This speech by the Art Lover in my Manifesto, with its idea that art is separate from the world reminds me of Plato:
And this small world imitates the real world. This is something humans do – we transform the world into something small so that it is within our scope to understand. All our concepts are put together from abstractions – symbols to work things out – for example, words, numbers; we can understand a model because we get an overview, then we can project it back onto the real world.
Art makes us feel the world can make sense – the satisfaction of something understood. And this piece of art, this slice of life, is a whole thing – because it is separate from the world and therefore complete. (Like the microcosm we fence it off – in a book, in a frame, on a stage). We have power over it because it is whole.
It is the only time we’re in complete control, otherwise the world passes us by. That’s why we need art; crave it through all the generations.
I used not to have any interest in Plato’s idea that reality existed in some sort of parallel universe set apart from the world, e.g. when we think of ‘horse’ we do not all have the same image in mind and we can think ‘horse’ without reference to any specific horse. So Plato reasoned that somewhere there must exist – at least as a principle or idea – the perfect horse.
I agreed, and probably still do, with the man who challenged Plato and said, “I can see a horse but cannot see ‘horseness’”. It all seemed so silly.
Since then, I’ve changed my mind and I think that for someone to conceive of a parallel universe is amazing. Genius! But, of course the idea of the parallel universe is imbedded in our social evolution since the microcosm of primitive ritual.
Plato referred to these perfect ideas as Forms. I quote Richard Tarnas in ‘The Passion of the Western Mind’:
It is crucial to the Platonic understanding that these Forms are primary, while the visible objects of conventional reality are their direct derivatives. Platonic Forms are not conceptual abstractions that the human mind creates by generalizing from a class of particulars. Rather, they possess a quality of being, a degree of reality, that is superior to that of the concrete world. Platonic archetypes form the world and also stand beyond it. They manifest themselves within time and yet are timeless. They constitute the veiled essence of things.
One of the striking characteristics of the Greeks was the tendency to see clarifying general principles in the chaos of life. This is the foundation of analysis and knowledge. Thus Aristotle (my favourite philosopher), who was very practical, showed us how to analyse from the general to the specific, e.g. animal – vertebrate – mammal – primate – chimpanzee. We wouldn’t be able to study animals without this grouping; nor any subject.
Another thought: Yes, there was once a primitive ritual – a small world that was set apart, a microcosm. We know about this because it has come down to us through myth – because of this we can conceive of a parallel universe, eg the Christian idea of heaven (not forgetting Jesus, the sacrificial victim).
[Notice later in the Manifesto when we meet Aristotle how analytic is his mind: whole – plot – events or parts. (We talk of characters playing a ‘part’.)]