NANJING, China – I must admit, I am a bit uneasy about delivering this talk on Plato and the Politics of Reading here at Nanjing University. You see, I am simply not sure what it means to speak in China about the erotic nature of politics.
But this uneasiness is not unfamiliar to the discipline of Philosophy; in fact, one might tell a long story about how the history of Western philosophy, at least, is the history of trying to do away with uncertainty, of repressing it by appealing to some ultimate Archimedean point on which we can ultimately depend. But Philosophy goes astray the moment it denies its own uneasiness and seeks refuge in the delusions of certainty.
So I begin by embracing my uneasiness, acknowledging that my ignorance is the very condition under which I speak this afternoon; and let me further suggestion that the recognition of ignorance is the condition under which erotic politics is practiced.
Here we can take Socrates as a guide; for Socrates, after all, was famous for claiming only one sort of knowledge: the knowledge of his own ignorance. And yet, he refused to remain silent in the face of that deep recognition of his human limitations. He sought, instead, always to find words to orient those with whom he spoke to questions of Justice and Beauty and the Good.
This is, in fact, the practice of erotic politics: without denying our human fallibility, to speak in ways that open up new possibilities for community by orienting our words to the ideals of justice, beauty and the good that lay beyond our power to grasp and yet retain a power to enrich our lives together.
This is what it means to practice an erotic politics.
So begins my lecture at Nanjing University on Plato and the Politics of Reading.
I sought, during the lecture, to live tweet the talk, as has been my habit, under the hashtag #CpLatNJU. You can follow along there, or not, depending on how successful I was in generating tweets from China about the erotic politics of reading.
To read more about the larger book project to which this talk is related, read this post on The Book as Ecosystem of Scholarly Dialogue.