The Light Fantastic
CHAPTER TWO - PLATO’S DREAM
Copyright Rebecca Stant © 2011
I’m still slightly disorientated and bewildered. How did I get here? I thought this stretch of mountains were uninhabited, in fact, I was so certain that there would be isolation and minimal human contact that it had prompted me to settle here in the first place. I was not expecting to share my cave with a crazy old man who had imprisoned several children. The phrase “out of the frying pan and into the fire”, springs into my mind because every new turn of events has progressively pushed me further away from a relatively normal social situation. I laugh bitterly - a short bark really - I seem to attract abnormal types these days, or do the nutters attract me? Sometimes it’s hard to tell us apart.
I think about the oddness of the situation I find myself in: this scenario, while unexpected and initially drawing a sense of horrified concern over the children’s welfare from me, also holds a vague tinge of familiarity about it. I know about this cave, though it isn’t my cave and I have no idea of how I ended up here. Then again a lot of unexplainable stuff is happening to me lately, so I try to adapt to this unpredictable turn of events. “Life in a cave has unique challenges”, I tell myself, although secretly, I don’t think too many hibernating bears have to face this particular abrupt location change. I ponder this new situation...
I remember back to my days as an undergraduate student in the city. I was studying for my architecture degree- a long and complicated affair that I didn’t finish due to severe mauling that I only just survived - but along the way, I did manage to slip in a few arts subjects. On one of these rare breaks from the dryness of my academic life, I took a philosophy subject on the ancient classical philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle. The philosopher Plato was among those stellar characters that excited the lecturer,who, now I come to think of it, looked a lot like the crazy old man himself; they both shared long grey beards and bright eyes.. I remember the lecturer flapping his arms about and gesticulating wildly as he paced the podium. His shoes were untied but he spoke in such a melodious way that his abysmal dress sense was soon forgotten.
He spoke loudly about the huge impact the ‘Platonic stream of thought’ had on philosophy even though many of his theories had lost credibility. One of Plato’s analogies that still retained a directness over the millenia concerned a cave, though I don’t think the lecturer envisioned a cave in the Alps as he spoke; although I guess powerful philosophers can have their cave wherever they choose!
‘The Cave Story’ was a way for Plato to explain how the philosopher is born. Plato did this by comparing knowledge to light and truth:the stronger the light, the more insightful the knowledge, hence the story beginning in a cave and illuminated by firelight. The children I can see in this cave are not real children as such - they symbolise people growing up in a society who only look upon a shadowy and pale form of knowledge, which they believe to be the pinnacle of truth. Their ability to see the limitations of their knowledge is hampered by the helmets they wear. At first they fight the helmet, but gradually they lose the power to use their neck muscles. They don’t explore their environment and the majority are content to watch the reflections cast by the flames. Very rarely, an individual from this room does look around and break free from the helmet. This would-be-philosopher discovers the exit from the cave, a steep narrow tunnel into the outside world, and follows the steep ascent out, where he discovers that there is a greater type of truth, purity and goodness in the form of the sun. After he learns to look directly at the sun, and so contemplate the greater mysteries of the universe, he feels the need to share this new knowledge with those back in the cave. Even though he is in possession of greater knowledge, his eyes are not adjusted to the dimness of the cave, so when he returns, the citizens of the cave only see his bumbling ways which they mistake for foolishness. Thus the story sets out Plato’s hierarchy of truth/goodness, justifies the existence of philosophers, and attempts to explain why philosophers don’t always conform to the rules of society. It also explained the lecturers shoes. A fine piece of writing, I thought, but it did not explain why this analogy, which I had previously encountered two dimensionally either as verbal or written text, was doing in all of its full colour, three dimensional splendor in my cave? I’ve heard that the ratio between words and picture is that one picture equals a thousand words, so I guess that Plato must have written a lot about his cave.
Maybe the appearance of the cave has something to do with my own recent rebirth? I am also an outsider, and I could now access a world where the normal laws of time, space and dimension could be blurred. It is possible that I’m seeking a kind of enlightenment- a very dark kind of enlightenment - and that I had unconsciously conjured up Plato to help me. However, my own journey had very little to do with accessing goodness at this stage, and more to do with restraining my ability to do very bad things. I still needed to discover many of my new abilities, but I needed to bring them under my control before I’d consider rejoining civilization. If discipline is the result of enlightenment, then yes, my quest was spiritual in nature. However, I am unsure that I even have a spirit at all, let alone one that was up to spiritual scratch.
I feel the slight touch of an air current on my cheek, and though it is difficult to see, I know that there is an exit from the cave nearby, so I just follow my instincts and soon find the narrow passage-way that I seek. The path ascends steeply - which I am prepared for - but it changes suddenly to an equally steep descent. Despite my confidence, I lose my footing and half tumble, half slide out of the tunnel….
