Tag Archives: Plato

Mind Lives On the Heart

Now that Mars in Leo stations direct in the year of the Tiger, things move forward with a roar. You can put out a saucer of milk if you like, but a bloody slab of meat might yield better results.

Emily also wants to ponder this business of eating and feeding.

#1355, c. 1876

The Mind lives on the Heart
Like any Parasite —
If that is full of Meat
The Mind is fat.

But if the Heart omit
Emaciate the Wit —
The Aliment of it
So absolute.

The first time I read this, I thought the word in the second to last line was “ailment” not “aliment”. Very different. In my mistaken reading, the Wit grows sick. In the second reading, the one Emily intended, the Mind starves from lack of food from the Heart. So completely does the Mind depend on the Heart’s nourishment that when deprived of it—following the logical progression suggested by the word “aliment”—the Mind or Wit (now a starved parasite) detaches its hold and moves down the alimentary canal, the intestines, etc., to depart the body through an ignoble exit . . . like any piece of turd.

What a thorough condemnation of intellect uninformed by emotional intelligence. Emily says it’s just shit. Next time somebody wants to characterize her as a decorous Lady Poet, please point that reader toward this poem.

She arranges the power dynamics so that the heart stands above the mind in the hierarchy of who is in charge of what. Not only does the mind depend on the heart to keep it alive, but the heart may, if it chooses, slough off this weaker thing. If the heart grows weary of supporting this parasite, the host may withdraw its food/love, thus starving out the intruder. In such an arrangement, the mind better behave itself, not get too fat or burdensome to this bountiful muscle of heart.

Emily’s hierarchy of power that puts heart above mind is a direct subversion of the stuff I am reading in Plato’s Symposium lately. At times, I grow impatient with this Platonic elevation of the mind without really knowing why. Difficult to articulate how this writing makes me feel boxed in. Something is missing from these lofty perorations on love. In Plato’s dialogues, of course, the element most often missing is the presence of women. Also missing is all that women would most likely bring to a discussion on love, which is that they’re really not all that interested in a discussion of love. That’s like discussing dance or food or sex. You’re kinda missing the point, if you’re discussing it. That’s how it feels when the heart meets too much emphasis on the mind. When something essential has been diminished, then the heart will exercise its superior power to rid itself of the offenders, which can feel like an earthquake. If we are not able to understand this by reading poems, then the earth itself will show us.

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Love and Toyotas

“Women have been replaced with spell-check and porn,” says Rudy. “But there isn’t a computer program in the world that will fix your car for you.”

Rudy’s voice comes through a little muffled because he is deep into the dashboard of my elderly Toyota, where he is fiddling with the radio that hasn’t worked in a long time. Rudy and Kristine were my neighbors years ago. I love them because they are solidly pro-dog and generous with their hospitality and wine. That and Rudy occasionally shows up to fix things. My payment for this kindness is that I listen to unsolicited opinions on the relative uselessness of women. Still, I like Rudy a lot. Generally, I introduce him as, “This is my friend Rudy with an emphasis on the Rude.” He has a mouth like a garbage pail, but his heart is as big as the great outdoors.

Rudy reappears from the guts of my Toyota. “Okay, this is a long shot. Do you . . . by any wild chance . . . have a phillips-head screwdriver? It’s the one that looks—”

“I know what it looks like. And yes, I have one.” I hand him the screw driver. Nicely. I reflect that I am grateful at least for the nod to spell-check. Also Rudy usually repairs Black Hawk helicopters, so my little Camry is lucky to receive such expertise. I am tempted to remind Rudy that just two days earlier I had cast his astrological chart for him and walked him through his moon in Taurus and Libra ascending. He was briefly fascinated by this study before turning his attention to the more absorbing problem of my Toyota. Nor do I point out that he would curl up and blow away like an Autumn leaf were it not for the emotional sustenance he accepts from the women in his life. That might be ungracious given that he is fixing my car for me, and he is also going to get my water heater working again. The pilot light somehow extinguished itself in the extreme cold snap. Rudy had explained how that happened and the explanation went out of my head because I don’t care. It’s non-essential information. I just want it fixed, so I can have hot water.

