The Perils of Uglytown: Studies in Structural Misanthropology from Plato to Rembrandt

The Perils of Uglytown: Studies in Structural Misanthropology from Plato to Rembrandt

Harry Berger
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Perils of Uglytown: Studies in Structural Misanthropology from Plato to Rembrandt
    Book Description:

    In The Perils of Uglytown, Harry Berger, Jr., considers a variety of texts and images ranging from those of Thucydides and Plato to those of Shakespeare and Rembrandt. The Introduction explains the key concept of the study, structural misanthropology, a variant on Claude Levi-Strauss's idea of structural anthropology. Part I explores its activity in several Platonic dialogues: Lysis, Crito, Phaedo, The Republic, and Timaeus. Part II turns to the Renaissance in Italy, England, and the Netherlands. Structural misanthropology is discussed first in the work of several Italian humanists (Alberti, Leonardo, Castiglione, and Vasari), then in English drama (Gorbuduc and several plays by Shakespeare), and finally in group portraits by Hals and Rembrandt. The Perils of Uglytown applies and brings up to date the methods of interpretation Berger has developed during the past half-century in his many studies of literature, drama, philosophy, social and cultural studies, and the visual arts.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5026-4
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1. A Polar Model of Culture Change: Introduction to Structural Misanthropology
    (pp. 1-12)

    The creature becomes the creator of the creation in which it is a creature. This magical or miraculous transformation can occur only if the creature disavows, or remains ignorant of, its act and power of creation and continues to think of itself as the creature, not the creator, of the creation.

    For example, we human beings create our gods, our cosmos, our laws of nature, our structures of kinship and gender, and our conceptions of soul or self. Yet if we don’t know or believe we made these things up, we confer reality and transcendence on them. Whenever we discover...

  5. PART I. Misanthropology in Plato’s Dialogues

    • 2. The Discourse of Pleonexia: Thucydides and Plato on the Politics of Communication
      (pp. 15-30)

      The Greek wordlogosmeans “word,” but it also means a lot of other things. In Plato’s dialogues, for example, its range of denotation includes conversation, speech, story, and saying. An epigram or proverb can also be alogos. So can particular arguments or processes of arguing. In the most general sense, a person’slogosor argument can be equivalent to what we sometimes call a value system, as when it is said that a father hands hislogosdown to his son.

      Logoshas the range and diffuseness of our term “discourse,” and one of its uses corresponds pretty...

    • 3. Dying Angry: The Wrath of Socrates in Plato’s Phaedo
      (pp. 31-49)

      The gods must be crazy if they think Socrates is doing them a favor just before he dies by offering them a toast and going out like an epic or tragic hero, a confection of the poets—going out like one of those supermen he had been compared to in this and other dialogues: Theseus, Hercules, Achilles, Odysseus. For as Paul Friedlaender points out, what he offers to toast them with is the poison. This is a great insight, but Friedlaender can’t handle it: “To offer poison to the gods? That would be a sacrilege but for the fact that...

    • 4. More Than a Talking Head: Socrates and Kephalos in Republic 1
      (pp. 50-93)

      Kephalos is old and rich and lives in the Piraeus. Hemaybe a resident alien from Syracuse and hemaybe a weapons-maker. I emphasize themaybecause whether or not these suggestions are true of the “historical” Kephalos, theRepublicitself gives us no warrant to assume them.¹ Only the information contained in the first sentence appears in the dialogue.

      The other details do, however, make a difference. Both the status of resident alien (ormetic) and the occupation of weapons-maker add specificity to the concrete staging of the dialogue’s arguments.² They affect our sense of the justice...

    • 5. The Perils of Uglytown: Structural Misanthropology in Plato’s Republic
      (pp. 94-132)

      The genealogy of misanthropy is most compactly and directly described by Protagoras in his Great Myth, ormakrologia(Protagoras320c–328d). He divides human adaptation into two phases, both of which he derives from the consciously directed productive processes oftechnē. First humans domesticate the cosmos by filling it with gods to whom they areoikeios. Second, “by the art which they possessed, men soon discovered articulate speech and names, and invented houses and clothes and shoes and bedding and got food from the earth” (322a).¹

      The sequence implies that humans first created religion (if not the gods) in order...

    • 6. Adeimantus and Glaucon
      (pp. 133-152)

      A particular vision of the All sends the desire of many of Socrates’s interlocutors soaring upward like a rainbow toward a plot of gold, a pot of god, which occupies both an extratextual and intertextual place. The trajectory of desire arcs toward the golden age of pre-Solonian aristocracy and toward its fantasy image in the golden race that dwells in a familiar Hesiodictopos:

      At first the immortals who dwell on Olympos

      created a golden race of mortal men.

      That was when Kronos was king of the sky,

      and they lived like gods, carefree in their hearts,

      shielded from pain...

    • 7. Four Virtues in the Republic: (1) Wisdom
      (pp. 153-168)

      I begin these chapters on the virtues in theRepublic—wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice—by recycling some comments I made years ago in a study of Plato’sTimaeusandCritias. I wrote there that the polis Socrates designs in theRepublicwith the help of his interlocutors is intended as a dystopia, and that the best statement of its purpose I had ever encountered comes from an unlikely source, namely, Gregory Bateson’s reflections on John Lilly’s experiments with dolphins. These experiments involve a series of steps in which what Bateson calls “deutero-learning,” or learning to learn, is conditioned by...

