The Symposium (2004)
THE SYMPOSIUM was a special hybrid project presented in conjunction with the international exhibition project PR04 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. PR04, a bi-annual contemporary art event in Puerto Rico, includes installations, interactive projects, and is an important forum of exchange and dialogue of conteporary art. This year the subject of PR04 is the Olympiad, and projects developed as part of it address, to some extent, the Greek tradition of the Olympics.
SYMPOSIUM was a hybrid product between a traditional symposium and an actual performance of Plato’s symposium, as an updated reenactment by various prominent writers, artists, and critics. The objective was to utilize both the more relaxed discussion format of the symposium in the tropical setting of the Caribbean, and to transpose the philosophical debates about love, passion and desire to current issues in contemporary art. Participants were asked to present the points of views of their “characters” following the format of this famous dialogue, and to enter into a debate with participation from the attending public.
The project followed the general spirit of PR04 in that it reclaimed the classical cultural tradition of Greece as in the Olympics, and seek to also revive the nourishing nature of the public dialogue, making it more a matter of both spiritual and physical enjoyment than a dry academic affair.
The Symposium is one of the foundational documents of Western culture and arguably the most profound analysis and celebration of love in the history of philosophy. It is also the most lavishly literary of Plato’s dialogues–a virtuoso prose performance in which the author, like a playful maestro, shows off an entire repertoire of characters, ideas, contrasting viewpoints, and iridescent styles. A symposium is literally a “drinking together”–in other words a drinking party. In Athens, in Plato’s day, symposia were strictly stag affairs. As a rule, they consisted of a fairly lavish, semi-formal banquet followed by ceremonial toasts and bouts of drinking.
Symposia were usually held in private homes in specially designed dining and party areas. The guests (from as few as 3 or 4 to as many as 12 or 20) reclined on couches arranged in a circle. An entire service of ornamental cups, bowls, plates, and vases were set out for the occasion. After dinner, amid hearty servings of wine, the guests would converse, engage in song contests, enjoy the professional entertainment, or, as in the case of The Symposium, compose speeches or deliver mock orations.
A preliminary rehearsal was conducted on June 4th, 2004 at the University of Camaguez, and the public final performance was presented at the Olympic village of Rincón the following day, with food and drink being served throughout the entire duration of the event.
T H E S Y M P O S I U M
Written 360 B.C.
Reinterpreted by Pablo Helguera
Persons in the dialogue:
Xandra Eden as ARISTOPHANES
Nelson Rivera as PHAEDRUS
Ryan Hill as PAUSANIAS
Hamza Walker as ERYXIMACHUS
Pablo Helguera as AGATHON
Christine Hill as ALCIBIADES
James Elkins as SOCRATES
PABLO HELGUERA (Agathon) (Mexico City, 1971) is a visual artist living and working in New York.
HAMZA WALKER (Eryximachus) is the director of Education of the Renaissance Society in Chicago.
NELSON RIVERA (Phaedrus) is an artist, theater director, writer and composer living in San Juan, Puerto Rico
RYAN HILL(Pausanias) is a visual and performance artist living in New York.
XANDRA EDEN (Pausanias) is associate curator of the Power Plant in Toronto.
JAMES ELKINS (Socrates) is an art historian and critic based in Dublin. He is the author of many works, including “The Object Strikes Back” and “What Painting Is”
CHRISTINE HILL (Alcibiades) is an artist based in Brooklyn. Her ongoing project, Volksboutique, was featured in Documenta IX and many other international exhibitions.
PR04 Olympic Village, Rincón, Puerto Rico
June 5, 2004
Ladies and gentlemen: two thousand, two hundred and thirty four years ago, a certain banquet amongst notable Greeks took place, and that’s what became known as the Symposium. I am here to present to you the Symposium by Plato. My name is Agathon in the Symposium. In the symposium Agathon gathers a group, and as in any symposium people drink, sing, dance, do speeches. In Plato’s Symposium, the guests decide to do speeches about love, and thus here, we will talk about love.
But one thing I would like that you do with me first is to have a toast.
(the audience toasts)
What each one of us here will do is to take a role front the original characters of the Symposium. As we go into the discussion, we would like you to be part of it, asking questions or interrupting.
In the symposium the discussion starts with Phaedrus, who tells us his theory of love.
In my speech I thought about using Phaedrus’ own words, but at the same time bring in the words of a lot of poets, not from Greece but from later years – including my own. So I included these and brought them together with whatever Phaedrus is talking about.
My text is Spanish and English, some of it is translated.
Gran dios es el amor
Love is a great god
Todos mis pensamientos hablan de amor
No tiene el amor genealogia conocida ni se la invento por nadie pueblo o poeta
Su origen no lo se pues no lo tiene, mas se que todo origen de ella viene aunque es de noche
O soleil c’est le temps de la raison ardente
Amor fin doble corazon son la misma cosa tal como dice el sabio en su cancion
Y asi no puede ser uno sin el otro como el alma sin la razon
You must sit down, says love and taste my milk
So I did sit
How fair you are, how all rapturous love
Here is your figure stately as a palm tree and your breasts are like clusters of fruit
I say let me climb the palm tree and take hold of your branches
Qué lindos se ven tus pies con sandalias
tus caderas torneadas son collares obra artesana de orfebre
tu ombligo una copa redonda que rebosa vino aromado
tu vientre montoncito de trigo adornado de azucenas
tus pechos igual que dos crías mellizas de gacela
quedeme y olvideme del rostro recliné sobre el amado
ceso todo y quedeme dejando un cuidado entre las azucenas olvidado
de vos será.