I am mindful that these are tasks I could accomplish on my own. I can read directions and spell things correctly too. I just don’t want to fix these things. I want someone else to do it. I don’t cut my own hair, and I don’t mow my own lawn. I am perfectly competent to change the flat tire on my own car, I just don’t want to. Not when I know I can call Geoff, and he will drive across town to change the tire for me, and make only a couple of snarky jokes about helpless baby girls in the process. I know how to take care of it myself. I just don’t see any reason I should, when I can get a helpful man to do it for me. Look, this is not my first rodeo. I’ve been at this game a long time, and I have nothing left to prove by changing my own damn flat tire.

Besides I don’t have time or mental space for such problems. I am blogging, editing manuscripts, and reading Plato . . . If Rudy were not buried head-first in my car right now, I might share some of the Symposium with him, since the “Dialogues on Love” suggest possibilities between men and women that he might not have considered before. For example, in the first chapter Phaedrus describes Eros as the oldest god, who created the cosmos. In this tale, Eros is the binding force that makes order out of chaos. It was Eros who separated the land from the seas and cast the stars into the sky. Every meaningful shape owes its existence to Eros. This binding force acts continuously in the universe, keeping everything together that needs to stay together. The molecules that make up this desk where I am now sitting, stick to each other in solid form due to this initiating and holding force that came into the universe as the power of Love.

According to Plato, at least.

Bringing that idea into the local sphere, there is a suggestion that Eros, who makes order from chaos in the universe, rendering a coherent cosmos from nothingness, may also create order from the chaos within a person. The power of love—or the power to love—renders coherent what would otherwise be the scattered and meaningless inner life of an individual person. I like this idea. Certainly nothing constructive was ever accomplished out of meanness, distaste, selfishness or self-absorption. Narcissus fell into the pool and drowned because he was enamored of himself, his own reflection. Only when that love impulse moves out from the self, does the scattered self become . . . orderly. Only then does the inner life organize itself around some meaning. And the outer life takes shape and movement, informed by that meaning and that love.

I want to tell Rudy: A man just needs a problem to fix to be happy. And women have provided this material for men to arrange themselves in an orderly fashion, for as long as . . . well . . . for as long as it takes. He’s not listening.

Later I consulted Emily. She tossed out this poem:

#480, c.1862

“Why do I love” You, Sir?
Because —
The Wind does not require the Grass
To answer — Wherefore when He pass
She cannot keep Her place.

Because He knows — and
Do not You —
And We know not —
Enough for Us
The Wisdom it be so —

The Lightning — never asked an Eye
Wherefore it shut — when He was by —
Because He knows it cannot speak —
And reasons not contained —
— Of Talk —
There be — preferred by Daintier Folk —

The Sunrise — Sir — compelleth Me —
Because He’s Sunrise — and I see —
Therefore — Then —
I love Thee —

Emily’s question contained within the quotation marks is “Why do I love”. The “You, Sir” lies outside the poem’s quotation marks. So the rest of the poem answers why does the poet love at all, anyone or anything. Not why does the poet love this particular “You, Sir”. That person is the listener to the poem, not the object of the inquiry.

Her answer is that she loves because she can. Simply because she has the power to love. Her capacity to love functions in the same way as her capacity to see. Her eyes open, and her vision falls upon the thing before her. Her sight works regardless of the thing it sees. Her heart opens to the world and casts her love out there. The willingness of her love’s object to accept or understand or reciprocate the love doesn’t augment or diminish Emily’s ability to love. Silly question, she implies. Maybe that’s why she put it in quotation marks. It’s not her question. She is repeating a question that this “You, Sir” has put to her. He’s the one looking for answers and justifications. Men always have to have things explained to them.

