In Plato’s Labyrinths , Prof. Aakash undertakes a synthetic-dramatic study of a few ‘key’ dialogues of Plato which leads him to some striking discoveries/interpretations which he fancifully terms as ‘conspiracy theories’. His study is based on ‘Straussian hypothesis’ that some texts of ancient thinkers are exoteric and have two overlapping meanings/teachings: an edifying ‘lie’ which is for commoners/uninitiated and an esoteric truth which is meant for those already initiated/philosophers.
I am heavily influenced by the professor’s ideas. I have read two of his books. Plus I have taken a ‘life-changing’ course on Nichomachean Ethics with him. So one, I cannot be an impartial reviewer of his works and two, I understand him well enough to be able to write a review that is impartial.
So this write up is more like a small commentary, whose primary motive is a cursory analysis of prof. Aakash as a thinker. (note: I didn’t use the word ‘philosopher’ but I did introduce him as an academician by appending ‘prof.’ in front of his name). In its title “The philosopher in Plato’s Labyrinths”, the philosopher is both: the philosopher as general/potential, and a particular one: Aakash.
Let me begin in media res.
Aakash is a political philosopher. He understands how personal is political and political is personal. He has a set of agendas in writing this book and trying to increase its reach as much as possible.
One of them is: a pedagogical makeover of Indian education system, specially in high learning institutes. One, he wants to make philosophy more mainstream. He wants to destrukt the apparent acceptance of a philosopher by the city in the world of modernity, and then decrease that distance by dissolving the need of that ‘acceptance’. A philosopher does/should not seek validation from the city. Aakash’s life as a philosopher and an ironman, and the language of his books are some testimonies. But we don’t need to pursue this point further, by its own. It shall keep coming back. Secondly he wants to disburse the ideological paradigm of seeing things in dualities which is the highlight of how academics sees/studies/teaches philosophy.
One other is, he wishes to demystify the gap that exists between mind and body (not just in Cartesian sense) in our thought, speech and actions. It is clearly a Derridean move. But unlike Derrida, Prof. Aakash is more “spiritual” in a very specific way. When a philosopher is also an athlete, one can see how that philosopher is a ‘living philosopher’. Just like Socrates was, in his time.
Now, I am nowhere comparing Prof. Aakash with Socrates. Clearly, Aakash has read enough of Socrates to know that he lived the kind of life his philosophy espoused. If anything, Socrates is ‘an’ exemplar for Aakash. (Socrates was an exemplar of Gandhi as well.) But there is a one peculiar connection I wish to point out. He practises his philosophy and his philosophizing, like Socrates.
Aakash’s philosophical works should not be read without an idea of how he leads his life. He is an athlete, an ironman… for whom the (soma) body is primary. His way of living shows his philosophy more than his works. He is an exemplar of his philosophy and his way of philosophizing like Socrates. You just have to browse through his instagram handle (@aakash_ironman) to understand my point.
But the above is not a radical point. It stands by itself. The very act of choosing to write a book called A philosophy of Autobiography is testimonial.
Socrates/Plato (SP) was a thinker of reason/ratio (I am doing away with binaries because on this point Socrates and Plato held similar ideas). For him, the mind/reason was superior and could control everything else like appetite and spiritedness. Reason, as in ratio (latin), was the most important quality a philosopher should possess, in Plato’s opinion, in popular opinion.
Prof. Aakash makes an almost opposite point. He is Aristotelian in this case, (an Aristotelian Marxist to be nearer truth)… who believes in the superiority of the soma. If you notice carefully the canon of literature he has produced, you will observe a marked shift from outward polis to inner daimon… (which is not the daimon of Socrates). This is the spiritual move I was talking about, before.
Plus, as suggested by present theories on mind, he believes that human is inherently irrational. There is no point in her history that she can be purely irrational. Soma is unavoidable. And so are unavoidable the restraints imposed by it.
And then, historically, there is a shift from daimon to soma (from Socrates to Aristotle). Thus in order to disrupt the duality of mind and body, in his works, Aakash also disrupts the duality of PS and Aristotle as philosophers of mind and body respectively.
This is my crucial point, and the point, in my opinion Plato’s Labyrinths tries to make. For in the book, Aakash has argued that even for Plato, the soma was primary, the flesh was primary. Plato himself was a wrestler (and a pretty good one) in his time. His philosopher king had to be physically virtuous in order to be intellectually one. Through etymological analysis, in depth study of the characters in the dialogues, their behavior, their history and their mood, Aakash concludes that the image of Plato as one harking after an inexistent world of Eidos is a conspiracy.
When one reads a text that is translated from another almost extant language and is from a world which is completely different (but not so) from ours, we cannot read it by itself, alone. Each word, each sentence carries the baggage of the world when/where it was written. What is said is important, but who said it, in what mood and what context, whether he meant what he was saying, is far more important.
Plato’s dialogues are ‘dialogues’. They are not straightforward treatises which can be read from top to bottom at one go without knowing who Thrasymachus was, or what kind of relationship Glaucon had with respect to Socrates and Plato. In Plato’s Labyrinths, Aakash suggests that Republic is full of laughters and situational puns. It appears to the author that Socrates was more in jest than serious when he was delineating the elements of a Kallipolis. (It also disrupts the usually understood meaning of spoudious as ‘serious’, but I leave it for a later article.)
Aakash seems to suggest that straightforward analysis of sentences as words spoken by philosopher (like sentences written on presentations read by academicians in academic seminars around the globe before a compulsory luncheon) is not just redundant. It is harmful. It is better not to have read Plato at all. Compared to this pure exegetical analysis, a synthetic dramatic reading of a text (and I add: as a fiction) is far more ‘analytic’.
Dualities arise in the course of history because we are always in search of simplicity, in instruction and in application. We want our lives simple, so we make everything around us ‘simple’ by labeling them with singular terms. But these dualities are also result of conspiracies at the hands of powerful forces who misinterpret the meanings of influencers like Plato to cater to their political needs. Exposing those conspiracies is important. That is why such books as Plato’s Labyrinths are important.
It reflects back to the crisis Husserl recognized in modernity, a crisis which is still ongoing and can be observed in the ‘hypersensitive liberal’ human beings we all have become. Husserl as well as well Heidegger (and following their steps, Strauss) tried to go back to ancients to find a solution to this crisis. The book does that with respect to Plato.
Its way of presentation is crisp. Prof. Aakash is economical with words, there is no unnecessary pedantry, and it’s reading seems like a breeze. That I think is a positive point for any book. One can always come back (one should always come back) and deepen her understanding of what it is trying to say. And when the writing is crisp, one likes to come back.
Such a book, in fact, I think, should be introduced in our undergraduate courses, as a textbook with usual classics like Republic, not just as a reference book, but as something which can be used as a starting point.
Above is the most important esoteric teaching of Plato’s Labyrinths: learn how to read first. It can be a guidebook to potential philosophers on ‘how to do philosophy’. On a personal note, the book helped me come out of the Kantian framework of ethical thought-mold I have ‘suffered’ throughout my life.
#philosophyinindia #plato #aakashsinghrathore #plato’slabyrinths