CHS spring 2009 summary

Interdisciplinary Center for Hellenic Studies

CHSSJ Spring 2010 Summary

The spring 2010 Classical Humanities Lecture Series
was as enlightening as it was provocative. Once again I wish to thank our longstanding and new CHSSJ members for their care and generosity, the invited speakers for their brilliant scholarship and spirit of dialogue, and the Stockton faculty and students who were able to attend. Special thanks go to the talented Sarah Messina of Stockton’s very own Graphics office for a lovely poster for the spring theme of “Sexuality and the Classics”. The Barberini Faun never looked so dreamy and satisfied; what a classic! Recognition is also bestowed upon George Plamantouras for his enthusiasm and superb work on the CHSSJ website link and archive construction, and to Meghan Smith-Ressler of ARHU for helping with coordinating dates and lecture venue, CHSSJ database maintenance, and mailings. It is due to the School of Arts and Humanities, and all those part of this wonderful Division that the CHSSJ continues to thrive and grow here at Stockton College. Mille grazie a tutti quanti.

The spring 2010 CHSSJ lecture Series consisted of three lectures inspired by the general theme of “Sexuality and the Classics”. Each presentation was held in our lovely and comfortable state of the art lecture room F-111. The first lecture was delivered by Dr. J. Eric Butler, from Villanova University department of philosophy on Saturday, February 27th. The theme of investigation was: “Aristotle and Sexuality”. The second lecture on Saturday, March 20th was delivered by Fulvia Serra, graduate in philosophy from the University of Siena, Italy, and presently a full-time lecturer of Italian at the University of Pennsylvania. The theme of investigation was: “The Secret of Good Love: perceptions of gender and the art of Good Taste in Plato’s time”. Our third and final lecture for the spring 2010 series was delivered on Saturday, April 24th by Prof. John M. Carvalho, Chairperson of the department of philosophy at Villanova University. The theme of investigation was: “For the Love of Boys: Knowledge and Pleasure among the Greeks”.

What follows are my reflections on the themes and presentations from the spring 2010 CHSSJ lecture Series. Once again, consider these as visions, snap-shots, and thoughts taken from my notes, and above all as a tribute to each of the speakers. I will identify the lectures as: Aristotle (Butler), Plato (Serra), and Timely Pleasure (Carvalho).

Aristotle and Plato held their ground. They form-ed. Socrates must have imparted enough of the mastery over pleasure, of an effect of pleasure that enabled an interior state (Plato’s to begin with) to show forth as a form that maintains itself through living, and in that, so to this day we may look back (and foreword) and notice works of art come-to-life. So it is with the pedagogy set deep within philosophy as apprenticeships in the ideal/real. Aristotle lived this, and never forgot how the body always will. What is alive and what is dead in the Classics is cashed out in the training to hold one’s ground. It is poise beyond facile popularizing, and memorization with transformation. The spring 2010 CHSSJ lecture series showed us how this is obtained.

The unfolding of the spring 2010 CHSSJ presentations was a lesson in the mastery of the phantasmal that gets stamped upon the heart, of echo effects through the pneumatic body, of the circulation and flow of concepts (Aristotle), and of the lingering ghosts in dialogue, whispering something about us in the use of pleasure, while this use of knowledge and practice moves, with the help of an apprenticeship, into the space of moderation and mastery. Moderation and mastery are the gates of freedom for good love (Plato). Only in this way can using pleasure become a style (and stylus) of one’s life, writing the rituals of the rites we enjoy, and seeing the form as an aesthetics of existence, a (Timely Pleasure) indeed, for in our relation to truth we find love at its fore and as its force. Yet, we must know the right moment. “This is how an object of desire or thought moves things” as Aristotle tells us in Metaphysics XII.7. “<The goal> moves things by being loved, and once moved <by it>, these things move other things” (idem). 