Rudy pulls his head out of my Toyota.  His face is determined and not a bit weary. What a good soldier. He packs up the screwdrivers and asks, “Okay, where do you keep your water heater?”

Order out of chaos. The cold snap has passed. My pipes are free of ice. The return of hot water signifies the return of all that is decent and good. Tonight I will enjoy a bubble bath and a glass of wine.

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Curious Wine

So I spent the actual night of Twelfth Night with a dilemma. There were two events I wanted to attend. The first was a parade for Joan of Arc, whose birthday is January 6th. (Interesting side note: Her decisive victory at Orleans took place on June 18th, my birthday.) The second event was the meeting of a group that will gather regularly for the next few months to read Plato’s Symposium or the “Dialogues on Love.” So hard to choose: Plato or Joan of Arc? Sitting in the Latter Library, reading and talking about ancient Greek philosophies of love? Or a torch-lit, medieval tambourine parade through the French Quarter, following a woman wearing gilded armor and riding horseback? Yeah, just another Wednesday night in New Orleans. In the end, the frigid weather drove me to the library and the Platonic ideal of Eros. My spirit follows Joan always. She’ll just have to be content with my moral support this year.

There was a lot for my brain to chew on last night, but the portion I’ll relay here is the opening scene of the Symposium. Socrates and Aristodemus walk to the party at Agathon’s house. Aristodemus turns around to look for Socrates and finds that the “truth-loving eccentric” has wandered off by himself and appears to have fallen into a trance. Socrates is listening to his “daemon”, the inner voice that spoke his own genius to him, the voice that Socrates placed as an authority higher (to him) than the gods. It was Socrates’ faith in his own daemon that eventually got him condemned to death for heresy.

This is Joan of Arc’s story as well. Her steadfast allegiance to the voices that came to her from St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret, and her refusal to allow the priests to be her intermediary in an apprehension of the divine . . . all this was the evidence the Catholic Church used to convict her of witchcraft and burn her to death.

Emily too, placed her own spiritual authority above all others. She kept her mouth shut about it, though. And kept her skin. Was she afraid? Or was she simply content to know herself without being “public — like a Frog —/ To tell one’s name — the livelong June —/ To an admiring Bog!” She certainly refused any exposure to scrutiny and had nothing approaching the public life of Joan or Socrates. Maybe she was being smart and self-contained. Maybe she knew she was holding onto a few thousand pounds of dynamite.

Makes me think again more deeply about the advice I received long ago: “Don’t be afraid to know what you know.” More than anything else this fear of knowing what you know is the thing that stops a person from hearing herself. That’s all it takes: First, a focused, intentional stillness—stop, put away the world, be still. Then a sincere willingness to listen. Allow what wishes to be spoken to have its say.

Emily has this to say today:

#579, c. 1862

I had been hungry, all the Years —
My Noon had come — to dine —
I trembling drew the Table near —
And touched the Curious Wine —

‘Twas this on Tables I had seen —
When turning, hungry, Home
I looked in Windows, for the Wealth
I could not hope — for Mine —

I did not know the ample Bread —
‘Twas so unlike the Crumb
The Birds and I, had often shared
In Nature’s — Dining Room —

The Plenty hurt me — ’twas so new —
Myself felt ill — and odd —
As Berry — of a Mountain Bush —
Transplanted — to the Road —

Nor was I hungry — so I found
That Hunger — was a way
Of Persons outside Windows —
The Entering — takes away —

This bread and wine stand on the communion table. Emily hungers for that bond through spiritual awakening. She offers a meditation on what is holy in the company of like-minded others. It’s lonely knowing what you know. The pilgrim seeks other pilgrims. The phrase I love the most here is “curious wine”. This is the wine that makes you more curious as you drink it. The wine that whets your palate for more, a deeper plunge into that embrace. The hunger for home, wherever or whoever that may be.

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