Her image had passed to his soul forever.
And no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy
Her eyes had coal and her soul had —
To live to her to hold, to triumph, to recreate life out of life.
To rage, to lust, to write, to commit, all these were product of the god of love
If you were to drop dead i would never stop loving you
Even though we could no longer screw
Solo a los amantes les viene de voluntar morir por otros
He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence,
The most sublime act is to set another before you,
Solo el amor puede poner verguenza por lo feo
Respetuoso amor por lo bello, que sin amor y verguenza no hay manera
De que ni particular ni ciudad alguna lleven a cabo obras grandes y buenas
No picture is made to endure or to live with, but it is made to sell and sell quickly with usura sin against nature
Todo cuanto existe digno es de entrar en la obra de arte, porque goza de la inmanente dignidad de la existencia
El arte no distingue cosas sucia o inferior, la distincion de la cosa sucia podra venir del estómago, la cosa inferior del cerebro, el corazon no tiene nada que ver en estas diferenciaciones. Un gran dolor, un inmenso placer hacen olvidar lo sucio y lo inferior, liberando todo en emocion.
Love is worth it
Tal vez nos casemos este anio, amor mio,
Y tengamos una casita,
Y tal vez se publique mi libro
O nos vayamos los dos al extranjero
Tal vez caiga Somoza, amor mio
and yet you know, hatred, even of meanness, contorts the features,
Anger, even against injustice, makes the voice hoarse
Oh we who wanted to prepare the ground for friendliness
Could not be ourselves friendly
Y sin embargo sabiamos tambien que el odio contra la abadesa desfigura la cara
Tambien la ira contra la injusticia pone ronca la voz
Desgraciadamente nosotros que queríamos preparar el camino para la amabilidad
No pudimos ser amables.
Perdoname amor, si no te nombro,
Fuera de tu canción soy el asceta,
La muerte y yo dormimos conjuntamente
Cantarte a tí tan solo me despierta
Incapaz de acción politica, no denuncio a mi solitaria vocación de cultura
A mi empecinada busqueda ontológica
A los juegos de la imaginación en sus planos más vertiginosos
Pero todo esto no mira ya en sí mismo y por sí mismo
No tienen ya nada que ver con el cómodo humanismo de los mandarines de occidente
Que lo mas gratuito que pueda yo escribir asomara siempre una voluntad de contacto con el presente histórico del hombre
Una participacion en su larga marcha a sí mismo como colectividad y humanidad
What thou lovest well is a true heritage
What thout lovest well shall not be taken from thee
Entonces todos los hombre de la tierra lo rodearon
Desvío el cadaver triste, emocionado, incorporose lentamente
Abrazó al primer hombre, y hechose a andar
Y en resumen tales son mis palabras
Que el amor es entre los dioses el más antiguo, el más venerable
El senor de los senores
Que en cuyas manos se encierra para los hombres vivos
Para los hombres toda posesión de virtud y bienaventuranza.
As you have seen, Phaedrus has a very ideal notion of love- a poetic interpretation of love. We can start to reflect what kinds of love we have.
One of the things that makes love ideal is to say that it is only one thing, and everything that isn’t that ideal is dishonorable. So what I am proposing is that there are two ideals of love: there is the older god of love, and there is one love whose nature is absorbed in ethereal desires: the common and the heavenly.
What is interesting in Pausanias is that he talks about the purpose of love. What is animating this love? Is it to not discriminate, to engage one’s lusts, one’s appetite, or is it more heavenly? Is it more about the soul than the body?
The other idea is that love is goal oriented, [it has to have a noble goal] so for example the love would be not noble if you are only thinking about the orgasm, and not the spiritual side.
As I go through these ideas, what’s interesting to me is my reaction to them, because I wonder what’s going to make them relevant to my life, or what’s going to make it relevant to the time I am speaking in. I think it is interesting and sad that we don’t have a definition of what a soul is.
Pausanias also talks about rules for love, that there are rules for love, that there is good and bad love.
What is bad love?
I don’t know…[however] I’ve had a lot of bad love…
Bad love could be publicly acknowledged [negative] sexual things like pedophilia. We [maybe also] are talking about masochistic love.
In psychology there is an idea that there is an unhealthy love for you.
It could be a much more subtle evil, doesn’t have to be about drug abuse.
My experience is that even bad love brings wisdom. If I am going out with someone who is insane, then maybe it will make me a little less insane…
I think the problem has to bring together bad and love. Part of the problem is that you can’t translate the term in a more subtle way, the way that they are referring to love, as it refers to the state and citizens and being a good person so that “bad love” is still “love” all the same but its not in the sense of pederasty, bestiality, those things mentioned as value judgments as we do today, such as adultery. Maybe [bad love] is more like ‘love that has to be conducted in secrecy”.
There are a lot of ideas here such as that love is more than about the body and beauty, and that once beauty its gone, the love is gone, and that a good love can endure the loss of beauty. What’s moving to me is this split that I see happens in contempoary culture, and that’s what makes more sense for me.
These speeches are not about love in how we relate [to each other], but on the idea of love and how we celebrate the spiritual love and how it is beneficial to society- because if one falls in love with someone who is good and you are trying to be good, there’s two people trying to be good, and this can only benefit society.
