teaching them, but making them have whatever opinion they like. Or do you think there are any teachers so clever as to be able ... satisfactorily to teach the judges the truth about what happened to people who have been robbed of their money ... when there were no eyewitnesses?"
As a true pedagogue, Socrates puts a lot of direct and indirect emphasis on one's own assimilation of the subject matter at hand. It is said, possibly sarcastically, to be advantageous for the person seeking to assimilate to have a soul like wax - not like stone, not infected by earth; wax being κηρός, a word similar to that of heart, κέαρ or κῆρ (fn). But the sarcasm is surely limited to the dilettantism of resting the mind on literary references: for established in this part of the dialgoue is the importance of being able to recognise - to match imprints. It also corresponds to truth being compared to smoothness, and falsity to roughness, in the always-moving speech represented by Pan (Crat. 408c). It is noted that this speech brings as much truth as falsehood, and that falsehood is not only rough but conducive to the tragic life.
Comparison, more apparent to the smooth, may help ascertain the elements beneath it or at least circumvent them in a way - for the essential nature of a thing is not always imitated by letters and syllables (Crat. 423e) the very possibility of which may sound ridiculous though worth considering (Crat. 425d).
We can't understand everything, but which birds are ours? They may or may not be in a name because ποταμοῖσι τοῖσιν αὐτοῖσιν ἐμϐαίνουσιν, ἕτερα καὶ ἕτερα ὕδατα ἐπιρρεῖ - which appears in Socrates' other discussion of knowledge and naming in the Cratylus (402a and 401c). This section brings this post full circle because it is connected to the names that men give to gods: different names- yet illustrative of the same principles, providing one looks for that imprint, in the first instance of water (402b on). In the dialogue Socrates explains the ideas behind the names of the gods - a favourite passage of 19th century German philologists. There are instances, after all, where names correspond to their elements (422a).

As man turns around and around to capture the nature of things, he gains the illusion that things are moving which is implied in words like wisdom itself, implying a motion, the generation of contemplation, comparable to the soul, named νόησις (411b also 463e). Intelligence may be a "reckoning together" - which again is more of a being with than a having, particularly since that which is never in the same state can hardly be anything (439 e).
The moral of the story is that "no man of sense" ought "put himself and his soul under the control of names" (440c). In other words, we are not to take the names for granted (belief, atheism, justice, injustice) but to think them through. We might discover some underlying elements that may lead to difference becoming the same. For example, how unjust is injustice done to a man who has been in his life unjust? I am presently rather fascinated by this idea.
Finally, particularly in Cratylus 429-30, Socrates says that some painters are better than others and that as a name is an imitation just as a picture is, some names are better than others. I couldn't help draw a parallel between that bit in Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies (lecture three) where he writes about how irresolute people are to say to those who are not such good painters "though you had fine motives, strong enough to make you burn yourself in a slow fire, if only first you could paint a picture, you can't paint one" yet ought to champion with that much more decisiveness those with talent to make something of said talent. Instead, both artists and audience, instead of being encouraged to align wisdom and rightness to an understanding of the ends of life, are "all plunged as in a languid dream - our heart fat, and our eyes heavy, and our ears closed, lest the inspiration of hand or voice should reach us - lest we should see with our eyes, and understand with our hearts". 
True to Socrates' distrust of words, he says, "art must not be talked about. The fact that there is talk about it at all, signifies that it is ill done, or cannot be done ... The moment a man can really do his work ... All words become idle to him - all theories." One cannot be carried up an Alp by talking, he says, but one may be guided up it, step by step. He contrasts the shapeshifting interests, like pride and lust, to beauty as an ideal that is beyond movement (as does Socrates). 
I think that the better word portrait is one that inspires the person to be more charitable to others, more aware of self, more loving of life with syllables and smaller elements like wild birds and winged things.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License