Thursday, November 29, 2012

Intermission


Dear readers,

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.

Cheers!

Melinda

5 comments:

  1. I address myself to Catullus and Shelia: both of you are working under the assumption that sexual acts are at the summit of human expressions of love, that nothing else more fully expresses love and intimacy between two people.I think this exaggerates the importance of sex and so elevates it to the level of something like a human right, or personal fulfillment. A natural law approach to all of this can err in the same way. A satsifying sex life can be seen as the attainment of one of the most important ends of human nature.

    On the other hand, love, in its truest form, is about purity of heart. It is the desire to give your life for the beloved in sacrifice and self-denial. That is, to be completely centred on the other. here I depart from Germanicus the stoic, who sees no place for the passions. Such love that comes from a pure heart is full of passion. It is eros at its most beautiful. In certain contexts, of course this love can include sex, but usually it doesn't.

    Sex is never free of the desire for pleasure and self-satisfaction. This does not make it bad; I am not suggesting that it is nobler not to enjoy sex, as women have been taught in certain cultures and historical periods. But It seems that sex is ill-suited to be the greatest symbol of pure and self-sacrificing love.

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    Replies
    1. Wow. I didn't really expect that I would have to defend what I was saying in the com-box...
      I guess that my point would be that it's not the highest symbol of pure and self-sacrificing love, it's the highest symbol of mutual and reciprocal love, if that makes sense. Honestly, I get goose-pimples when I read about the self-sacrificing kind of love in Dickens or Dostoyevski, but it's just so far out of my league... Also, it looks really good in novels, but I'm not really sure how hot it is to be loved that way. Maybe it's just because Germanicus is a Stoic, which you say (or I guess imply) is kind of a counterfeit of that because it tries to be dispassionate.

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  2. First, to the author: I find your effort here to be well rewarded. Each of the characters says things that simply have to be considered, and all of them annoy me dreadfully with their blindness to other things that need to be considered. In my own case, I certainly hope that I say things that others will consider, and I know perfectly well that I also annoy others with my blindness. In areas such as this, I don't think it profitable to proclaim a solution to all aspects of the argument -- frankly, there isn't one. I don't believe that God's opinion on these matters will ultimately be acceptable to any of the participants, and that they will all be dissatisfied whatever the result.

    Secondly, I think all the participants err in the area of the First Commandment: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." It is all too easy to place sex or chastity (or wealth or voluntary poverty, or beauty or ugliness, or ... I could go on) as the highest good in itself, sufficient to outweigh all other goods. We are always being presented with such choices as if they must be made. Perhaps taking any of these goods to the ultimate extreme of what it seems to offer or demand is precisely what this commandment is about. Nothing is good in itself, save God alone, and nothing God has created is evil in itself, but placing the goodness of the creature above the purpose of the Creator is the root of all sin.

    I believe that God's will is found in the balanced use of his creation -- the hard part is identifying just where that balance nay be found.

    Your characters seem to be struggling with just that question, all erring in different directions.

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  3. I love the philosophical discussion dialogue and how you're carrying it out - keep up the amazing work! Looking forward to see what they all say next...

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  4. Thank you very much for writing these dialogues. Could we get all these posts put into a one stop index post? I would like to share these talks with friends and it would be easier if they were all in one spot. I loved your book too by the way.

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