This issue of honor and dishonor in the text speaks about on whether its honorable for you individually or whether if it is for the greater good. It talks about some sort of workmanship to love rather of love for its own sake, which is also interesting to go over the art context about whether we are actually contributing something in the greater sense.
I think this talks about the idea of working out love, this idea that love should be this manageable thing… What means to work on your love? It means to make your love an ideal that you can work towards. After that notion of the ideal becomes institutionalized, you’ve got a lot of underpaid workers there! In art, seems to be same kind of thing, instead reverse: you can’t just love your art, you have to work at it
So what does Pausanias says about relationships today?
That’s where [Pausanias’ speech] doesn’t work for me, because I think it is a mixture for me of both- although I have to say in terms of , that the idea of healthy and unhealthy love seems to be something you see in a lot of talk shows, like Jerry Springer. Is that about bad love or is it about good love? I can’t answer if it is good or bad, but what is interesting to me is that a good love is something that lasts over time, that once the beauty has faded, there is a deeper love that goes beyond the body. That’s something that we talk about when we transfer it over to the state. Which is: Bill Clinton was the Daddy of America and suddenly became a national interest because how can he be a great leader of state if he can’t control his lower common self? This made American people very upset because they didn’t want to think about how perhaps this idea of a long term relationship would not work for everybody. So in this sense Lewinsky is perhaps an example of bad love, because of her interest in power, etc.
The other idea [ that I like] is that when you are truly in love you are of service to your partner. It could also be that because there is an understanding that their well-being is your well-being.
I want to go back to the issues of ethics , good vs. bad love. I am deeply troubled by it, and in thinking of a structure of discussion, only once before have I been at a dinner when the topic of love came up in an informal setting and the idea of raising the dinner conversation to the level of theater. The conversation stopper of that evening, [which I will bring up] in the spirit of this of this symposium, was: could you sleep with an artist whose work you didn’t like?
At some point we had to agree whether we would have to say yes or no. I would like to know by a show of hands, who would sleep with an artist whose work you didn’t like?
(some in the audience raise their hands)
How about sleeping with a curator whose work you didn’t like?
Socrates’ favorite thing is to take notes on what everyone is saying that check off contradictions and things like that… but in relationship to this, I wonder the kind of thing Socrates might say is that you have to define “like”, because by definition you don’t like anyone’s work more than you like yours, because otherwise you would be doing that work.
I would object to that idea, because if you were to reverse that question… I mean to say…if it is an artist whose work I like and I slept with him, then it’s the word “like” problematized?
Socrates doesn’t know what the word “problematized” is.
If you saw it and you like the work, the idea of a virtuous person who you admire and you like the work and turns you on?
A great artist is not necessarily a virtuous person. I think there are certain kinds of artists out there who don’t think of themselves first, but there are great artists whose social, human part is not working that well…
Also I want to say that in relation to the idea of sleeping with someone whose work you don’t like- you can see it in two ways: first as taking advantage of them by having a love of the flesh while you have a distaste for whatever they are trying to express through their work; or you can look at it as being very generous because maybe there are other things about their personality – the way they look, etc- that actually you are willing to overlook, and are willing to love somebody despite their imperfections.
This brings interesting questions, because if art is the only thing that is important to you, then what is your artwork about? Then, concerning this idea of tying philosophy to judgement, on whether something is good or bad… I am not the kind of person that believes in that kind of philosophy. I like to be confused, because when I am confused I am free, and there are not these kinds of categories, there are no categories that have to be broken all the time. There are a lot of things that I am thinking in terms of that duality.
Perhaps what you mean is that you don’t want to be ruled by permanent paradigms, but you don’t want either to be confused all the time?
Nobody in this dialogue says that they are confused, but in any case if anyone would say that, it would be Socrates himself…
The arguments presented in this Platonic dialogue are made in a way to support Socrates’ final comment, who solves the “problem” by breaking it down by categories. And [back to the realm of art] when you look at the art of the 60s and 70s, you can see that there are these artists who are trying to do that [deconstructing the essence of art]. Then look at the marketplace, where [art is objectified and] objects are bought and sold. Because there is money there, perhaps that’s bad love. And good love is when art can be experienced with no way to be bought and sold. So, what is the role of the market in this discussion? Maybe you should tell everyone about Andrea Fraser.
Andrea Fraser is an artist who is very involved with institutional critique. Most recently she did a piece that consisted in having sex with the collector- as part of the piece.
A word that we haven’t used in discussed honorable and dishonorable is ‘whoring” its not only marketplace, it’s about dirtiness… Andrea Fraser is asking “who owns who” in this experiment. Are they in power? Is someone more or less dignified for taking money for their work?
There is a difference between selling and selling out. She’s doing what she is doing in her own terms and she has created a context in which to do it; what she’s done is to maintain control of the context.
A lot of this is apart from the dialogue, but I am thinking what Socrates would say about this whole discussion about corruption…and he might say that money is not good nor bad- that stuff we are talking about in here is not in the dialogue, but one of the reasons it is not, aside from that its not related to art, is that it would be considered utilitarian, completely detachable, so it wouldn’t even matter what ends you were looking with your art.
For the sake of this conversation you can say that [the relationship between art and money] there is hypocrisy here, but is this hypocrisy relevant?
I don’t think Socrates would have been interested in any of this, so the question is what has happened in the 2000 years prior to this dialogue? Somehow we have figured that there is some sort of connection between these things, and we all sort of believe it but can’t really say how, and especially not in terms of this dialogue.
