Sorry, I was short on images – here’s some polka-dot giftwrap and junk ad faces.
The coffee is bad here: it tastes like liquefied plasterboard laced with gypsum. (By “here” I mean home.)
On Wednesday I heard a guy trying to explain the concept of “Plato’s cave” to his son, while we were all waiting in line at Ray’s Hardware Store. I wish that you could have heard his version of the allegory. I wish I had brought a recording device along with me (I still don’t own a “smart phone”), for then I could transcribe here the script of my eavesdropping verbatim. Instead I’ll copy what an encyclopedia says that Plato says that Socrates says:
Several prisoners have spent an entire lifetime chained up, facing a blank wall inside a cave. There is a fire burning behind them. When objects pass before this fire, shadows are projected on the wall in front of the prisoners. These shadows are taken to be their sole reality.
Now here is what the same tangle of sources says that we can glean from this setup (I refrain from quoting the text of the Republic directly, since I like the effects of this semi-competent messengers’ game of restatement):
Enlightened ones, gnostics or knowers – those who attain resurrection prior to dying – are people who broke away from the chains in the cave: they understand that the shadows on the wall are not the whole of reality; they perceive all forms trans-dimensionally, rather than only the flat, hackneyed shadows seen by the prisoners.
By the way, the “game of restatement” that I referred to above is also known as “Russian scandal,” “whisper down the lane,” “broken telephone,” “grapevine,” “don’t drink the milk,” “secret gossip,” and “trickle-down pink slip.”
Now I’m sure I’ll make a corned beef hash of this, but I want to try to communicate the allegory the way that the guy relayed it to his son in Ray’s Hardware Store. He told it sort of like a fairy tale.
And it came to pass that president Nebuchadnezzar posted a legally binding status on the social network, which decreed as follows:
Every corporate person who shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, at 4:20 sharp this coming Saturn-day, shall fall down and worship my new golden image. (Earlier in the week, Nebuchadnezzar had made an image of gold, and set it up on top of the House of the LORD, next to the solar horses.)
Furthermore, the update stipulated that whoever fails to fall down and worship the image should be cast into the burning lake of fire.
But when the musick began to play, and there was heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, there were three gods among the corporate persons who refused to bow down, and they did not worship; for, being gods, they knew that, when it comes to praise, it is better to receive than to give.
Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against the gods: therefore he spake, and commanded the most mighty multinationals among the corporate persons who lived in his stock portfolio to bind the gods and cast them into hell.
Then these gods were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the burning lake of fire.
(For in hell made the LORD God to grow every flame that is pleasant to the touch; and the lake of fire also in the midst of the cave.)
And this fire burned with the fury of ten thousand suns – it was so bright that it would dazzle whoever glanced at it. As it is written: “If one is compelled to look straight into the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away from the marvels thereof? Yet if one arises resolutely and turns round and offers his being unto the light, he will be warmed by difficult pleasures; the glare will perplex him, and at last he will become unloosed from the tyranny of reason.” Also recall what William Blake hath reported:
…I was walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity.
So the corporate stooges led the three personal gods past the podium of the president, and behind the spectator seating, into the fire; and the imprisoned populace, known as “the free people,” surmised this mischief by watching the shadows that danced on the wall.
Then president Nebuchadnezzar grew astonished, and rose up in haste, and tweeted unto his followers: “Did not we cast three gods bound into the midst of hell?”
And they answered and replied unto the president: “Amen, sensei.”
And he said: “Lo, but there is just one single trinity inside the fire; and this sight appears in no wise like a blazing evergreen, or a bush unconsumed, but instead like a voice that is walking in the cool of the day. Plus I spy an extra form taunting me from within, and it is female.” For shadows are like clouds: one sees what one wills.
Thus Nebuchadnezzar shuffled in reverse toward the shoreline of the burning lake of fire; and he spoke, and said: “O triune deity, I adjure thee: send yon maiden forth unto us; for the Godhead is no place for a virgin damozel. Only fathers and sons are allowed beyond this point: no mothers or daughters; as it saith in the sacred scroll that Hilkiah embellished.”
Now the man who was recounting this lore to his son in the checkout line at Ray’s Hardware Store paused for questions. And the infant lifted up his voice and said, “No questions have I, but only an observation: The shadows are far less important than the beings who were writhing in the flames, because those fire-dancers blew the breath of life into the nostrils of the shadows: they verily spoke them into existence; and causes trump effects, bless the Primum Mobile.”
But I argued that shadows are an improvement on the beings who cast them – for all casters are shackled to verisimilitude, and thus limited like Reality Television; whereas shadows are bigger than life: curious, poetic, irrepressible as German Expressionism (I mean the film style that became prevalent around the 1920s). And I could tell that the child agreed with me, on account of my superior speech and gestures (I move like a magician).
But the father huffed and said, “No, the agents that generate the forms are more important than the shadows they cast, because real creatures are more colorful than shades; and when you force them to labor, they cry.”
But I said, “Your system is vulgar. The best among us want to escape from reality, not offer it tax breaks.”
But then it hit me: the man has a point. For I read somewhere that, although by now the centuries have eroded away most of the evidence, the Greeks originally glamor’d their statues with paint. I like that idea. So I told the guy that we’re both right in our own way: “I have nothing against old Technicolor films.”
“And I’ll humor,” said he, “your ‘glorious’ black-and-white.”
The fire, however, outdoes everything: the dancers, the shadows, the cave itself and our foemen.
For it is no credit to a man that he is not morbid or inaccurate in his perception, when he has no strength of feeling to warp them; and it is in general a sign of higher capacity and stand in the ranks of being, that the emotions should be strong enough to vanquish, partly, the intellect, and make it believe what they choose. But it is still a grander condition when the intellect also rises, till it is strong enough to assert its rule against, or together with, the utmost efforts of the passions; and the whole man stands in an iron glow, white hot, perhaps, but still strong, and in no wise evaporating; even if he melts, losing none of his weight.
That’s from Modern Painters (Vol. III, Ch. xii) by John Ruskin.
Yes, nothing beats standing in line at Ray’s Hardware Store.
But why does fire always have to win? I wish I hadn’t talked about the cave.