... into a small forest grove that is strongly illuminated by a ghostly, silvery light. I look up to confirm the presence of an enormous full moon, and I suddenly remember that, according to Plato’s instructions, the would-be philosopher must train his eyes in order to gaze at the sun by beginning with reflected images of solar light, such as moonlight. I’ve never seen a moon like it before; huge and sitting low in the sky. It has a red ring surrounding it.
I curse my misfortune. I am usually very aware of the lunar cycle and I know that in the alps where my cave is, a full moon isn’t due for weeks. My stomach cramps, sharply, and I lose all strength in my legs. I fall to my knees and watch with horrified fascination as my skin splits and reveals the wolf-pelt underneath. My teeth grow longer and my jaw contorts in order to fit the extra sharp canines in my mouth. I cannot form words anymore, and can only scream gutteral shrieks of pain as my bones form themselves into a new skeleton. I can see and smell the sweat on my body, and I just make out the figure of the old man beside the tunnel. It is getting difficult to see: my human eyes are ordinarily blue, but I assume they are becoming brown in accordance with wolf eye colour requirements. I can feel my new eyes getting larger as they grow to fit into my new shape. I can taste blood, and for some strange reason, can smell chicken noodle soup? “Aaaaaargh”, I moan, desperately wishing that my own transitions were as cleanly instantaneous as those I had seen in the movies, “nooooooo…”, I protested, but gradually that plea becomes a howl.
The wolf is here….
Plato enters the tunnel. He has made the journey countless times and moves quickly to where his children are. He saw the man turn into a very large wolf-like creature, and he can hear the howls as the wolf greets the moon. He knows the tales of men who change into wolves - the historian Herodotus wrote about tribes of men like this when Plato was traveling the world in his mortal body - but he had never completely believed the assertion. He had believed that it was another example of a cave-fire picture; not true in the cold hard light of day. He believed it now, and after a brief tussle with the aloof and coldly rational side of his philosophers brain - it advocated a clinical approach to seeing whether the children would survive their encounter with a legendary killer. (After all, the children are little more than symbolic portrayals of worldly citizens. Their deaths cannot be counted as human casualties) - however Plato decides to act. These are his children, and they have accompanied him for thousands of years. He has grown fond of their simple ways, and he decides to abandon his experiment and try to save them. He feels responsible for placing them into a situation of his own making, one which does not truly reflect the world. Plato reconsiders his analogy: is it robust enough?
He threads a long length of rope through the childrens helmets and gently tugs on it. The children initially resist him, then rise from their seated positions and follow the philosopher in a grim kind of conga-line. They slowly move to the other side of the fire and resume their positions sitting on the floor, mouths agape. They are usually tranquil and content to watch the shadow images, but their world has been disrupted and the familiar pictures are gone, replaced by a roaring fire in an inky black room. Plato notices the two reflective disks of the wolves eyes on the opposite side of the cavern, and the man and wolf silently survey each other for a moment. The wolf does not like the flames, and pads silently past the fire. He disappears into the darkness, unexpectedly exiting the same way he had arrived. Plato looks around at his children, some have returned to their previous vacuous states, but others have abandoned their passivity and are trying to move. Perhaps his analogy is not ruined after all, although maybe his tendency towards the abstract needs to be reconsidered. Certainly, his definitions of truth and goodness need re-examining….
I open my eyes back in my alpine cave. I am naked and I shiver in the morning sun. I can’t entirely remember my adventures last night after I changed, but I clearly recall the other cave, the children and Plato. The children! There was a little girl there who resembled the girl in the city - she had stumbled upon the body of my first kill as a wolf and was almost my second victim, regardless of her pleas for my mercy. I was unable to control my blood-lust and would have swiftly struck her down too, but a passing patrol car interrupted my rampage - I hope that I haven’t harmed anyone during last nights hunt? I dress quickly and almost fall over a discarded can of chicken-noodle soup. I must have been warming up the soup for my dinner last night before my adventures began. The saucepan that the soup was in is burnt so badly that I will not be able to salvage it; I will have to bury it deeply so as not to attract predatory wildlife, although for at least one night a month I am the most dangerous predator around these parts.
My thoughts concerning Plato are equally as jumbled; I’m not sure who is real and who has been imagined by the other. Did I dream him up from the depths of my own confused mind in an attempt to bring some clarity into my life, or did Plato conjure up a werewolf in order to test his own theory and resolve?
I need to think some more, luckily I have the time.
So… what happens next? If you’d like to have a go at writing Chapter Three yourself, please get in touch with me at - nicbat3963(at)aol(dot)com