[We turn into ERYXIMACHUS speech]
[quoting from Eryximachus’ speech from the Symposium]:
…but one has to deal with the effect upon human beings of rhythm and harmony by a process known as composition or the right use of melodies and verse forms in what is called education difficult as it occur, which demand skillful artists we come back to the old notion that is the love felt by virtuous men which should be gratified and preserved, with the objective of making those virtuous who are as yet less so. This is the noble, the heavenly love, which is associated with the heavenly muse, Urania; but there is also a vulgar or common love associated with Polyhimnia, and anyone who employs this must exercise great caution in its choice of people upon whom to employ.
Love is in the air.
[Eryximachus puts on the radio and starts changing stations. The audience listens to various songs of love in different styles: salsa, bolero, religious songs, rap, Paulina Rubio, etc]
Its such a dirty old shame when you gotta take the blame for a love song, because the best love song is written with a broken heart. Now the tears in my eyes are ever blinding; the future that lies before me I cannot see. Although tomorrow I know the sun is rising lighting up the world but not for me.
Example B (little Kim)
I know a dude, his name is Jimmy
Used to run up imme
Night time, pissy drunk, off the hainy grainy
I didn’t mind it when he fucked me from behind
It felt fine
Specially we used to grind it
He was a trip when I sucked his dick
He used to pass me brick, credit cards and shit
Something to sleep, I took the keys to the jeep
Tell em I’ll be back
Don’t fuck some other cats
Flirting, getting numbers, in the Summer
Ho hop raw top you know mans drop
Then theres homy Jimmy hes screamy gimme
Lean in my back busting nuts in all in me
After 10 times we fucked
I think I bust twice
It was nice
Kept my neck full of ice
Put me in chanels, kept me on ice
Cold sucking his dick rocking the mike
There was something about this dude I couldn’t stand
Something that could have made his ass, really
Something I want, but I never was pushy
The motherfucker just never ate my pussy.
I don’t want dick tonight. Eat my pussy, right?
Oh oh oh
Li’l Kim L’il Kim
Bring it to me now
I know it dude
Push a cue
On Flatbush and Avenue U
Had a weak spot
Used to pump african black
Used to seal his bags
So his work was woodn cap
I used to see him in the tunnel
With fuckers at dawn
Whispered in my ear
You wanna get this fuck on
I dug him
So I fucked ‘im
He wasn’t nut
He wanted me to suck im
But I didn’t
I aint from
Sex was Wack
I jumped on his dick
Brought his ass to sleep
He called next week
Asking why I didn’t meet him
I thought your ass was still sleeping
Told me he bought it pack
Could he come over right could he come over right fast
And fuck my pretty ass
I’ll pass nigger
I think we’re stretched
If sex was record sales
You would be double plat
The only way you are seein’ me
Is if you are eating me
Downtown taste my love
Like forest brown
Try to impress me
With your five g-stones
I can be ten g’s nigger
If you leave me alone,
The moral of the story is this,
You ain’t licking this
You ain’t sticking this
And I’ve got witnesses
Ask any nigger I’ve been with
They ain’t eat shit
Til they stick their toungue in this.
I aint with that front shit
I got my own bends
I got my own ends
Me and my girls rock worlds
Some big niggers fuck for car keys
And double digit figures
Good dick I cherish
I could be blunt
I treat it like its precious
I ain t gonna front
For lectic niggers that front that they really
Suck my pussy
Till they kill me.
You feel me?
Example C: James Brown
Ha! I don’t care
About your past
I just want a love to last deep
I don’t care darlin about your faults
I just want to satisfy your pulse.
When you kiss me
When you miss me
Hold my hand
Make you understand
In a cold sweat
Ho ho ho
I don’t care about the wants
I just want HA to tell you about the do’s and don’ts
I don’t care about the way you treat me darling
I just want you to understand me, darlin’
When you kiss me
And you miss me
Hold me tight
Makes everything all right
Put it put it
Where is at now
Miss io miss io
Let me have it.
That owes its thanks to Eryximachus, Little Kim, James Brown, John Corbett, Terry Kapsalis, John Cage’s speech. Thank you.