What moves you? What is your motivation? The art of philosophy takes you to these questions, for they are in the end, and as origin, your quest. The object of desire is the unmoved mover, your desire the moved mover, and your body the moved. Aristotle gives us the choreography of desire, the blueprints of our steps and turns, of sequences, circuits, feed-back loops, and all to track how desire prepares for affections. If Socrates was the master of the living being as a work of art, and if Plato was its urban planner, cosmologist, and poet, then Aristotle was its engineer, doctor, and sublime theoretician.

What was this something that was then imparted of the mastery over pleasure, of effects of pleasure that enabled an interior state to show forth as a form that maintains itself throughout the vicissitudes of life?  It is the giving style to oneself. From apprenticeships to mastery, through the practice of pleasure, of time crafted into the timely, and if lucky into the untimely, by how the artist/thinker turn their tools of the trade upon themselves and draw themselves into life (animated) as works of art, living art, good taste, style, bella figura.

From the spring 2010 CHSSJ lecture series we have been treated to this type of emergence, from the joyous and graceful dialogue, where the games of love and lovers are a veritable g-amê (g-spot of the soul), an anatomy lesson of the circulation of desire, leading to the construction of a ladder, Diotima’s, and the practice of ta aphrodisia (Plato). Diotima, as Plato’s Socrates is styled, said: “I was her pupil and she taught me erotika”. Indeed, because love is a relation to truth, and beauty the paths and practices that lead a life (when as a work of art) to render to moral good, enhance aesthetic principles, and sculpt a unity of measure for ethical actions (Plato). Fulvia Serra gracefully treated us all to these possibilities, these steps-in-dialogue, inspired by the undertow of the presence of education throughout Plato’s Symposium, and along the ways of love lent us all a bit of the light and sumptuous urbanism of Siena’s beauty and accent.

In this cityscape, this bio-politics of bodies we take heart in the recommendation from Dr. J. Eric Butler, who quoting Alain Badiou, tells us to “Get up and walk!” Yes, indeed we must, “the world needs philosophy more than philosophy thinks [and if] philosophy is ill, [or] might [even] be dying ... I am sure that the world (the world, neither a God nor a prophet, but the world) is saying to philosophy: “Get up and walk!” (Badiou, Infinite Thought 42). We are grateful to Dr. Butler’s profound and correct conviction that we need formal accounts, or what can be understood as the correct posture of this walk, for the beauty of being-in/with-the-world.

Prof. John Carvalho left us to wonder about the possibility of the way to set the appropriate time to one’s pleasure so that the bankrupted Ponzi scheme of desire—sex is turned back to a positive flow of pleasure—knowledge. How is one to be trained in such a turning, and still maintain the grounds of honor, detachment, and sobriety? As Butler’s Aristotle gave us the inner mechanism of this puzzle, Carvalho’s Foucault, and call back to Book Seven of Artistotle’s Nichomachean Ethics allows us to engage in dialogue with past masters so we may perfect the art of personhood. Emulation, emulation in all things masterful -- and as Stendhal told Delacroix: “neglect nothing that will serve to make you great”. Perhaps this is what is still alive in the Classics, this call to never recline upon the soft and inviting laziness of mediocrity.

The form one gives to the life one lives is the style that will adorn the memories that make up a household, a school, and eventually a city, and history and culture itself. Here we can safely return and walk with Socrates, (perhaps even with Diogenes and Pyrrho) and further ahead, with Nietzsche, who understood what constitutes “a slice of personality”, of the Classics as what is a-life in becoming who you are.  The aesthetics of existence is near and within our grasp, but we must work ourselves as a medium within the atelier of philosophy.

We are again grateful to our speakers, Butler, Serra and Carvalho for showing us how “to find [our] own individual form and to develop it through all its metamorphoses to its subtlest and greatest possibilities” (Nietzsche, Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, 31-32).

May 11, 2010

Prof. Lucio Angelo Privitello, Ph.D

President of the Classical Humanities Society of South Jersey