Yes please, Socrates
The result of the great debate was, as I predicted, that a rather large majority of the audience decided that they would accept the invitation. As Tom Holland said in the moments after our defeat: that’s democracy for you…but, of course, Socrates, wasn’t exactly a fan of that.
All the same I thought our side made as good a showing as we could, so didn’t feel especially pissed off. It’s a bit like doing an exam. You don’t mind doing not so well as you hoped, if you think you did as well as you could.
In fact, once the Taplin/McCabe side had trailed the idea that one might be having dinner not just with Socrates, but Hippocrates, Sophocles, Pheidias, Euripides, Hegel and Wittgenstein too – honestly I thought the audience would rebel. But they didn’t.
Anyway, everyone can listen to the podcast and see what you think.
I had the feeling that, zany silliness that it was, some more substantial ideas were bubbling under the surface.
One question that came up in the audience discussion (which is not on the podcast) is about how we choose to imagine the past, and to what extent it is anyway a largely fictional creation. Socrates, of course, is a good case to explore that on, because he wrote nothing. So all our “evidence” is already some sort of fictional construction by contemporary and later admirers or detractors.
You get one picture of the sage if you follow the image of him, as most people do, in Plato. You get quite a different one if you take the more chubby, pub-philosopher style created by Xenophon. (I talk about Xenophon a bit at the start of my pitch.)
I would have liked to explore a bit more why we have this hankering after actually meeting writers. That after all is what literary festivals are largely about. But isn’t it part of the old fallacious identification of author and text, page and personality? Why can’t be satisfied with a good book without wanting to get to grips with the author too. Especially as we know that it is more often than we would like a terrible disappointment.
As I write this, I’m listening to a discussion on In our Time about Isaac Newton – who was a well known, taciturn social-inadequate, whom it would have been ghastly to come across in the flesh. And I wouldn’t have much fancied an evening with Philip Larkin (though much enjoy an evening with Whitsun Weddings).
But is this to bite the festival hand that feeds?
Hope you’ll listen to the podcast (turn up the volume when you get to McCabe, whose uncharacteristic quietness is caused by her being more distant from the mike than the rest of us).