Symposium- Second part
I will present something related to Aristophanes’s myth- the classic story that usually starts like a tagline of a film, something along the lines of “they were all alone in the world until they found each other” this is and old story, and everybody knows it, it’s the one about the search for the soul mate – so-called your other half but the belief that the romantic relationship between two people form some type of fullness is suspect these days. In the age of internet dating the intellectual part, the very basis of romantic love, concept that the personal fulfillment, the love for another, is often considered to be an embarrassing illusion, and the illusion that two form one is started by Aristophanes in Plato’s symposium. He proposes the idea that originally there were three sexes: a man, a woman, and a man-woman, and these humans had four arms and four legs; they had two legs looking the opposite ways, they walked upward but they often rolled over and over again on their hands and feet very very quickly, that way over large territories, and they were very powerful and strong, and actually threatened the gods. So Zeus decided to cut them into two, and when he divided they were very much saddened and clung to each other, so Apollo decided that he would rearrange their sexual parts in the direction of their faces so that when they embraced each other they would be able to have sex with each other and get some satisfaction from their embrace, and that would be true also of all the female and male humans. So that is how the idea of “looking for the other half”, and it has survived for thousands of years, and also has rationalized the idea of family and other needs in one person. So our notion of love, I think partially the idea of financial independence of women, along with advances in science, that make it possible for women to be artificially inseminated and have a child of their own, and even the idea that we can clone ourselves, and make another human out of one, so we are creating independence in countries that are technologically advanced and affluent. But love is still such an intense fascination … we seem inundated with the topic. I can’t think of any other topic, there are so many ruminations on the idea of love and manifestations and symbols of love in mass media, on the internet sites like love live, friendster and other offer many opportunities to hook up with individuals and the reality shows where people try to get the perfect match, and even the music industry, which since its earliest beginnings has been relying on the love song, sexual lyrics, of such explicitness that they verge on the comical- so we all seem desperate for a little amore but all these forms (television, internet, music industry) are really commodifying the idea of love, its not really about love at all, but about selling the idea of love. Were are in a society that emphasizes the self, and self preservation, and internet relationships tend to tell great risk- I think there is a certain disillusionment with love as this perfect oneness, that has to do with the internet – the idea of socializing from the isolation of the computer screen also we are living in a time when its increasingly open culture and part of this isolation could be that people are confused about what people’s sexual preferences are, and it is hard where to stand, or how to go about courtship, and there is still a very high divorce rate, that shows us how fragile relationship are, and that relationships cause a lot of emotional stress. I got a very sad talk! So this is the side that is shown in mass culture, mass media, but at the same time there is another thing going on- last summer I did studio visits with many studio artist and many were doing work that dealt with the subject of intimacy and desire, and love- although they would never say that this was what the work was dealing with. Also I think that some people, at least in Toronto, sort of expressed it through a camaraderie and openness that was very inspiring and there is this day, August 14th, the great blackout, when the whole city of Toronto, and new York, and many cities we experienced this very peaceful night that brought strangers together, this wonderful feeling in the air that you know its there, but you just need the time to experience it an enjoy it. And so I organized this exhibition showing this young artists entitled “the republic of love” and I basically wanted to give the audience an opportunity not only to see the work but also to reflect upon what the conceptions of love were in that context versus popular media. I won’t describe what was in the show, but I think it is something that is important, this idea of self-realization through love is perhaps not seen as something as a possiblity and I think love — where I grew up most people were encouraged, said you have to happen this yourself before you can see it happen it to someone else. Anyway that’s my stance on the subject of love and want to propose that if they misbehaved and perhaps that’s whats happened to us now instead of looking for another half we could be looking for three other quarters– that’s why there is interest in non-monogamous relationships and also growing population of people that define themselves as bi-sexual, searching experiences in more than one person.
Brings the idea of gender and asexual gender, and trasgender. This idea of self-definition instead of being defined by gender they are defined by themselves. Its almost a way to take these two halves and making them whole again but in a new way, people reinventing categories in order to have a greater sense of themselves. Maybe it is three fourths that are together. How can a marriage survive that?
I think what makes it sound fresh from the gender perspective contemporary parlance of contemporary gender politics that gender has this essentialist notion relates to identity is gender is something like means to an end I think. Wholeness is the issue, not gender. When you think about gender it’s a charged issue, but I think the issue of love in a broader, holistic sense, love and socialization, love and its relationship to medicine, as the foundation of other things, as opposed to “now we can’t talk about love unless we talk about the institution of marriage”, the issue of marriage does not even come into this conversation.
The idea of romantic love and marriage is very new- with the rise of the bourgeoisie, that is something that we are supposed to seek out, a mate that you are in love with and get married to, instead of an arranged marriage or marry for money or for family reasons.
But when we use the idea of modern love, what time does that entail? Renaissance or..?
There is a book by Dennis Cuchebrand [ sp?] called “love in the Western world” its all about the origins of modern romantic love that is rooted in the Trobadours in the XIIth century, and so brings up things like Tristan and Isolde and other romantic periods, that would like be an anti-Platonic reading: marriage, love, fall, separation…
One of the things that interests me about Aristophanes story is that it’s not a Hollywood plot, – a man and a woman getting together- it’s about all these different kinds of ways that these relationships can happen. But aside from that, I think its not about finding wholeness, but about getting rid of loneliness. I mean, when I read that all I thought was the desire to completely not feel alone in the world, and the desire to unify with someone else was didn’t matter who it was, just finding that other half
This question would be an out of character in the dialogue, but why would you say that none of the characters in the dialogue talk about loneliness?
I think that the tone Aristophanes’ story, which is quite fantastic and somehow has a sort of “are you serious” quality, eliminates a certain human set of motivations- such as loneliness. The tale has something of an Eastern influence…
I just want to mention that homosexuality in Plato’s time is very common and accepted, and also that Aristophanes claims that the union between the male beast divided into two is the purest type of love, which I think is largely due to the fact that is a very male-dominated society, and also that the perfect union man-man, they are longing to be with each other but they cannot say why is it that they need to be with each other and that is why Aristophanes makes this story up.
Just want to mention that in the literature on the Symposium people make a lot of that, and they make it into this whole story of the enigma of the story of love, that one passage, which is a very brief passage- becomes the whole —– that Aristophanes is really aiming at, that he loves to talk about but you don’t know why, that’s another kind of romantic projection, of romantic love back into the past .
Here is where Agathon has to weigh in- as he comes after Aristophanes in this speech- and he is into is to understand what this whole idea of wholeness is about, and he questions Aristophanes in what the is forgetting about this kind of higher power which is God, and the love to God is what is truly important.
