Plato and Noir: “Incoherence partly resolved”

“The effect of this dialogue… is not to offer the reader a system, a structure of propositions, but to disturb and upset him in a certain way, to leave him in a kind of radical distress.”

[Properties ascribed by James Boyd White to Plato’s Crito]:  “The effect of this dialogue… is not to offer the reader a system, a structure of propositions, but to disturb and upset him in a certain way, to leave him in a kind of radical distress.”  According to White, Plato’s literary technique reflects his philosophical stance: “This text offers us the experience of incoherence partly resolved, then, but resolved only by seeing that in our own desires for certainty in argument, for authority in the laws—or in reason, or in persuasion—are self-misleading; that we can not rest upon schemes or formulae, either in life or in reading, but must accept the responsibility of living, which is ultimately one of establishing a narrative, a character, a set of relations with others, which have the kinds of coherence and meaning it is given us to have, replete with tension and uncertainty.”

– White, James Boyd. 1994. Acts of Hope: Creating Authority in Literature, Law, and Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p.40 quoted by Aronoff, Myron J. 2001. The Spy Novels of John le Carré: Balancing Ethics and Politics. New York: Palgrave. p.17

3 thoughts on “Plato and Noir: “Incoherence partly resolved””

  1. This posting is a marvelous engagement of the function of film noir and film in general, as possibly a “shooting star.” What, it asks, by way of a reflection on the ways of Plato, is afforded by “the responsibility for living” trumping a systematic discernment?
    As historical, we reach out to others and thereby incur “tensions” due to varying performances of
    “responsibility.” A film outreach could present a narrative instance of such “radical distress,” compelling to the point of alerting, at some level, a viewer to “the noir dialectic” within which he or she is essentially installed.
    It is a hard look, especially germane at this time of year when so many film enthusiasts attempt to embrace the “best” of the year’s productions, an effort that tempts some to denote trends and measure current work against that of the past. The difficulty (so well introduced by you,here, Tony) inherent in meaningful film work, with its noirish premium upon uncertainty and frisson, along with the severe pressures of an impatient marketplace, could induce those prune to gloom about the current efforts to calm down a bit. The contrarian glints transmitted by a film like The King’s Speech (which firebrands would dismiss as stodgy) are ,I think, remarkable and open to developments. Being fairly new to the steady stream of this art, I’m still amazed that anything “radical” (truly dark) ever gets released there.


  2. Thanks and a great post Jim! You have drawn all my jumbled threads together into an exciting and erudite tapestry.

    As you rightly elucidate, as long as writers and film-makers continue to attempt at least a partial resolution from the tension of living, literature and cinema will continue to engage us in extraordinary journeys. Even in failure there is measure of truth if we are open and humble enough to see it.


  3. Plato episode of the cave is so apropos of man’s tesion with shadow forms which Noir expresses in a universe never traversing the shadows and that is the context and architect of our general insanity posing as oh so pillars of a deceptively sane world demolished by theonslauht of noir “subversive artists”


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