On Making a Harmony

So what about art.  "Make a harmony with the different falls of water as you have seen at the fountain of Rimini" writes Da Vinci in his notebooks that once caused me to stop and rethink the function of prose and impression.  There were other such moments, like in learning the focus of intent Stanislavsky's method by really looking for a dropped pin on the floor that was in fact not there, or reading Peter Brook and imagining a theatre created around a mere carpet.  These all involved the practice of experience which admittedly has appeal to the child who took to The Tibetan Book of the Dying as a bed time favourite.
It is interesting that art figures into the Phaedo, Plato's record of Socrates' last dialogue before drinking the hemlock not at the very last possible moment, because he was ready, and interestingly very much in control for one meant to be a victim.
Socrates says that he had a dream in which the Muses instructed him to make music (60e-61c), which confused him as he thought philosophy to be the highest music but then considered that he might still make poetry just to be sure to carry out the Muses' command.  He considers he is not a myth-maker, and says he has been putting Aesop's myths to verse.
But before this, he in fact does make up his own myth, to illustrate how tightly pleasure and pain are bound: there is no way to pursue the one without the other following in suit, "as if the two were joined together in one head ... if Aesop had thought of them, he would have made a fable telling how they were at war and god wished to reconcile them, and when he could not do that, he fastened their heads together, and for that reason, when one of them comes to anyone, the other follows after" (60c).  Such a song is illustrative of some level of wisdom, some lessons of experience.
We remember from other dialogues, like Gorgias or Ion, how Socrates shows that imitation is inferior to knowledge: this idea is repeated in Plato's Apology, " So again in the case of the poets also I presently recognized this, [22c] that what they composed they composed not by wisdom, but by nature and because they were inspired, like the prophets and givers of oracles; for these also say many fine things, but know none of the things they say".  To observe the bas-relief of the cavalry at the Parthenon is to wonder at the depth of this meaning: aside from wafts of hair floating to give effect of movement, one notices, for example, the accurate posture of those on horseback and marvels that such an eye for detail was not created by one who did not ride himself.  If that is the depth of imitation, one may marvel at the depth of wisdom Socrates encourages.
And if there were to be a song, as there almost was in Socrates' imagined Aesopian fable of pleasure and pain, how deep it would be!




But words, we remember from Phaedrus are to be viewed as nothing more than a reminder of the matter they address (275b).  For what ensues at 276b is an explanation of how not everyone is the correct audience for words.  How many times has it happened to you, one might ask, that you wrote something with one idea in mind, only to find that your audience has made of it something quite other - or seems lacking in the experience with which to make sense out of what you say?
Thence the certainty of sticking to the concrete.  Da Vinci writes, "while poetry attempts to represent forms,  actions and scenes with words, the painter employs the exact images of  these forms in order to reproduce them."  But if things were that simple, there would be no disputes over the interpretation of a peplos on a frieze (of the Parthenon).
What did the divine Muses' request of Socrates that he "make music and work at it" mean (60e)?  I think back to the Phaedrus, and Socrates' appeals to the cicadas, τέττιγες, who have the power to grant the gifts of the gods (259b): music has two aspects, wherein he who wants the gift of those who sing (the sweetest, most divine music) must not be lulled by the "siren song."  Speaking, as opposed to not speaking, is to be conducted, ideally, by those who know the truth of that of which they speak (Phaedrus 260a).
This truth is not dogmatic, but a process that may be learned.  To quote the Phaedo, "if there is any system of argument which is true and sure and can be learned, it would be a sad thing if a man, [90d] because he has met with some of those arguments which seem to be sometimes true and sometimes false, should then not blame himself or his own lack of skill, but should end, in his vexation, by throwing the blame gladly upon the arguments and should hate and revile them all the rest of his life, and be deprived of the truth and knowledge of reality."
Man can obstruct his own way.  And as for the singing he can partake in, is it not interesting that Socrates spent his time putting Aesop into verse, if we are to consider this as one of the progymnasmata?  Against the practice of the grammarians is syntactic sophistry, which I do not mean to sound entirely dismissive of because in not knowing what it is saying it can sometimes strike it lucky and say something very meaningful.  However, if one is concerned with "any system ... which is true and sure and can be learned" we return to preliminary rhetorical exercises, and take it from there.
The photos are of the Philopappos Monument: built on Mouseion Hill above where poet-priest and mystic Musaeus (connected to Orpheus) is said by Pausanias to have been buried.  It was believed the nine Muses resided on that hill and I might just add that the τέττιγες seem the loudest there than anywhere else in Athens.  To build on top of that which is already established: this is more than just memory (88), potentially art if one has made it one's own...found oneself through or in it.



Brush: Ewansim Grunge; Curves VI in upper image: SilaynneStock, both at DeviantART.

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