    • 8. Four Virtues in the Republic: (2) Courage, The Well-Born Lye
      (pp. 169-179)

      When Socrates introduces the discussion of courage, he proposes looking into both what it is and where “it’s situated in the city” (429a). Glaucon has no problem with thewhere. He easily assents to the proposition that to find courage in the city we should not look “to any part other than the one that defends it and takes the field on its behalf.” And he agrees with Socrates that for this determination it would not be decisive “whether the other men in it [the city] are cowardly or courageous” (429b).

      What is essential “for men who are to be...

    • 9. Four Virtues in the Republic: (3) Temperance
      (pp. 180-191)

      Sōphrosynē: temperance, moderation. In the common as well as Socratic understanding,sōphrosynēis the virtue of collective and individual self-moderation, the virtue that guarantees the structural unity of a diverse and hierarchic community. The subjects or agents of this virtue are not only individuals but also the classes to which they belong. But etymology and allusion add a deeper unofficial meaning. Both the nameSōkratēsand the nounsōphrosynēbegin with the syncopated form ofsōs(safe, healthy, whole).Sōs-phrosynēroughly means “safemindedness.” In what follows, I’ll explore some of the darker implications of that etymological ghost.

      Socrates introduces the...

    • 10. Four Virtues in the Republic: (4) Justice
      (pp. 192-203)

      After the account ofsōphrosynēbrings the three classes into harmonious relation, the account of justice analytically discloses the basis in each class that makes the harmony possible. This is at least the way it is presented in the worse, weaker, or more harmoniouslogos. In thislogos, the political hierarchy—and by implication its psychic counterpart—appears to be getting ever more tightly ordered.

      Yet running under it in the contrapuntallogosis the figured bass of fears and dangers that bears thelysis—the loosening and dissolving—of the order.Lysisis taken up as the main theme...

    • 11. Apprehension in the Timaeus: Plato’s Nervous Narrator
      (pp. 204-212)

      TheTimaeusandCritiasare linked together as a single speech event. Its four interlocutors are Socrates, Timaeus, Critias, and Hermocrates. Their discussion responds to an account Socrates gave the previous day of the city described inThe Republic. Timaeus holds forth on the creation of the cosmos and the human being. Critias follows with the story of the fall of Atlantis.

      Critias is a pro-Spartan and an oligarch who longs for the good old days when the better sort of people had power, and everyone else did their house- and field-work for them. He has a lot in common...

  6. PART II. Misanthropology in Early Modern Culture

    • 12. Cybernetic Alienation: Prosthetic Strategies in Alberti, Leonardo, Castiglione, and Machiavelli
      (pp. 215-231)

      Because my title is a tad crunchy, I’ll begin by translating its key terms, starting withprosthesis. In both ancient Greek and Latin,prosthesismeans the addition of a letter or syllable, usually at the beginning of a word. For example, the Greek wordproscan mean “to, toward, in addition to,” and the Greek wordthesismeans “setting, placing, arranging.” If you putprosbeforethesisyou not onlyget prosthesis. You have justexecutedone.

      This sunny sense of adding and enriching has been replaced in our time by a sadder set of meanings, a set the Iraq...

    • 13. Collecting Body Parts in Leonardo’s Cave: Vasari’s Lives and the Erotics of Obscene Connoisseurship
      (pp. 232-251)

      My topic in this chapter is the portrayal of Leonardo da Vinci in Giorgio Vasari’sLe Vite de’ Piú Eccellenti Pittori Scultori ed Architettori(The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects).The Liveswas first published in Florence in 1550 and reprinted eighteen years later in a greatly expanded version. Vasari took an idea common in his time, the idea of the renaissance or rebirth—la rinascita—of art, and made it the basis of a historical scheme modeled in part on the human life cycle.¹

      He argued that classical and modern art had each gone through...

    • 14. Prospero’s Humiliation
      (pp. 252-268)

      Welcome to a Guarian interpretation ofThe Tempest. In other words, what you’re going to hear me say about Prospero is that he’s like someone who lost his job in Manhattan and was forced to raise his family on Long Island, where he lived in humiliation for twelve years without a kitchen sink until the Apple gave him another break. When the play starts, he’s still rankled, still humiliated, by his layoff and exile. But he sees a way to get back—both a way to get his revenge and a way to return home on his own terms.


    • 15. The Drama of Competitive Posing: Portrait Plots in Hals and Rembrandt
      (pp. 269-292)

      Twelve figures gather around a silly little table in a great big room. Their geniality, their enthusiasm, is infectious. These are the officers of the Saint Hadrian Militia Company in Haarlem, painted in 1627 by Frans Hals. They want you to enjoy the playfulness with which they pretend to be serious as they hold their poses. Some pretend not to be posing. Like the dog at the lower left, they explore the pleasures of neighborly interaction. All of them clearly want Hals to put the happiest face on their gift of themselves to their peers and future generations. Thanks to...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 293-308)
  8. Index
    (pp. 309-324)