Thursday, November 29, 2012
We've now hit the half-way point in this series of dialogues, and I feel it's a good time to take a break and explain what's going on. Some readers seem to have cottoned on pretty well to the form that I'm using, others have found it confusing or manipulative. It certainly isn't the traditional blog form, but I do think that it's a legitimate experiment with the medium.
This series is an interactive philosophical dialogue. I've always thought that the dialogue is a lovely philosophical form, and it's certainly had an august pedigree: the most obvious example is Plato, but it's also been used by Boethius, Dostoyevski, C. S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft, and others. Its strength lies in the fact that it's possible to explore a variety of different perspectives and to provide each of those perspectives with its own voice within a single work. In practice, however, it tends to suffer from two perennial weaknesses. The first is that most philosophical dialogues contain a character who is obviously the voice of the author. The other characters tend to be either straw-men who are led around the argument by the nose, or yes-men who sit at the main character's lotus feet. For people who are already inclined to agree with the author it's very satisfying to watch the hero run circles around his interlocutors, but if you disagree then it's simply irritating because you feel that your perspective hasn't been given a fair shake.
The second weakness is that the reader often has objections that the interlocutors don't bring up. I have always found it immensely frustrating when the points that I consider most important are not raised and I'm left in the position of not knowing whether I would actually have succeeded in tripping up Socrates, or whether he would have had a good counter that I haven't considered.
The form that I'm using here is an attempt to construct a dialogue that avoids these problems. There is no character in this dialogue who has a monopoly on Truth. Each of the characters has something true to contribute to the discussion and each of them also brings to it a set of personal weaknesses and blind-spots. I've tried to keep this as realistic as possible. For example, although Germanicus is very clear-thinking, virtuous and self-controlled, he's intellectually arrogant and lacks compassion. Catullus is often ironic and psychologically manipulative, but he has real self-knowledge and relates to truth and beauty on a personal rather than merely an intellectual level. All seven of the characters who will appear in this series are intended to be balanced personalities with a history, a set of life experiences, and a unique philosophy. Not only are they not me, they are also not merely stereotypical mouth-pieces for particular ideologies. They're a group of characters that I had already developed extensively before I decided to rope them into this project, which I think is important because it means that I have genuine sympathy for each of them, and it prevents me from being able to stack the deck.
That said, I am one woman and I can't come up with every possible argument. Therefore I am inviting readers to jump in and offer the arguments that they think the characters have missed. The people in the dialogue are interactive, and barring the obstacles posed by my slug-speed dial-up internet I am doing my best to make sure that they engage with anyone who posts.
I hope that people enjoy the series. If it's too confusing, or two weird, check back in a couple of weeks and things should be more normal.