Plato: Love’s Ladder

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I confess I always wanted a different image than the ladder of the Symposium — Diotima’s ladder.  It made it seem that as you ascended, the lower stages got further and further below, discarded as false steps, each step up a rejection of the trusty rung below, the rungs that, after all, got you up there.  But can we think of the climber carrying those trusty predecessor levels up with him, as he ascends?

Then the result would be a love that increases in richness, as the journey progresses, the stew of love holding all the early ingredients in suspension, a new stage being a new pot, new seasoning on its sides, new veggies and sauce, too, giving shape and flavor to the ‘higher’ stage without abandoning the flavor of yesterday’s meal.  Love would increase in an additive, cumulative process rather than by rejecting the old for the new.   Would this work as a reading of Plato?  Any experts out there?

Here’s a line from Bugbee that started me thinking, once again, along these lines:

Philosophic appreciation of beauty [getting high up the ladder] carries us into a transcendent beauty, embracing all that leads us that way, and transmuting the beautiful as a manifold, as in a decisive chord.

[This sentence comes from his essay on the sublime, mentioned in this morning’s post.]

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10 comments on “Plato: Love’s Ladder

  1. dmfant says:

    perhaps it makes more sense to talk in terms of deepening rather than ascending?
    immanence instead of transcendence, and if this doesn’t work with Plato than perhaps his time has past…

    • efmooney says:

      Well, if the immanent is constantly transmuted, then there’s a transcendence of it integral to that transmutation. Of course “the transcendent” makes it seem like we’re in a two-worlds metaphysics (not the way to go).

  2. David O'Hara says:

    If you want to preserve the idea of ascent, perhaps the image of a mountain is better, allowing the slopes below always to remain in view. And the climb is always dependent upon the continued upholding presence of what is below. When you climb a mountain you hope not to see less but more, the whole mountain at once.

    • efmooney says:

      I love the idea of the lower slopes supporting the upper ones; and you can see more up there, which is the aim. But wouldn’t it be nice to have an image where the lower levels can be felt even as one is ‘higher.’ Perhaps the muscles’ ache carry on as one climbs, giving one the prolonged erotic taste of the lower work even as one changes height.

      • David O'Hara says:

        Yes, I was thinking of that, too. One wants to be supported by the lower slopes and, at the same time, feel their weight. Sometimes, here on the prairie, I tell myself that the mountains are all underground. When I do so, I begin to feel them beneath my feet.

  3. Catlin Lowe says:

    Never in my life would I have come with mountains ‘all underground’. This is truly a gift.

    • Catlin Lowe says:

      (‘ . . . come up with . . . ‘ wink wink)

      • David O'Hara says:

        I wish I could take full credit for the idea, Catlin, but it was suggested to me years ago when I was working in Poland. On one visit to Kraków, a friend took my students and me to a historic silver mine. The place was called Tarnowska Góra, I think, and “góra” means “mountain.” But the place is completely flat. So I asked someone there, “Where is the mountain?” She smiled and pointed downwards, below our feet. Later, after moving to South Dakota, I saw O.E. Rolvaag’s book “Giants In The Earth.” Still haven’t read it, but the title reminded me of Tarnowska Góra, and since then I have thought of the prairie as the place where the mountains are all underground. When I think the words as I walk the prairie, I can sort of feel the mountains underfoot. Having grown up in places with visible mountains, thinking these words does my soul a lot of good when I am homesick.

  4. Catlin Lowe says:

    Gifts on gifts, David! This is the stuff of great writing. (Annie Dillard famously stole her bloody-pawed cat. Careful: you’re inviting a heist here.) Like you, I grew up in the mountains and in absence of their compass, I struggle to feel that I’m anywhere at all. What exactly were you doing in Poland? One of my most favorite persons lives there and I almost feel I’ve been through his stories. Every good thing, C.

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