So what I thought would do would be to first explain what Agathon says, and then how this translates into the notion of how art, which is a product of love, (according to Agathon) how art makes us whole.
He says first: love is blessedest of gods, he also is the youngest, because he did not exist in the early years, when the gods were at war.
The things that were done before love were done out of necessity only unlike other things in humankind. So love is young and dwells in soft places, in hearts and souls.
Love is all flexibility and grace, and like any natural thing, it cannot do or suffer wrong.
Men and women serve the god of love out of their own free will, and where there is love there is obedience, and where there is love there is justice. However, love is the ruler of desires, and love can conquer war… etc.” and he goes on and on. But I will try to break it down a little bit and tell you what he would actually say about art:
Love is the fairest and blessedest and the best of gods, it is also the youngest, because the love was not invented out of not necessity, like other things in humankind.
Art is also invented out love, not out of necessity; There is something youthful about making art; Art does not become important for being useful
Love is always young and dwells in soft places, like the hearts and souls of people.
Art that only exists in people’s brains is not real art; art that you don’t feel something for is not real art.
Love is all flexibility and grace, and like any natural thing, it cannot do or suffer wrong.
If art is the product of love, and if love is all flexibility and grace, then there is nothing such as bad art. Meaning, Art is only what it is, because it could not be either good or bard, so it should not be treated as something wrong.
Men and women serve the god of love out of their own free will, and where there is love there is obedience, and where there is love there is justice.
Art is a disinterested activity- which makes me think that political art or commercial art don’t really exist or are not real art.
However, love is the ruler of desires, and love can conquer war.
Art can help us do things that can help us would improve the world. And Art can defeat politicians
Love is the author of poetry and generates poetry in others
Art generates art in others
Love is the core of creation, as we are all the product of an act of love,
Art is the core of its own creation, because we create art once we see art and learn the language of art;
Love makes humans to be of one mind at a banquet
Art is a language that we all share and make us a universal community;
Love fills us with affection and empties us out of disaffection
We recognize each other through this language, and can fall in love with each other;
The pilot, helper, defender, saviour of men, in whose footsteps every man follows is love.
Which I think in equal portion it can be that
Art can take us to safe places where we can better deal with this world,
Art is a savior of our tormented minds,
Art, as a product of love, can make us grow,
Making Art is a different way of making love,
The best art we have made in our lives contains all our love,
We love art because it makes us strong,
Because it makes us richer, because if makes us better than who we are,
Even if everything ends, if the world disappears, if we have to live in wholes
We can thing about things and think about them as art,
The limits of art is only the limit of our imagination and it does keep us, if not necessarily young, it does keep me alive.
I want to make a toast to our love, for art.
That was really interesting, because I did something very similar to that, but also different, because what you did was to take the word “love” and substituted it with “art”; what I did was to go through the dialogue and substituted the word “love” with “love of art”; its an important kind of difference, because what you were doing was changing the subject, in a sense – which is not to say you didn’t get truths out of that- whereas my notion was if every time they say “love” they “say love of art” then you know they are taking the subset as an example, seeing if the doctrine applies, so this is what I was toying with. And I got this idea from that book on painting by Derrida, in which he says at the beginning that the subject is the shape of the desire for truth, in what it pertains to painting; and so there would be other shapes for the desire of truth. So in this case there would be love and there would be shapes of love when it pertains of art- it would be like a special case. But, while this has been going on, Socrates has been making a list of all the things that would have baffled him, and then things that he would have disagreed with.
Among the things that would have baffled him would have been what Ryan (Pausanias) said about the embrace of ambiguity- because the shape of his dialogues for the classicists that study that- is that they (called aporiatic dialogues) lead to a state where the person arguing with Socrates is reduced to a baffling idiot, the aporia is the person who has no idea what they are claiming anymore and this happens a couple of times in this dialogue, like in this bit where Socrates questions Agathon. Then there is a thing called “elenchus, or elenctic dialogues” when you demonstrate, through this immeasurable series of horrifying annoying questions, that the person actually holds the opposite to what they were claiming minutes before. So the reason why I think what we have been doing would have baffled Socrates, is that I think we don’t have anything against that, if any of us could actually sum up that kind of rhetoric we would be happy to have someone say “okay, I have no idea what I am saying”, but then we would enjoy that, so that ambiguity is, as the art historian —- would say, a use of power for us- a lot of contemporary art is based on trying to find ambiguity- we love the kind of darkness and obscurity and the difficulty- but in these dialogues that would truly baffle Socrates, because if we ever reach the point in our conversations where we would know what to do, Socrates would say: “okay, now what? Let’s not be there anymore”.
I think that these dialogues are about trying to created order. But I would say now that people are more interested in embracing chaos. That may be the difference – now what is interesting to me is to look back and see how order was important to these people, and now I start to see how there may be a need in our culture for search for some kind of a balance…
Well, in a way that was the origin of this whole discussion. Usually the discussions that take place nowadays feel so unstructured that I really wanted to know what would happen if you really try to follow some sort of structure.
There are a couple of books that have come out on beauty and the search for clarity and balance, so this is in the air…
Just to add, in our political time, which is so conservative, this interest in balance is in fashion. As soon as you got this isolated point of view, and you are out doing stuff in the world… you have to allow chaos…
I think that is completely true and some of these people who are writing stuff about beauty and truth, they are seriously conservative and old-fashioned.
