Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Still Teaching -- Symposium of Wasps

Reading my favorite dialogue in seminar today, The Symposium -- reading it as an address, embrace, and rueful celebration of a capacious and queer (that is to say, different from our own, but kin) queerness, and of the way we do, and are done, and undone, and done in by desire. For this reading to work, you have to treat Socrates' contribution less as a successful policing operation synthesizing the views of love that have preceded it domesticating them into an advocacy of that comparatively tepidly affectionate pedagogical duty "Platonic Love" but as just one more contribution the idiosyncrasy of which tells us about the specificity of desire of the speaker -- this view is helped along first by the fact that the other voices in the dialogue are far stronger than Plato usually allows Socrates' robotically acquiescent interlocutors (indeed, the ideas that linger on, like the army of lovers and the myth of the origin of love in the retributive splitting of spherical prehumans by fearful gods are gifts from other speakers than Socrates) and second by the fact that Socrates' speech is disrupted and performatively refuted by the late appearance of the jealous jilted Alcibiades. Also, we're talking about Aristophanes' stunning play Wasps, which begins with dreamers in a dreamlike scene and never quite manages to seem otherwise than a phantasm, in which men unmanned by the passage of personal and political history displace their agency and their anxieties onto the field of corrupt democracy. My lecture on Wasps is going to to be quite brief because the play is providing an occasion for the course's first workshop on close reading as argumentation, in which small groups must choose one of the fantastic images in the play (a dreamlike house under a vast thick fishing net with snoring dreamers encrusting the walls and roof like barnacles, superannuated bully-boys in wasp outfits wreaking havoc in the night with phallic stingers for tails, a democratic assembly in the kitchen consisting of dogs and pots and pans) and suggest at least three quite distinct theses making claims about the play as a whole that might be substantiated by making recourse to a reading of that single chosen image.

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