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Every moment some form grows perfect in hand or face; some tone on the hills or the sea is choicer than the rest; some mood of passion or insight or intellectual excitement is irresistibly real and attractive to us,-for that moment only. Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end.This conclusion became notorious: Fundamental beliefs in the stability of the external world and of the principles of morality seemed displaced in such formulations by a solipsistic pleasure that judged success by the intensity with which its moments were registered. When Pater temporarily suppressed it for the second edition of 1877, he did so to placate critics, including colleagues at Oxford, who saw this. There is no doubt that it obstructed his chances of preferment. It would have done so on doctrinal grounds alone; but Pater's potential misleading of young men in matters of moral principle was complicated by its chiming with a rumour of homosexual conduct with an undergraduate that came to a head in the same year. The latter became elided with the manifest interest in male beauty that Pater expressed, for example, in the essay in The Renaissance on Winckelmann, the great eighteenth-century German writer on Greek art; and these transgressive overtones continued in the reception of Pater's work-heightened after his death by the scandal and paranoia which surrounded the doctrines of aestheticism in the aftermath of the trial and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde.
To the modern spirit nothing is, or can be rightly known, except relatively and under conditions. . . . It is the truth of these relations that experience gives us, not the truth of eternal outlines ascertained once for all, but a world of fine gradations and subtly linked conditions, shifting intricately as we ourselves change.
to make men interested in themselves, as being the very ground of all reality for them. . .that was the essential function of the Socratic method: to flash light into the house within, its many chambers, its memories and associations. . . .The sentence echoes distantly the conclusion of The Renaissance; and also takes up obliquely the self-reflections and projections of his novel Marius the Epicurean (1885), of Imaginary Portraits (1887), and his essay-autobiographical in feeling, if not in fact-"The Child in the House" (1878). The Socratic method is converted into a form of inwardness; the dialogue is that of the self discovering its true imaginative sources.
[Plato's] aptitude for things visible, with the gift of words, empowers him to express, as if for the eyes, what except to the eye of the mind is strictly invisible."As if for the eyes": the pleasures of sight render the infinite finite; they render the abstract corporeal. The love of corporeal beauty, so central, earlier, to the doctrines of The Renaissance, transforms in Plato and Platonism the spiritual beauty of Plato's system into sensuous apperception: The love of the invisible is itself depicted as sensuous-
filling that 'hollow land' with delightful colour and form, as if now at last the mind were veritably dealing with living people there, living people who play upon us through the affinities, the repulsion and attraction of persons towards one another, all the magnetism, as we call it, of actual human friendship or love: -There, is the formula of Plato's genius, the essential condition of the specially Platonic temper, of Platonism.But by that means the visible material world is also reinstated as an object of joyful recognition, the means by which the "is" becomes the "true." In rendering Plato's power of visualisation, Pater also recovers him as an aesthete, the lover of the real world in which he is immersed. It is a remarkable transformation: Pater translates unity into diversity; flight to the eternal from phenomena into their vivid recuperation; he brings the population of the Dialogues into continuity with the characters of Homer, of Shakespeare, even of Thackeray. Pater's romance of the visible world turns Plato into a novelist. His insistence on the visible world of the Greeks takes up earlier themes and, by way of a powerfully romantic evocation of the manly austerities of Lacedaemon (Sparta), brings the frigid clarities of Plato's Republic into connection with the way a "seemly externality" might influence the "whole man"-as in a Cistercian abbey, or an Oxford College. Pater's ethics of the visible necessarily bring morality and aesthetics together.
A must reading for anyone interested in Plato. However, Pater's lectures on Plato say as much about Victorian England as they do about ancient Greece. Our perspective has changed in the century since Pater and we see Plato in a different light.
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