I absolutely love this.
ACTUALLY. This myth gets more interesting. These original “double humans” were comprised of two parts—either both parts male, one part male and one female, or both female. This myth is used to explain why some people are homosexual and why some are straight. Yay Classics. I’M LEARNING SO MUCH IN COLLEGE GUYS
This gets better each time it scrolls through my dash.
GODDAMMIT this is NOT a quote from Symposium. It’s barely even a paraphrase, and it is not a Greek myth about the origin of gay people. If you “absolutely love” this, then go here, read the actual text, and do your part in the fight against pseudointellectual internet bullshit. Better yet, go read the whole dialogue. It’s free and it’s available in half a dozen formats. You’ve got no excuse.
Got it? Good. Now then.
First things first. This is not a Greek Myth™, like Prometheus stealing fire, Hercules shoveling godlike quantities of horse shit out of the Augean stables, or Perseus cutting off Medusa’s snaky head. This is Plato making fun of Greek origin myths. It’s satire. And blah blah blah, scholarly opinion is divided, insert academic disclaimer here, but I am fucking right about this, so pay attention.
Symposium is a dialogue in which seven men, including Socrates, attend a symposium to discuss the nature and purpose of love, or, more precisely, Eros. In 4th-century Greece, symposia were structured drinking parties where the wine-to-water ratio was changed depending on the purpose of the evening. Getting the servant girls and boys blow more than flutes was a 1:1 kind of night. The delivery of speeches about Eros required three parts water to one part wine, and that night it was the famous Greek playwright Aristophanes who told the story about Zeus splitting people in half.
At the beginning of the dialogue, Aristophanes basically says he got really trashed the night before, and is hung over.1 Then, when it’s his turn to give his speech, he begs off at first because he has an attack of the hiccoughs.2 Other quips about hiccoughs and sneezing follow,3 and by the time the man is finally ready to deliver his remarks, he’s been set up as the ancient Greek equivalent of Cletus, the slack-jawed yokel.
Then he rattles off this bizarre description of the first creatures the gods created, before there were humans:
…the primeval man was round, his back and sides forming a circle; and he had four hands and the same number of feet, one head with two faces, looking opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely alike; also four ears, two privy members, and the remainder to correspond. He could walk upright as men now do, backwards or forwards as he pleased, and he could also roll over and over at a great pace, turning on his four hands and four feet, eight in all, like tumblers going over and over with their legs in the air; this was when he wanted to run fast.
Did you catch the part about having two dicks? Yeah.Aristophanes is being a bit freaky here. Also—and this is the important bit—he describes these tumbling protohumans as having three sexes: male, female, and “man-woman.”
Unfortunately, these four-armed, double-dicked (and, presumably, twin-twatted) quadruped monstrosities were a bit uppity: “terrible was their might and strength, and the thoughts of their hearts were great, and they made an attack upon the gods.” So, to calm them down, Zeus did what any reasonable god would do: he cut them in half. And if they didn’t behave, he threatened to cut them in half again, so they’d all hop around on one leg. It’s difficult to overthrow Olympus when you’ve only got one leg.
This is where the idea that this tale was intended to explain the origin of homosexuals comes from: Aristophanes tells us that the now-bipedal men who had originally been one half of a “man-woman” creature were stricken with loneliness, and now sought their other half, a woman. Likewise, the former female halves of such creatures sought men. But the freshly-hewn halves of males and the halves of females were drawn to, you guessed it, other men and other women.
This ancient Athenian Clive Barker movie is Aristophanes’ attempt to explain what love is and why we seek it. At this point, English fails us. The subject of the evening’s discussion was what the Greeks called Eros, which is not the same as sexual desire or romantic love. Plato uses Aristophanes as the mouthpiece for a popular or “common” understanding of love. He has to account for het sex and homo sex, because no matter how philosophical we peasants try to get about it, Eros is mostly about fucking. Hence all of that high-sounding “you complete me” business, which is all very nice and romantic except for the fact that it’s creepy adolescent nonsense.
Four of the seven guys at the table end up telling Aristophanes he’s full of crap, and Socrates unfurls some lovely words about how Eros is actually about our reaction to the “beauty of the soul,” rather than a borderline narcissistic quest for some missing part of ourselves. Then a bunch of drunk people crash the symposium and everyone gets shitfaced.4
Anyway, all I really wanted to do here is get these points across: that the supposed quote from “Plato’s The Symposium”5 isn’t even in the dialogue, and that it isn’t some kind of mythological origin story about gay folks, and that people should take some time to actually explore what they claim to love instead of just pasting it on their tumblrs like monkeys flinging shit onto a wall.
The actual material is so much richer, deeper, and more beautiful, and it will reward the effort you make to dig into it. It’s also much weirder. Seriously, there is some demented stuff there. Go find it.
