Friday, September 28, 2007

friday's word: platonic

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edgar degas, spartan girls challenging the boys, 1860

pluh ton ik

platonic love is an ethics of erotic feeling devised by plato + expressed in his symposium, phaedrus, + other works.

in symposium, plato imagines a discussion of perfect love among seven prominent athenians, who agree on just one thing: that love achieves perfection only between men.

the last speaker, socrates, who probably speaks for plato, argues that perfect love occurs between a man + a boy, but only if the man sublimates his desire for the boy’s individual beauty to a philosophical love for beauty in the abstract, as an ideal.

for plato, the love of the individual beautiful boy should not be fulfilled sexually, but rather philosophically, by elevating human love to an intellectual love of ideal beauty + love.

in phaedrus, socrates argues that, since love (eros) is a god, the true lover is not the one attracted by beauty but the one who senses the divinity in the beloved.

the highest love, according to socrates, is unconsummated, since it is motivated by a desire to improve the beloved, not possess him. true lovers should resist sexual satisfaction, but prove their love in worshipping the beloved’s godly attributes.

socrates nevertheless encourages all forms of erotic play between the lovers, just short of orgasm.

such teasing + restraint cause the beloved to desire to be desired further + not tire of the lover’s constant company + attention.

ultimately, socrates cannot bring himself to condemn even lovers who exceed this limit, the release being so intense + pleasurable, although in doing so they risk losing the interest of the beloved or, at any rate, delaying the spiritual perfection of their love.

the ‘platonic love’ thus voiced by socrates involves the combined idealization of sexual desire + the eroticization of sexual frustration.

in plato’s last, unfinished work, the laws, which promotes self-discipline to an extreme, the athenian, speaking for plato, condemns all forms of non-procreative sex, reserving sex for man + woman + love for man + man.

he recognizes that his repudiation of homosexuality flies in the face of greek morality, particularly in sparta + crete, whom he mocks for the citizens’ promiscuous boy-loving ways, + admits that, for greeks in general, a society banning pederasty is impractical + counter-intuitive.

it’s widely believed that plato’s own love life was considerably fleshier than the one he promoted, a philosophical failure he hints at, with apparent amusement, in phaedrus.

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