You have to read again the allegory of the cave of Plato. The most vertiginous question ever put to man. Just before the dawning of the Gospel. And its most extraordinary propaedeutics.
A suspicious (sub-spicere) look underneath. Discovering what does not appear from the start. Carry a critical glance on the glance itself. It comes already from a pagan, but doesn't the Spirit blow where it wants? And, since all times, doesn't the Verb illuminate every man?
A strange suspicion! Can true reality only be what men experience in the natural space which is theirs since their birth?
So radical a question can only be put at the limit. Plato, in the Seventh Book of the Republic, thus speaks through an allegory (agoreuo-allos). A different speech shouted on the public place.
It starts with a curious setting on the stage
An underground residence in the shape of cave. Men are tied up together there since their birth, the back turned against the single entry from which the light comes. Solids bonds prevent them moving and from turning the head. They can thus see only in front of them. The light comes from a fire lit on a height behind them. Between the fire and the prisoners passes a high road and along this road is build a small wall similar to the partitions which the puppeteers draw up in front of them, and above which they show their wonders.
is now necessary to imagine
along this road, behind this wall, carriers of various objects. These
carriers speak or keep silent and their voices are reflected in echo.
Only the objects which they carry pass the wall. Their shades are
projected at the far end of
cave. It is
also necessary to imagine these prisoners discussing between
What a strange setting on the stage! And what strange prisoners! Well, we are like them.
The reality behind the illusion
Is it possible for this inhabitants of the cave, locked up here since their birth, to have the slightest doubt on what appears to them as ‘real'? Lacking of any reference to the other, this same is like an absolute to them. Without the difference it is alone to make the law. Thus the reality of the fiction is more real than reality! Is our ‘reality’ more than a kind of cinema?
The shock of the fiction is painful because it means the rupture of a world ‘naturally' given since our birth. What will happen if you deliver one of these prisoners of his chains and of his ignorance? Detach him. You will make him suffer. He will complain over the violence he was subjected to. The dazzling will be intolerable for him. The shades he saw a moment ago appeared much clearer and more distinct to him than the objects one shows him now. Not to speak about the light itself. Yet only through a rupture can the fiction be revealed as fiction and therefore relativize itself. You have to risk the crossing to enjoy clearsightedness.
Let us still imagine this released prisoner remembering his old cave, the wisdom there professed and those who were his companions of captivity. Knowing now the difference, isn't he delighted by the change? Won't he feel sorry for his former companions? And what about the vanity and honours, the praises and the rewards then granted? The one who seized the sharpest passage of the shades, who remembered best which ones used to come first or last or go together and was most skilful to guess their appearance… Would he be jealous of these distinctions and these honours? Wouldn't he prefer to be only the servant of plow of a poor plowman, and to suffer all in the world rather than to return to his old illusions and live as he lived?
On return in the middle of the illusions
It is still interesting to imagine this man returning in the cave sitting in his old place. Will his eyes not be blinded by darkness while coming abruptly from the full sun? Let us imagine he will again enter into competition to judge these shades with the prisoners who did not leave their chains, in a state where his sight is still confused and before his eyes had recovered. Won't he give rise to laughing at his costs? Won't they say that having gone up there he returned with a ruined sight? And thus that it’s not worth it even to try it!
You return like a foreigner. Your return in the cave leaves you a ridiculous spoilsport in the small world of the inborn obviousness. Much more, you risk death.
The allegory of the cave remains more than ever topical
Because the sophistry of the cave did never function as well as in our days. And never were the dissidents more pitilessly expelled.
The cave of our modernity got full amenities. It was immensely widened. Lit from now on with electricity, wired for sound with power and high fidelity and equipped with thousand facilities, it became even more comfortable. The play of the shades improved. One does not lose the least detail of it on the small screens. The media have fun to orchestrate and amplify the debates of the cavernicoles. Our very vast cave resounds of a multitude of speeches tuned up with its resonance, i.e. in harmony with the Discourse that our world does not cease to hold with itself.
It is the Master in the cave. It is the Master of the cave. The dominating Discourse functions inside the “horizon indépassable”, the impossible to circumvent horizon, of the cave. It represents the most relevant logic of the cave. It identifies itself with the clear conscience of the cave. It is promoter of the consensus of the cave. It makes the law in the cave. It guaranties the euphoria of the cave. It is holder of the secrecies of the cave. It furnishes the imagination of the cave. It carries the lights of the cave. It teaches the magicians the fictions of the cave. It gives voice to the tenors in the polyphonies of the cave. It dictates the chronicles of the cave. It guarantees the success of the plays and the contests of the cave. It inspires the Utopias of the cave…
The other Word come from elsewhere has only few chances to be heard in the middle of these self-confident and assured voices. Would it even raise the voice, it would be at once expelled with violence. Anyway doesn't it have a ridiculous look in this shutting up enclosure? And yet it knows…
The range of the allegory is infinite
The human reality never finishes leaving the cave. The human element never finishes making its exodus, today more than ever.
Happy are you if you learned how to read between the lines and to distinguish between the shades. The shades are unable to distinguish themselves. These our times which are so critical on the methods become so very uncritical on what they are and how they function. They never finish to hand over to derision the witnesses of elsewhere, prophets of the Alliance with the Other One!