That is all.
1 “…I entirely agree, said Aristophanes, that we should, by all means, avoid hard drinking, for I was myself one of those who were yesterday drowned in drink.”
2 “…Aristophanes was next, but either he had eaten too much, or from some other cause he had the hiccough, and was obliged to change turns with Eryximachus the physician…”
3 “…the hiccough is gone; not, however, until I applied the sneezing; and I wonder whether the harmony of the body has a love of such noises and ticklings, for I no sooner applied the sneezing than I was cured.”
4 “…suddenly a band of revellers entered, and spoiled the order of the banquet. Some one who was going out having left the door open, they had found their way in, and made themselves at home; great confusion ensued, and every one was compelled to drink large quantities of wine.”
5 There’s no “The” in the title. I hate that. It’s just “Symposium.”
Finally: if you’re really interested in some deep interpretations of Aristophanes’ wacky tale, you can read K.J. Dover’s paper, Aristophanes’ Speech in Plato’s Symposium, right here (which is cool because it’s supposed to be locked behind Harvard’s pay wall, but isn’t).
2012 and so forth with the exploding continents and all that, I know y'all heard the stories, I know y'all heard the fire and brimstone from the nonsense peanut gallery, but I'm here to tell you saints that this particular year is just like any other year, and that it's in this year that you will reap what you have sown. Just like any other damn year, right? Right. And the thing you have got to dig is that even though you're gonna see the fruit of your decision tree poppin' up all ripe and shiny, it's been that way for you since that first big year when you squirted out and some doctor smacked yo gooey ass, showed you to yo mama, then passed you off to a nurse who stuck you in a hospital crib behind glass with twenty other tiny new sparks wearing itty bitty knit caps. You dig? You see it, saints? Yeah, right on: this year's big for you, it's big for everybody, and so was last year, and the year before that, all the way back past nailing Jesus to a tree, back past Achilles bein' a bitch, back past that guy Og who figured out how to set shit on fire with a rock. All the way back, man! Back beyond the pool'a goo makin' amino acids at the foot of a volcano! Back, saints! Shit, the year God said "Let there be light!" ain't no different from this year! Can you hear it? What's that? Gimme an amen.
I said gimme an amen!Billy Fidget
The conception of “I am not” must of necessity follow the conception of “I am,” because of its grammar, as surely in this world of sorrow night follows day. The recognition of pain as such, implies the idea of pleasure, and so with all ideas. By this duality, let him remember to laugh at all times, recognize all things, resist nothing; then there is no conflict, incompatibility or compulsion as such.The Book of Pleasure (Self-Love): The Psychology of Ecstasy
So the lysergic-dropping crowd were referring to the effects of their favorite drug as "mind revealing," which suggests that the chemicals were exposing the ingredients of their own neuronal soup. Digging deeper into the word's past reveals another possibility, which is that the substance brought about the manifestation of qualities possessed by the world outside their skulls. Exogenous chemicals aren't necessary: trees at a distance can look like close moss, given a willingness to reframe your view.
It's an entirely different matter when that process happens with language.
You might have had the experience of a common word suddenly "looking weird," as if some part of your brain's language centers has hiccoughed for a moment. If you've got a dictionary handy you can look the word up, confirm that it's spelled correctly, and it will look normal again. I've been experiencing something similar with entirety of language. Not just with words in themselves, but with sentences, paragraphs, whole arguments. I say "something similar" because it's not a matter of incomprehension or the words looking weird. It's an acute sense that no matter what the common, agreed-upon definitions of words are, there's no way for me to be completely sure that the writer shares the sense of meaning with me. Not without a lot of work.
An example, in broad strokes: any conversation about "God." One syllable in English, three small letters, with literally millions of pages written about it. I'll watch people fling discussion about God back and forth between them, and it's clear to me that they're arguing in the leaves. That is, they're debating the shape and color of fluttering foliage, not knowing whether they're on the same branch, or even in the same tree.
That's simple enough, and I've long been aware of the effort that it takes to conduct a proper conversation about any metaphysical or transcendant subject—to establish agreed-upon first principles, to make no assumptions about the meaning of key terminology, and so on. But in recent months, that awareness has expanded to include almost any subject of any importance. A sad and recent example: discussions that involve the words "assault rifle." So many people running amok in the tops of trees, talking past each other.
Which, of course, raises the question of why I sit here writing this.
I really don't know.
What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Mo- loch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jail- house and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrap- ers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and antennae crown the cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!
Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!
Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch! Light streaming out of the sky!
Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible mad houses granite cocks! monstrous bombs!
They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us!
Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American river!
Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!
Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years' animal screams and suicides!
Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!
Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!Allen GinsbergHowlHear him reading Parts I & II here.
