TIPTOE STANCE by ATTILA PÉTER
FOR THE LAST SESSION DEVOTED TO PLATO I assigned Philebus. That dialog can be seen as a transition to Aristotle, who is next on the syllabus; some kind of bridge between the two giants, if only as far as what I intend to get through. There would be so much more to discuss, so much of what those two could teach us, but most of it will remain unexplored. I am forced to be extremely selective and omit even such bits of their canon which are of great significance. It is an imperfect system. How on earth are you supposed to cover a period spanning hundreds of years within six weeks? Twenty-eight days, to be exact. Twenty-eight fifty-minute sessions, actually. You’re bound to fail if you entertain any hopes of comprehensiveness. Hell, you’re bound to fail if you believe that you can exhaustively analyze the ideas of any one major philosopher. That’s the irony of the situation: I am teaching a course on freedom, and yet I’m constrained by the lack of time, which, in turn, deprives me of the chance to provide a complete picture. My students are like those folks living in Plato’s cave, never catching a glimpse of the truth, and as for me, I’m Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the hill only to see it roll back down before I reach the top. Granted, King Sisyphus was a crafty, cunning liar, a murderer who betrayed even Zeus; he had no right to complain about the punishment meted out to him. But what have I done to be made to undertake such a futile mission, one never to be accomplished? Am I supposed to agree with Camus when he writes that the struggle toward the heights is sufficient to fill one’s heart? The Frenchman says that we have to imagine that Sisyphus is happy, but the best I can do is make believe.
When I reach the north end of Interstate 59 near Wildwood, Georgia it occurs to me that I haven’t left my home state in years. Since Chuck’s wedding, around four years ago, when we drove to Atlanta. Our marriage was already hanging in the balance at the time, to put it mildly, but we couldn’t possibly have missed ‘‘little brother’’ – as Barbara used to refer to him – tying the knot. I haven’t seen him since. Off Chattanooga, a roadside ad for the amusement park at Lake Winnepesaukah brings back some more memories. We went there as a family a couple times. A family that was slowly falling apart, with me, a family man soon to wind up on his own, truly by himself, with his parents, grandparents, brother all gone. With only a handful of aunts and uncles, and a number of cousins scattered all over the country. Folks some of whom would send him a card every Christmas until they stopped one year, probably figuring they shouldn’t bother as he’d never sent one of his own. I think about Lorraine and feel that we could start anew despite the way we parted. Start in earnest rather; we’ve only known each other for two weeks. It may not work and might even become messy, as she said, but are we really supposed to give up just because we live in Alabama? That is madness. Isn’t love supposed to conquer all?
The skinny young man who sat beside me last night is gone, and his seat has been taken by a fair-haired woman with a pretty face and big blue eyes, wearing the kind of dress you only see in fashion magazines. It’s metallic gold, sparkling every time she makes the slightest of moves, a mere stir sending myriads of tiny flashes of light shining brightly. I couldn’t determine its fabric if my life depended on it. Silk? Wool? Sequin? She’s sitting upright and her posture seems rigid; I wouldn’t be too surprised to learn that it was in fact metal. At least I know how to start the conversation I’m about to strike up with her now that the Paul Winter Sextet has finished its set.
‘‘Excuse me! I would hate to sound intrusive, but may I ask what material your dress is made of?’’
‘‘Oh, sure. It’s a three-piece suit, actually, but I didn’t think it was sensible to wear the jacket on such a warm day. It’s silk-lined wool woven with lamé thread. Do you like it?’’
‘‘Very much so. I’ve never seen anything like it before.’’ I hold out my hand. ‘‘Raymond Reed.’’
‘‘How do you do?’’ she says with considerable feminine charm. ‘‘Nancy. Nancy Kramer.’’