You would ask yourself on whether there is any artist who wants to make something that is not ambiguous. At the Art Institute in Chicago we have these Koreans who are educated in a very conservative art setting, and they really don’t like ambiguity. One of my students brought a picture of a fish, a happy fish with smiley face and eyelashes, and said that it was a self-portrait. I said that couldn’t be because no one is that happy, and she said ‘I am’.
The next thing that would have baffled Socrates, was [the notion] that values are essential. This comes up a number of times. Communities believe that an artwork of like Rembrandt is good because many believe so- this would be what we would call “re-response criticism” in other words, that Moby Dick can mean anything if your class decides what it means. That is really different from these dialogues, where goodness is beauty, inherently, is not because the majority voted for it, but because these are eternal facts.
The third thing I think that would baffle Socrates would be called “pscyhologisms”, which is is values or judgements of psychological origin or best explained through psychology, for example self-esteem, destructive relationships, relating, and loneliness particularly.
Then in terms of “love of art”, that it has a moral character or a virtue, like a moral purpose. Second that “love of art” entails moderation or temperance, which is an idea that is completely out since the Renaissance, basically- noboby is trying to moderate anything- nobody is trying to de decorous and balanced. Also, love for art is “tough, and shriveled, and homeless,” which sounds too much like the [romantic struggling] artist idea. There is also this thing about immortality, that “love of art” “wants reproduction, or immortality in birth and beauty”, “love of art neither comes to be nor passes away”, “love of art is not anywhere in any other thing, but itself, by itself, with itself”- that is the moment in which Plato supposedly enters the dialogue. I think there is a huge gulf there between our attitudes and Socrates’ attitudes. First of all, we don’t believe in that we are making stuff for the ages in the sense that Michaelangelo was, and then there’s this whole thing about creativity here, which is close to old clichés of creativity and depends on the equation of art and beauty so it’s a real pre-modernist idea- you could hold to it, but you would have to be someone like Odd Nerdrum in order to believe anything like that. Then there’s this question that love of art that love of art could really be known through the kind of discussions that we are holding, and here I think the misunderstanding would be mutual: because to Plato, there would be way too many digressions, we are not sticking to the point, we just like to chat – “chat” is not a Greek word, I guess- and the incomprehension would be mutual- there is a lot of great literature about how awful person Socrates was, there’s great stuff that Nietzsche’s written about how he was the “disease” that was produced by the decadence of the Greek society, that he was the gadfly, famously, but mostly, that he was this annoying person, which was a source of truth but also of breaking the illusion- so there would be a mutual mistrust: Plato would mistrust our dialogue as much as we distrust his. There is a fair amount of scholarship about how this is not really philosophy, and not really a dialogue, and not really a narrative, but a mixture of all rest of them, the way that it comes on the fourth, fifth, sixth hand, that someone remembers that he told someone else then told it wrong so he retells to him again, and this exercise makes a lot of people these days ask why it had this form, why there are speeches that didn’t have the final truth- so that problems we have with that would be reciprocated- there would be problems if we tried to insert this conversation there.
Would it be perhaps that the theatrical form helped to make a clearer story and really convey the point more strongly?
One kind of answer is that back then they only had a limited set of categories for the kinds of dialogues, and all that was in what we now call poetry, but they conceptualized them in different ways, but the other kind of answer is that the truths that happen in the dialogue are the kind of truths that pertain to concepts that are so widely held in life that they are entangled with many other concepts- that is why its so easy for Socrates to set these trip wires for everybody, because you can’t have consistent set of beliefs unless they are fenced off, so the point therefore of having a dialogue like the Symposium, which is not just a doctrine, but which actually takes the people through the steps of humiliation, by Socrates’ hand- the point is that because these things have so far-reaching connections, therefore every reader has to rediscover in the answers of the hapless people what their answers would be, so it has to be enacted. But then there’s still an enigma which I still don’t see anyone giving an answer to- which is when Plato starts speaking in his voice, which is what happens when the simply writes his doctrine- then how does Plato want people to think about that in relation to what he wrote before, because how come there is other kind of truth that doesn’t require that kind of dialogue?
In terms of what we would agree on, is that the love of art has to do with seduction. This whole rhetorical business of the dialogue is about seduction, and that becomes obvious at the end, when Alcibiades comes to Socrates and says “all what you say has no truth or content, all you wanted to do is to seduce me”. That is a way of twisting the whole thing, so I thought point of contact is that artworks are about seduction. There’s all kinds of parallels between the language of talking about liking art and the language of love, and the rhetoric of seduction and the way of speaking in studios. Sometimes when students are fiddling in their studios, getting them ready for the critique, it’s a lot like being in front of the mirror, with makeup and things like that, although its not you who wants to do the seducing but it’s the work. This infamous word, “interesting” , its like a post-modern stand-in for whatever statements that are not being made; but for this context it’s also infuriating because it shows that the seduction is not going well!
The second one has to do with Aristophanes’ doctrine of doubles and all that. But the idea of ‘complement’ is similar to a word used by Derrida uses, which is “simplelong” which is the thing that matches you from you which you were divided before history began, which you don’t necessarily recognize but which you need, so I am not continuing your critique but I think you can really use this, because if for love you substitute “love of art” then the doctrine is really nice, because then it would mean that art is the simplelong, it is the thing that complements you, but you can’t ever reattach yourself to it, ever.
There is also this nonverbal way, where it gives but it remains a mystery.
