Sunday, February 08, 2009

Poetic Knowledge Chapter 2

I have my book and I have my chocolate, and I am attempting to understand the philosophical foundations of poetic knowledge.

It ain't easy. This may simply be a list of definitions and things I don't understand. But I'm going in anyway.

(Mr. Honey brought me a glass of cold milk to fortify and sustain me through the effort. Here goes.)

Page 11

I have only read bits of Plato's Republic. I don't remember Plato disliking poetry and stories. It seems he didn't dislike them exactly, but only wanted to be careful that poetry and stories did not misrepresent God.

(For some reason I keep hearing the Fox from _Till We Have Faces_: "Lies of poets, lies of poets, child.")

Page 12

"Socrates could not have proposed The Republic..." what does that mean? I thought Plato wrote it. Did Socrates make the suggestion to him? Why have I not learned more about philosophy?

In The Republic, Socrates offers the first systematic theory of education.

(Okay, I looked up The Republic. I had Socrates and Plato mixed up-- I thought Plato was the teacher, but he was really the student of Socrates. Silly me. I did know that much at one time in the past. Just for my own future reference, it goes Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. Got it?

Wikipedia mentions 'the conflict between philosophy and poetry' as one of the topics found in The Republic.)

Now he's talking about Homer, who came before Socrates, and is considered the first educator of Greece. I think.

(I should have learned all this in college so I could just absorb what Mr. Taylor is trying to get at now. Oh, the waste.)

"...poetry, and all art, for the Platonic-Aristotelian tradition, was considered "a means of real and valuable knowledge, a knowledge of the permanent things."

(I can tell my lack of a mental ancient history timeline is going to be a hindrance in this chapter.)

Page 13

There is an order to knowledge-- and it begins with the poetic. How to explain the poetic? "Without the observance of this order, one can 'produce' pianists who can perfectly play the notes of the great composers, without playing the music..."

A transcendent vision of reality. Hmm. Transcendent means "beyond or outside the ordinary range of human experience or understanding."

Page 14

He starts explaining some aspects of the Odyssey here, and segues into a discussion of the word, 'school,' which is from the root skola, meaning 'leisure'. He says that we have virtually lost the true meaning of the word, 'leisure'. We either have work or entertainment, and entertainment is *not* the same as leisure. Oh, wait. He didn't say anything about entertainment. I must have remembered that from some other source. He is talking about the difference between the scientific and poetic ideas of education-- the poetic requiring a sense of leisure, and the scientific requiring effort, work, proof.

I get this theoretically, but the effort has to be there, too, doesn't it? "The intellect requires a moral impulse, and we all stir our minds into action the better if there is an implied 'must' in the background." (Charlotte Mason)

Okay, he does talk about entertainment-- he calls it the quest to have 'fun'.

Page 15

(I'm engaging in a leisure activity right now. No one has told me I have to read and understand this book. I'm moving through it at my own pace, which is likely to be a lot slower than I thought it would be at first.)

In The Republic, poetry, either as art or "as the spirit of teaching through music and gymnastics", is Plato's chosen method of beginning education for the guardians. (Who are the guardians? And I didn't realize gymnastics was poetic.)

I'm not completely getting it, but I just love this part:

"Thus, a tradition of learning that began with Homeric epics as models of imitation in virtue and delight are now taken up for serious reflection and discourse under the genius of the West's first philosopher. [That's Plato, right?] All of the educational experiences detailed in The Republic for the child-- songs, poetry, music, gymnastic-- area meant to awaken and refine a sympathetic knowledge of the reality of the True, Good, and Beautiful, by placing the child inside the experience of those transcendentals as they are contained in these arts and sensory experiences."

Page 16

The "modern mechanical view of growth" is when your parents say to you, "Katie, you are too old for that," and want to move you to the next level, "lopping off the one behind as inferior."

I think he is talking about discarding educational things, not discarding childish habits like forgetting to brush your hair or leaving your belongings scattered. For instance, saying, "That's a baby book. You don't need to read books like that anymore." In the more Socratic view, he says education is viewed more as the rings of a living, growing tree-- things are added on to what is already there and nothing is discarded.

