No Philosopher King: An Ancient Guide to Art and Life Under Trump

Today, the day before Thanksgiving, I am writing this, the penultimate post of the year-long project ‘Minus Plato Today’, a project started the day after Thanksgiving last year. (In fact, this really is the last post, as tomorrow’s will just comprise the links to every single post from the project). I remember, sometime in November, after the election of Twump, Nero, Jabba the Trump (take your pick), President Obama told us that we could mourn until Thanksgiving, but after that, we had to get back to work.

I used this spirited call to action as a way to revitalize Minus Plato, which, over the months before, had become somewhat stagnant, with only a post or two a month and sometimes months without posts. The project made sense to me since it used the platform of Minus Plato to not only continue (at some pace!) my work on the dynamic between Classics and Contemporary Art, but also the daily act of writing and posting, offered me a legitimate mechanism whereby I could resist the idiot president’s regime, with a regular ‘Fuck Trump’, embedded within my content. Looking back over the year, there have been times when I wrote in direct response to some terrifying and brute action on his part and that of his administration, but, thankfully, there were days when I was able to forget about him completely, and focus on what I love about being a classicist engaged with contemporary creativity. I would presume that this alternating between reactive outrage and necessary regrouping has been the experience of many over the past 12 months. As this project comes to an end, I am wary of the space that will be left in my life and work, and so today I want to record some tentative thoughts on where to go from here. In short, what will Minus Plato be after ‘Minus Plato Today’?

To answer this question, I have to revisit one aspect of the project that surprised me over the past year. I gradually dawned on me that one person’s daily activity and resistance could become the basis for collective creativity and action. I have never kept a diary, although as a teenager I tried. I thought that I simply didn’t have the stamina. So when I started on this project of daily posting I had no idea if it was even possible for me to do it. I expected that I would give up at some point along the way. As such, to be writing this post today, on a pretty basic level, I am proud of what I have accomplished. Some days have been harder than others, some posts have been mere suggestions, others were more fleshed out, but overall feel like I can look back at this year and find the basis for many future projects and ideas.

It is within this process of looking back and forward at the same time that I realize how much I have enjoyed the series-posts that I created, such as the illustrated Apuleius (‘The Golden Ass Instantly Illustrated’) or those dedicated to Eric Baudelaire’s Anabases book (‘Anabasis Week’) and re-imagining Anna Halprin’s Myths (‘Myths for Mutual Pedagogy’). Yet, of these series-posts, what I am most satisfied with and which have been vital to me as offering a way to understand the future of Minus Plato, are those that stemmed from collaborations, such as the recent dialogue with classicist Jessica Hughes during the recent Modern Classicisms conference (‘Post Modern Classicisms Dialogue‘), or the posts about the informal discussion group on motherhood with artist Dani Restack (‘Myth Mother Invention’) or the more creative engagements following my visits to documenta 14, with sair goetz after Athens (‘Alpha to Omega of Our Athens Nostalgia’) and with Danai Liodaki, Ioannis Sarris and Eleni Zervou after Kassel (‘Three Athenians in Kassel’).

My drive to foster and include such collaborations as part of ‘Minus Plato Today’ made me reconsider the very title of the blog Minus Plato. With such a horrific example of domineering, ignorant, patriarchal authority and mansplaining in the White House, I started to realize that a necessary means to resist, especially as someone so privileged (aside from wealth, you name it, I have it: white male heterosexual British tenured university professor), was to deconstruct the individual narcissism attached to the genius myth, operative within ancient philosophy (which could be dubbed, the Plato complex) and the history of art (in turn, could be called, the Picasso complex). The gradual realization, on a day to day basis, was that I had to not only displace Plato and other models of individual authority from my daily teaching and work as a Classicist, but also that the most responsible and effective way of doing this was to displace myself in the process.

It is this realization that you can see developing over the course of the year, with encounters and collaborations with artists, performers, students and other groups. While writing about particular artworks helped me make this shift (e.g. Mattin’s Social Dissonance), it was the shear range of manifestations of this shift that was significant. Curating exhibitions (e.g. Come Along With Me, Perictione & Sons), being a part of the M I N T collective, working with OSU Art MFA students and Classics Graduate students, giving testimony in the Ohio Senate, speaking out in solidarity with silenced members of my departmental community, the list goes on. It also included my own family. My father, Alan Fletcher, collaborated on a post with me and the work of my sister, filmmaker Abbe Leigh Fletcher, and the example of my mother, Shielagh Finlay, inspired my recent focus on motherhood. The two people who have been with me throughout the year, and in spite of how annoying it has been for them to live with, waiting for me to blog, especially throughout the summer months, are my partner, Rebeka Campos-Astorkiza and our son, Eneko Campos-Fletcher. They are somewhere in every post I have written and, in many ways, I write Minus Plato for them and our life together and for our future.