In fact art is in a better position, as it can always remain mysterious, whereas love normally fails to be mysterious forever.
There is a passage from Daniel Halpern, who teaches at MIT, who says about this idea that Eros (love) “springs from a sense of lack or limitation, it pursues a fullness of being that forever moves in and in the course of that continuous struggle establishes a tenuous whole on existence or presence”. Which is something that sounds reasonable to me?
Then there is this thing where, in this infamous passage, there is a lot written about how this dialogue anticipates Judeo-Christian, Christian love (agape) but apparently both Saint Agustine and Jerome both say that the Symposium contains a lot of Judeo-Christian values, and apparently there was a lot of backlash against that, and now people are returning to this idea that there is genuinely an expansion of the idea of love past the limits of the Greek language, and this special kind of love, which is similar to the Christian idea of love. One example is Kierkegaard, who asks “what is “love thy neighbor?”” and the answer is “he who I love as my neighbor is not the object defining love but the nature of love that defines the object”. And St. Augustine in the “City of God” there is a passage where he is talking about different kinds of love and says “there is a love which is itself to be loved, there is a love which is not to be loved, and there is the “agape”, the human virtue which is the right order, free… unimposed of human love by human love itself”. That’s the expand of Christian “agape”. So in a sense this love for art would be this whole consuming kind of thing; we wouldn’t be able to theorize it in the rest of the dialogue.
Then there is this notion that you could use the Symposium to prove that art is interpretation, and it would go this way: Diotima treats “interpretation” itself as an erotic enterprise; Diotima tells Socrates that Eros serves as “an interpreter between gods and men, filling and bridging the gap between beings who otherwise would never meet”, and so the whole art of love and also the prophetic interpretation depends on Eros, so interpretation itself (or, in this case, the love of art itself) would be a form of interpretation.
Another that love of art could be understood as an obligation. That would be from a notion that Derrida has that art is an unasked-for gift, that when you walk into a gallery and you see something it’s a gift to see it but you didn’t ask for it; the gift is on a form that you didn’t quite anticipate, as the experience is unique and surprising, so it instills in you this sense of obligation that you have to return, but because it is an artwork, you can’t return it, there is nothing to give back. Then Derrida goes into all different kinds of ways in which people try to return it: by becoming curators, or becoming art historians and try to tell the “truth” of it, or becoming conservators and trying to physically change it…
Why would that be seen as a return of a gift, as opposed to the claiming of ownership of it?
Because it can’t; because it is a gift of truth, because you return the truth; but in the wider sense of “gift” there is no really giving back.
So what strikes me about that is that after a lifetime of looking at art you’ve got a very complex sense of unfulfilled obligations…
And the last thing: it struck me that talking about how we love art as we are doing here, has maybe in a way of hiding from actually loving art; this occurred to me because I am reading this book by George Perec, his biography entitled “W”, where every other chapter is about this childhood, and there is a chapter of a story that he wrote when he was thirteen or fourteen about a mythical island off Tierra del Fuego, where everybody plays a sport, and then what happens as you read about the island in excruciating detail, things start go to terribly wrong, judgment is arbitrary, and women are kept sequestered until the age of fourteen, so it is a story of a place that tried to keep the world at bay but that fantasy keeps getting more and more horrific; so it occurs to me that there’s a way of arguing that the whole dialogue – and our discussion- is a way to keep at bay what is going on in art, and there are ways to support this by looking at the text. Halpern says “to fix one’s case on a literary object (and I would substitute here with “art”) which is to say in the prospect of someone else’s neurotic activity is a perversion of direct desire”; which is to say that the Symposium is fundamentally perverse, because it is about someone else’s desire, and what you should do is to stop the conversation and just love the art.
Alcibiades comes all the way in the end, drunk. I am not drunk, but I will summarize a bit about Alcibiades’ position that I align myself with… he is overwhelmed and obsessively in love with Socrates, and is completely unafraid to embarrass himself, ready to speak the truth. And Socrates has basically summed up Symposium. From the position of Alcibiades, we talk about replacing love with art, and the question of sleeping with someone whose work you didn’t like, from his perspective the point is the experience, that its all about the position- Alcibiades has this interesting, introverted perception created by being inebriated and open, in a way he is talking about it all is an issue of perception. And I think that in that case, being able to grasp what the real situation is depends on how one sees it. And definitely within my own practice, once we are acting one role out, I don’t want to be pretending to be something, but I want to be “something”. I think Alcibiades’ idolatry of Socrates is mythological. The position that I identify with is having a completely uncynical, possibly naïve, yet completely genuine belief that one is doing is large and effectual and that is the core of what one wants. There is a book entitled “Against Love” by Laura Kipnis, and it is polemic because she speaks intentionally against love, it’s about being confronted against love. Her ostensible argument is that Western American, monogamous love, is a completely archaic form- in other words, what she is arguing, is that monogamy is dead, and we should accept it, and society will favor a long-term monogamous relationship over a happy one. But what her argument ends ups being – and she goes into a really long list and diatribe of things you can’t do with monogamy- its actually creating your own circumstances. And this is what Alcibiades does- he decides what he wants and goes for it. And in art too, there is so much art history that asks are you a techno artist, a conceptualists, neo conceptualists, all these fake point of application – and I think the underlying thing that you have to be cognescent of is that it is “my life” and that you have to construct it yourself. And love, like art, is one’s own construct. I am talking about a life-long investment that becomes one’s own legacy that we leave behind.