It seems to me that you would have to start with good quality stuff if you didn't want to have to tell your child, "That's a baby book" later on. For instance, I wouldn't tell my kids not to read Wind in the Willows or The House at Pooh Corner or the Beatrix Potter books. I still get a lot out of those books myself.

In The Republic (which I so need to read) Socrates goes on to talk about how important it is to limit the student's view of sculpture, the music listened to, etc., to those things that elevate the character of the individual and reflect true beauty. (I don't totally get this, and what I do understand about it leaves me extremely frustrated with our current culture.)

Page 17

Taylor points out briefly that Confucious also put music forth as a means of preserving character in individuals.

In the next paragraph he totally loses me.

'Cartesian' means having to do with Descartes, a 17th century philosopher who is considered the father of modern philosophy. He discarded perception as a reliable means of knowing, and favored deduction instead.

Hee hee, Mr. Taylor says that Plato's Idealism rests on a very knowable, objective reality... but that Cartesian philosophers simply dismiss it as 'no longer correct' rather than attempting to disprove it as a theory. This means they aren't using their own scientific method to prove or disprove Plato's theory. I don't really get the philosophy of all of it, but isn't it funny that the scientific philosophers say, "Oh no, that isn't the fashionable position"?

Very unscientific of them.

Page 19

Okay, it looks like we are getting to Aristotle. There is a little discussion on how Aristotle disagreed with Plato about the Forms. I do know about this for some reason. Aristotle said students do not need Forms-- they can draw the essence of the thing from the thing itself. "How can Ideas, being the substance of Things, exist apart [from those things]?"

Very strange. I am reading about bread-ness:

"The essence of bread, for example, is grasped intuitively by the mind regardless of the sensory "accidentals" of color, shape and so on, and in this way the universal idea of bread, its bread-ness, is achieved. Realist philosophy [meaning Aristotle, I think] says that the invisible life, the form, is in the thing, not elsewhere. It is simply in the nature of the mind, the soul, to correspond with this invisible reality. Aristotle says in De Anima that 'the soul is in a way all existing things; for existing things are either sensible or thinkable, and knowledge is in a way that is knowable, and sensation is in a way that is sensible.'"

In this paragraph, "sensible" means 'able to be sensed'.

Page 19-20

Socrates (Plato) and Aristotle agree that virtue is the end of education, and that it must be achieved in a poetic way.

Here he talks more about leisure and I quote:

"...the idea that real education requires a certain contemplative spirit (leisure) has persisted. It is in leisure (skole) that we prepare for an active life of virtue, and, in the experience of music, a species of leisure, we gain our first touch through the sensory-emotional (poetic) mode, of our final purpose, which i to experience happiness, a resting from activity, a return to where we began, to a state of repose: leisure."

This reminds me of the purpose stated in our church's covenant:

"We believe our sole purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."

He says:

The poetic precedes the scientific.
The passive precedes the active.

Page 21

Now he comes to the importance of Music. Let's see if I can figure it out.

The kind of music is important because "virtue consists in rejoicing and loving aright." Rhythm and melody imitate virtues and the opposites of the virtues. (I have to say here that I enjoy this aspect of music so much. It helped me a lot in my teen angst years to be able to come home from a rough day at school and just play for a couple of hours. I had stormy pieces and gentle pieces, etc., and it was more than therapy for me. I wish we had a dedicated music room in our current home, because I can see my children needing this outlet, but it isn't always practical for them to be playing their little hearts out in the main room. We are thinking of getting earplugs.)

"There seems to be in us a sort of affinity to musical modes and rhythms, which makes some philosophers say that the soul is a tuning, others, that it possesses tuning." (Aristotle)

(It is interesting to realize that Aristotle's music and what we consider to be great music nowadays were probably somewhat different. After all, Bach and Mozart hadn't been born yet. I don't know that I have ever heard any music in the ancient Greek tradition.)

More on this later.

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