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Plato’s Sunset Blvd.

May 27, 2007

I am interested in Plato’s allegory of the cave in the Republic, and using it in some capacity as a framework for the final portion of my book. While completing my undergraduate degree I worked closely with the Timaeus and was interested in Plato’s ideas of a world of Being that is changeless and in a state of perpetual harmony, and a world of Becoming that is always striving towards this harmonious state. I also became intrigued by a strange twist of fate that brought the Timaeus into the accepted body of knowledge of the medieval Neoplatonists. During the middle ages a portion of the Timaeus was misattributed to Dionysius the Areopagite of Acts 17:34, an occurrence that caused Christian philosophers to embrace Plato’s pagan writing at a time when they normally would have been destroyed as heretical. Through this twist of fate Plato inadvertently influenced medieval Christianity. This type of cross wiring or short-circuiting of history’s flow intrigues me. With this in mind, I returned to Plato’s work, this time to the Republic and in particular the allegory of the cave.

The metaphor of the cave intrigues me, especially as a sort of cosmological framework for the conclusion of my novel Stalking America. I have no interest in writing a Platonic novel, but I like the idea of subtly referencing this framework and adding multiple layers to this idea. The concept of human consciousness inhabiting a dark cave, entranced by the movements of shadows on a wall, is intriguing. I like how this metaphor demonstrates the viewer shifting his/her attention away from these shadows to focus on the clay statues that are being manipulated to produce the show, or to eventually discover the cause of what it is that manipulated these objects outside of the cave. This demonstrates a system of multiple layers of consciousness that an individual can aspire towards. It then becomes the responsibility of the individual who discovers these larger truths about reality to bring them back to the society (in this case the Republic).

In my writing I have been working on the idea of my main character stumbling into an underwater cave where the light bouncing off of the water starts producing his favorite TV shows on the walls. The big metaphysical crux of the book rests on how the kid reacts to these images and stories he encounters in this cave. I have been thinking of it as a pooling place where stray bits of consciousness and stories have become trapped. For me it is a means to tie in stories from the main character’s favorite show Stalking America, and various ephemeral bits, with the ghost story of the woman obsessed with knives. It is a landscape where these elements must be resolved. I am still not sure what form it will take, but the metaphor of the cave is giving me a framework to tuck all these intentionally disparate elements into.

I have also been taking a lot of notes on things I’d like to throw into this cave soup to create the desired atmosphere. I recently saw a Rufus Wainwright show at a swank Jazz club in Seattle. There was a certain feeling there that most shows don’t have. The space was like dinner theater with the audience nestled intimately at tables drinking cocktails and eating, while watching the spectacle up on stage. It had an essence of inhabiting a world from another time. I would like to capture elements of this experience in this scene. I also recently screened Sunset Blvd for my directing students while reading Plato’s Republic. There were certain details in the movie that I would like to let influence my conception of the cave. First I really liked the sense of the dieing decayed Hollywood presented in the film. I think there are certain parallels to elements in my story. I also started to think of the Norma Desmond character as a sort of ghost character. She can’t get over the fact that the world she inhabited as a star no longer exists. I have been thinking of her in a similar way to my ghost character that was murdered with a knife and now is obsessed with knives. She eroticizes them. Both Norma and my character have been pulled out of times flow, stuck and waiting for something to bust them out of this trapped orbit. Norma metaphorically haunts the decaying manor unable to escape her past glory. My character finds herself caught up in the pull of my story’s underwater cave where she meets my main character. They are both stuck in metaphorical caves, how will they bust free and learn to stop gazing at the shadows on the wall?

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