Obviously there hasn't been much going on here at Writebastard. And I just know that all three of you have been waiting with bated breath for the next astoundingly diverting installment of whatever the hell it is that I do here.
So I've got this blog here, and I'm also on Twitter, tumblr, YouTube, and Facebook. There've been pithy 140-character bursts of nonsense, photography and graphics, videos, and socially-networked post-style things. I often cross-post my videos from YouTube to the other venues, but each place has unique content that you can find there and nowhere else. In fact, at the moment I'm making more regular use of those four venues than I am of this site, which is odd, because this place is supposed to be the nexus of the whole Ian Wood universe, wretched place that it is.
After working with those venues for awhile, the unique characteristics of each became more apparent. YouTube is of course all about the videos, but there is some opportunity for building a following by creating a Channel. Every video is tagged with a URL that leads back here (which is only good when there's actual content here). Twitter is what you make of it, so I follow writers and journals and people who amuse or otherwise entertain me, and my output there is divided between weirdness, links to other stuff of mine, and interaction with my followers. Over the past couple of weeks I've decided to treat tumblr like a image-enhanced long form version of Twitter. And Facebook...well, Facebook remains something of an irritation, as Zuckerberg seeks to justify its IPO and share price with various opaque and alienating monetization schemes. Of all of the venues, Facebook seems the least useful.
In the midst of all of those other outlets, this humble blog seems limited in its utility. I could just blog entirely on tumblr. However: this is my domain, here, and the server space I rent is entirely under my control. Committing to tumblr, even redirecting it to this URL, means that I'd be dependent upon another company for data integrity and backup, and dependent upon a software company (like Facebook) that could make any changes it wanted, at any time, to its platform. As much as I enjoy tumblr's functionality, I don't want to give my material over to a third party that has no particular motivation to do well by me. So tumblr is mostly about my photography, brief commentary on other peoples' material, and the occasional link to my own material elsewhere.
This place was originally conceived as a "live without a net" account of writing my novel, with the brash and entirely unrealistic goal of getting the thing done and out the door in a year. That was almost five years ago, and obviously reality has intervened. Then it was going to be about various writing-related things, but I suffered a crisis of expertise due to the fact that, well, I hadn't actually done much in the way of writing in the professional sense. I'm not a big fan of the whole "fake it 'till you make it" ethos, so that intention collapsed under the weight of my neuroticism. Eventually, Writebastard came to resemble my prior blog, Astonished Head: just a bunch of weird stuff, no real theme, irregularly updated. I lost interest in it.
Now, though: I have several other outlets for the weird stuff, the random stuff, venues that are more suited to it. Which suggests to me that this place ought to become a place, once more, for writing-focused material, and for my writing itself: longer pieces, essays, and the like.
So. Here we are! Writebastard.com is one of five places where you can get all the me you need (if that is in fact a need of yours; stranger things have happened). With some effort, I hope it will become more useful than it has been, and in conjunction with my other outlets, maybe I'll actually end up with one of those platform things that all the kids these days are into.
Thanks for reading.
He runs a restaurant in Fez or Marrakech or wherever or whatever you like. "You want to know my secret? I have no secrets. The doors of my place are open all the time. You Westerners think that Islam looks in. It is you who look in worrying about money and position. Talking to yourselves, your boss, your women, your friends. Stop. Change. Start. (Give it the Oriental switcheroo you dig). LOOK OUT at all times. See what was in front of you. Can a man see what is in front of him with all his friends and enemies talking in his ear? Stop talking to yourself. Ah this shocks you? Listen: Words should be your servants. Use them. Do not let them use you. And when you do not need them send them to sleep. How to? Learn to know the word your servant. Look at words. Listen. Listen out all time. Look and listen out at all times. Take any simple phrase like 'I am that I am.' Repeat it. Now pass it back and forth through a sieve of punctuation. See the words change meaning as the period rotates. Now change the position of the words. Now translate into other languages. You are stuck in word slots. You do not hear. Cut the word lines. And step out into silence. It is yours. It is everybody's. You do not see the trees when you walk down the street because of 'The' 'Word' 'Tree'. Look at the word tree. Look? at the word tree. Look at? the word tree. Look the? word tree. Look at the word? tree? Word look at the tree? Tree look at the word? Etc. Now look at the tree. and you will see the tree not the word tree. You will begin to see everything sharp and clear like after a rain. When you are in a restaurant Listen Out. Listen to the rhythm of voices. Every restaurant has a different rhythm. Listen to the words you can hear. No this is not bad taste to keep your ears open. Move from table to table. Combine conversations. When you walk down your Western streets defaced by street signs, look at the signs. Look back and forth. Cut words back and forth from one sign to the other. You can plot sign lines through your city. Now look at the faces. Why are you in the West afraid to look at a stranger's face?"William S. Burroughs [London]in a letter to Brion Gysin [Paris]November, 1960