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FORSTER'S PASSAGE TO INDIA: RE-ENVISIONING PLATO'S CAVE Debrah Raschkc Literary Modernism, as much interpretative commentary continues to reveal, oscillates between a desire for an impossible certainty (all that Western philosophy promised in various renditions until the close of the nineteenth century) and a reciprocal terror that ultimately nothing can be known. The cryptic images associated with this uncertainty are familiar : an ambiguous line drawn down the center ofa painting in Woolfs To the Lighthouse; Stephen Dedalus's enigmatic forging in Joyce's Portrait oftheArtist as a YoungMan; the culminating toothbrush hanging on the wall in EUot's "Rhapsody on a Windy Night." Intractable and persistent, interpretations of Modernism still pursue collapsing centers, elusive origins, and vanishing falcons. Epistemology (even if a failed epistemology ), for obvious reasons, remains key. In this spirit of uncertainty, the Platonic, which depends on fixity and the stability ofboundaries, may initially seem incongruent.2 Yet the attempts within Modernism to flee from the constraints oftime and narrative so fervently critiqued by Georg Lukács and Fredric Jameson do at least ambivalently recall the Platonic vision (although not necessarily the commensurate reactionary, political implications). Socrates tells us in the Phaedo that the philosopher comes closest to truth when he is closest to death, when the material world is the furthest away: "The true votary ofphilosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do not perceive that he is always pursuing death and dying" (Dialogues: A Selection 56). Likewise, aestheticism functioning as a kind of substitute Platonics also takes us out of this world, enacting yet another ruse that points the reader's eyes toward the symbol (and toward the heavens) away from bodies, away from sexuality.3 Aestheticism underlies the tension in Yeats in which at least one of his personas yearns to be gathered into "the artifice of eternity" or to merge into the "breathless starlit air" where "all thought is done." It underlies EUot's urge toward unity in The Waste Land and the culmination of that desired unity in The Four Quartets, in which weighty imagery and a consistency ofmeter propels the reader simultaneously toward death and a higher metaphysical vision. This disjuncture within Modernism between Platonic underpinnings and a ubiquitous uncertainty, however, is less strange than its evasion of gender, particularly given poststructuralist critiques of metaphysics as insidiously steeped in desire. Ifknowing is inseparable from desire, then Modernism's epistemological crisis (still primarily regarded as gender-neutral) cannot be separated from a crisis in sexuality. E. M. Forster, although less stylistically experimental than many of his counterparts , is remarkably radical in his vision on this account, for he sees in the Modernist metaphysical collapse, not an abyss, but an opportunity . Most specifically, Western metaphysics for Forster clearly informs Vol. 21 (1997): 10 THE COMPAKATIST desire. When Western metaphysics collapses, it offers not only a liberating new way of seeing the world, but also a revitalized vision of sexuality —since bodies and materiality (most frequently associated with the feminine) become pariahs to the visionary quest. That Forster was interested in issues of sexuality goes without saying. That he was interested in metaphysics also nearly goes without saying. Maurice contains explicit allusions to Plato's Symposium and Phaedrus. Howards End, in its injunction to "only connect," challenges the binary structure inherent to Western metaphysics, and The Longest Journey begins with a discussion of the reality of a cow: It was philosophy. They were discussing the existence ofobjects. Do they exist only when there is someone to look at them? Or have they a real existence oftheir own? It is all very interesting, but at the same time difficult. Hence the cow. She seemed to make things easier. She was so familiar, so solid, that surely the truths that she illustrated would in time become familiar and solid also. Is the cow there or not? (1-2) One of the most poignant critiques ofphilosophy occurs in Passage to India, which reveals Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" to be an insidious epistemology. For Forster, this collapse (representative of the collapse of certainty, in general) is not ominous, but salvific. Interweaving Platonic allusions into the descriptions of the Marabar Caves and then...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 10-24
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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