This is quickly turning into an acknowledgments section of a book, so let me rein myself and get to the original question. What will Minus Plato be after ‘Minus Plato Today’? Here are my two main ideas, which I would like to set out in the manner of commitments or resolutions going forward:

1. Minus Plato will transition from a blog into a general platform for the engagement between the Classical (both within and beyond Greco-Roman antiquity) and Contemporary Art. As such, I announce that any scholar, artist, student or interested party who wants to use a post from Minus Plato (not only from this last year, but its whole 5 year history) as a basis for their research or some project, has my blessing and encouragement to do so. In fact, I welcome the possibility of working with them on this transition from the post to their own research project (if anyone reading this is interested, send an email to minusplato@gmail.com). All I ask is that if Minus Plato is the basis for this new research or project, then Minus Plato (not me, Richard Fletcher) is acknowledged in some way. In short, I want Minus Plato to be the engine room for a new research field and collaborative scholarship at the borderline between Classics and Art, one that is not organized by any one individual, but which is generated by the shared origins in the dynamic that Minus Plato has up to this moment explored.

2. I, Richard Fletcher, will transition to writing and working under the name of Minus Plato. This process has already started, but will continue by incorporating collaborative and collective work within the activities of Minus Plato as a ‘we’. While anyone is welcome to join us at Minus Plato, in the coming months, the first people who will be invited will be the artists who have been written about in the ‘Minus Plato Today’ project. In addition to exhibitions and other formats of collaborative research and creativity, we will spend the first year working the posts of ‘Minus Plato Today’ into a book proposal tentatively called No Philosopher King: An Ancient Guide to Art and Life under Trump. We will use the time freed up by not posting every day to reorder and rewrite the year of posts into substantial, thematic sections of the book. While there is precedent for the blog to book model, Minus Plato will work towards a new model of authorship whereby the writing of the blog is expanded by a collaborative process that will result in a book.

In light of these two ideas, the blog Minus Plato will continue to operate, and in 2018 we will continue to post (on a weekly basis). However, the nature of these posts will be influenced by the two expansive projects outlined above. The blog Minus Plato will, therefore, be both a platform for the new research and projects stemming from previous posts as well as place to report on the development for the manuscript of the book project No Philosopher King.

Before becoming Minus Plato, I, Richard Fletcher, want to thank every single one of you as readers of Minus Plato over the five years and especially this past year. Your comments, encouragement and engagement have meant so much for me and have sustained me through this year of truly horrific proportions. However you have managed to make it through this year, we need to be thankful for each other and the work we can do together for protest, resistance and change. To quote a selection of phrases from the Minus Plato Manifesto (accompanied by a collage of the manifesto with a work by William Kentridge):

THE CLASSICAL IS FOR EVERYBODY’S USE

NO ONE OWNS THE CLASSICAL

THE CLASSICAL IS EVERYWHERE

MINUS PLATO IS FOR ALL LIVES, LESSONS AND COMMUNITIES

MINUS PLATO WILL BE YOUR NEW GUIDE

MINUS PLATO WILL BE YOUR NEW HANDBOOK

MINUS PLATO WILL BE YOUR NEW SABOTAGE MANUAL

WHILE NERO GOES AROUND TWEETING ORDERS

WHILE NERO FEEDS HATE

MINUS PLATO CONFRONTS NERO WITH A MIRROR

MINUS PLATO IS YOUR SENECA

MINUS PLATO IS YOUR PAMPHILE OF EPIDAUROS 

MINUS PLATO IS THEM IN ALL OF US

PS – this post is dedicated to the person who bought Teresa Chan’s Jabba The Trump from her son, artist Paul Chan’s experimental publisher and resistance movement Badlands Unlimited. Let them keep this one-of-a-kind hand knitted sculpture on permanent display to remind us to resist, daily, of our racist, sexist, xenophobic, idiot, and definitely no philosopher, president.

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