Sunday, November 27, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 33.3 (Plato)

Plato's Dialogue on Friendship
Plato's Dialogue on Friendship

Purchased at the Fordham University bookstore. The title page bears a read stamp noting that the book arrived in the store in July of 1991 and cost $7.95. A quick search on Amazon reveals that the book is still in print and has more than tripled in price since then. It now costs $24.95. Good thing the student loan industrial complex has arisen to allow students to add several thousands of dollars to their student debt by paying exorbitant prices for textbooks.

This one was purchased for a graduate course I took as an undergraduate. Aside from the few remaining requirements I had to fulfill during my final year of college, I took a number of graduate seminars in English and one in political philosophy. I think I took the political philosophy course in the fall. My spring semester I took two or three graduate English seminars. I was testing the waters of graduate school. At the time they felt a little tepid.

I am not sure exactly which course I read this book for. I remember the teacher, Dr. Mary Nichols, who was a brilliant classicist that used everything from Plato to Shakespeare to teach political science. Her only drawback was that she was very conservative politically. I don't think I have ever had a teacher who heaped so much scorn on left-wing politics in such a learned and sarcastic way.

None which should suggest that I sympathized with her politics, but I admit that I am a sucker for biting wit from whatever quarter. If you can't laugh at yourself, then who can you laugh at? I took three or four courses with her, mostly, I guess, because of what I was explaining about Plato a couple of days ago. I have never been good at attacking a subject head on, especially in a classroom setting. I have always, found, however, that by approaching it from a different direction, especially through the medium of literature, I can get a pretty firm grasp on the thing at hand.

Nichols' classes functioned much like this. She allowed wide latitude in our approach. I once wrote a paper on Aristotle and the 'golden mean' that was an imitation of a Platonic dialogue. The central metaphor was a flexible canoe developed by the Aleut eskimos. It's flexibility allowed it to attack the choppy ocean waters much more aggressively than, say, a stiff boat made of rigid wood. I never would have been allowed to write such a thing in another class, but she accepted it and engaged the dialogue at the level of the ideas. A rare trait, indeed.

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