Indiana University Bloomington Week 6 Plato & Jean de la Fontaine Paper

Dear Skholars,

This coming week we will continue the discussion we started on Thursday with regards to genre, but this time focused on the question of the sort of work (and temptations) that poetry implies. There are many definitions of poetry, but for our purposes this week we will think of it in its etymological sense of “making” (poeisis= to create in Ancient Greek). What is it that gets “made”? Keep this in mind as you read the acceptance speech by Nobel Prize recipient Toni Morrison. It is a parable about the power of language, what gets made in her parable, how, and by whom? Please note that there are two links on the Syllabus for her speech. One is a Word document for you to print and annotate. The other is a link to the Genius website which has the same text but with some annotations that you may find useful. It is a dense, rich and beautiful meditation on the power of language, and as you read and respond to it, I invite you to choose one quotation that you found particularly striking and share with us your reaction to it.

The second text is a fable by the seventeenth-century court writer Jean de la Fontaine. He took as model Aesop’s fables, little stories meant to convey wisdom, where nature, often through personified animals, plays an important role. His collection became an international success, often used in the education of children. It is likely that you’ve read or heard his fables before. On Tuesday we will discuss the first in La Fontaine’s collection. As you read it, I invite you to think about its position in the collection. Considering that the collection was dedicated to the future king of France (Louis XIV, the Sun King!), why do you think that the tale of the cicada and the ant was placed at the very beginning? What is the significance or symbolism of each animal? How do you interpret line 16 “This is the least of her faults”? Does it refer to the ant or the cicada? What would be the “fault” of each one? Does the cicada’s singing represent work, leisure, play, or laziness (consider the perspective of each of the characters as well as that of the author)?

Finally, the last assigned piece is a Claymation adaptation of the “allegory of the Cave” taken from the Ancient Greek philosopher Plato’s _Republic_, a book that features another philosopher, Socrates, in dialogue with his students, asking them (and us, the readers) to consider what is justice and what constitutes an ideal political regime. In this book, Socrates argues for the exile of poets from the ideal republic. The justification comes from the “allegory of the Cave.” According to Socrates, there exists an eternal realm of ideas where Truth may be found, and we, mere mortals, can only access the shadow image of those Ideas. The argument, then, is that if our “reality” is already a realm of shadows, then the made-up stories of poets can only be shadows or shadows at best, and who wants that?! If you choose to respond to this video in your weekly reflection, I invite you to do so by flexing your creative muscle: If you were a poet, how would you answer the philosopher’s claim that you are a problem for the republic? Feel free to mobilize here any of the texts we have read before to make a claim for the importance of poetry (or mythos) to any self-respecting political order.

Happy reading!

Prof. Velázquez


Plato (Greek philosopher 5 BCE), “Allegory of the Cave (Links to an external site.)” from Republic

Jean de la Fontaine (French, 1621-1695), Fables, “The Ant and the Grasshopper

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