Plato Can Make You A Man!

by John Holbo on January 9, 2016

The reason I haven’t been blogging is I’m in the depths and throes of book-making. We’re finally – finally! – bringing out a new edition of good old Reason and Persuasion (that’s Belle’s and my old Plato book. I’ve swept clean the old site to celebrate the new book. All we need to complete the celebration is: the new book.) The problem is that it’s literally impossible to proof a book. Typos. They go all the way down. No matter how many times you comb through, there are more. And then more, underneath that. I’m convinced every book manuscript contains an infinite number of – admittedly increasingly small – typographical errors. It’s Zenoesque.

But you don’t care about that. You need entertainment. So here’s something I went overboard with, a while back. With Plato, I take a self-improvement/self-help angle. There’s a lot about Dale Carnegie and the sophists in the book. So I thought it would be funny to do an illustration for the Republic/Trasymachus section that plays that up. What is Thrasymachus going for, advocating ‘justice is the advantage of the stronger’ as a kind of self-help, self-improvement doctrine? G.K. Chesterton: “Preaching egoism is practicing altruism.” What is Socrates supposed to get out of it, in Thrasymachus’ dream of philosophical victory? Anyway, I had an idea. (Click for larger.)


It was actually kind of hard to draw, although the original (I trust you recognize the classic to which I nod) is hilariously crude.

Our new edition of Reason and Persuasion should be out soon. I’ll announce that when it happens. (We’re self-publishing it. We got the rights back from the publisher after the last edition went out of print. Now pardon me while I go pick typo nits and get the Kindle version made. That one is going to be a pain.)



John Quiggin 01.09.16 at 10:18 am

A bit of sand in the opening frame would help those of us who are slow on the uptake.


Bill Benzon 01.09.16 at 12:13 pm

And wouldn’t you know, the internets have the original, with learned commentary no less:


John Holbo 01.09.16 at 1:14 pm

Hmmmm, maybe for my next act I ought to accompany my discussion of the Myth of Glaucus, from Republic X …

“But to see the soul as it truly is, we must not study it as it is while maimed by association with the body and other evils — as we were doing before — but as it is in its ideal state. That is how to study the soul, thoroughly and by means of logical reasoning. We’ll then find it is a far finer thing than we supposed, and that we can see justice and injustice as well as all the other things we’ve discussed far more clearly. What we’ve said about the soul is true of it as it presently appears to us. But the condition in which we’ve studied it is like that of the sea god Glaucus, whose primary nature can’t easily be made out by those who catch glimpses of him. Some of the original parts have been broken off, others have been crushed, and his whole body has been maimed by the waves and by the shells, seaweeds, and stones that have attached themselves to him, so that he looks more like a wild animal than his natural self. The soul, too, is in a similar condition when we study it, afflicted by many evils. That, Glaucon, is why we have to look elsewhere in order to discover its true nature.
 — To where?
To its philosophy, or love of wisdom. We must realize what it grasps and aspires to relate to, because it is akin to the divine and immortal and what always is, and we must realize what it would become if it followed this aspiration with its whole being, and if the resulting effort lifted it out of the sea in which it now dwells, and if the many rocks and shells were hammered off it — which have grown all over it in a wild, earthy, stony profusion as it feasts on the supposedly happy fruits of the earth. Then we’d see what its true nature is and be able to say whether it has many parts or just one and whether or in what manner it is put together. (611c-612a)

… with a parody of a Sea-Monkeys ad.

But probably that’s a bad idea.


Mike 01.09.16 at 2:02 pm

I’ve always thought Thrasymachus was Ayn Rand in disguise. Or maybe Rand Paul. Or Rand McNally.


JanieM 01.09.16 at 3:56 pm

Totally agree about typos. No number of pairs of eyeballs is enough.


phosphorious 01.09.16 at 4:38 pm

Doesn’t G.E. Moore use typos on a page as an example of something we can k ow for sure? You just need more and waving.


Marshall Peace 01.09.16 at 4:40 pm

Standardized spelling is so Twentieth Century.


yastreblyansky 01.09.16 at 5:27 pm

I was once a 97-pound dialectician.


Glen Tomkins 01.09.16 at 5:56 pm

Not practical

They didn’t have direct mail advertising in Athens back in the day, much less late-night TV, so this would never have made money.

And that is the true definition of justice — what sells.


Bloix 01.09.16 at 10:11 pm

Each typo is a little stab in the heart. The corrected page bleeds red ink.


PJW 01.10.16 at 1:56 am

There were 40 some revisions in the 25th anniversary edition of Blood Meridian if that makes you feel any better. Sebastian Thrun said the other night on Charlie Rose that Google Translate was 99 percent accurate (better than any human), and I wondered then why that technology couldn’t be useful in copy editing. Maybe it or something similar beyond the horrific auto-correct is already being used for this purpose. Congrats on the book!


Mike Schilling 01.10.16 at 3:23 am

You can never kill all the typos, but we came close for the Vance Integral Edition. The trick was to assign each story to a team of 10 people, each of whom would proofread it independently (and somewhat competitively). If each one is likely to catch, say, 80% of the typos, the team as a while should catch at least 99.99%.


ckc (not kc) 01.10.16 at 4:39 am

Just think “wabi-sabi”


Neville Morley 01.10.16 at 9:58 am

Out of interest, since the cartoon gestures towards this issue, how do you see the relationship between Thrasymachus (the real one and/or Plato’s sock puppet) and the Melian Dialogue?


jake the antisoshul soshulist 01.10.16 at 3:40 pm

With Plato, it is sock-puppets all the way down. I suppose I should have a higher opinion of Plato than I do. But there are three people who, if I had a time machine, I would travel into the past to kick in the testicles. The first of which is Plato, second is Saul of Tarsus, and lastly, Augustine of Hippo.


Hey Skipper 01.11.16 at 12:43 pm

A very effective way to catch typos is to read from the last word to the first.


Eimear Ní Mhéalóid 01.11.16 at 12:47 pm

Sebastian Thrun said the other night on Charlie Rose that Google Translate was 99 percent accurate (better than any human)

I find that statistic highly dubious, having seen the hames it makes of my native language.


LFC 01.11.16 at 2:26 pm

Re typos: there has been, or so it seems to me at any rate, a decline in the quality of proofreading given to esp. university press books in the last ten years, I’ll say, though maybe it’s more like 20 or 25 years. One result has been an increase in the number of typos and other errors appearing in print. (Obviously this is an impression, not something for which I have statistical evidence/proof.)


JanieM 01.11.16 at 3:36 pm

@LFC: this is my impression too, although not confined to university presses. I’d say not just proofreading, but copy editing too.


Glen Tomkins 01.11.16 at 4:12 pm

Why do you want to get rid of the typos?

Have you no thought for the employability of textual critics in the future? And it’s not just their well-being to consider. They might well read a very profound insight into some lectio difficilior that would actually have been a very pedestrian point, were it not for the typo that unleashed the textual critic’s imagination to soar into the empyrean.

Cast your bread upon waters. Bind not the mouths of the kine that tread the grain.

I could go on like that, but I’ve already generated enough red squiggly lines to give me a fair shot at being thought a genius by some future generation that doesn’t understand the language or the context.


Stephen 01.11.16 at 5:30 pm

LFC@18: one explanation for the admitted decline in proofreading and copyediting in the UK was that such work was formerly done efficiently, mostly by defrocked clergymen, or those who had lost their faith, and who had no other means of support. Nowadays it seems almost impossible to be thrown out of the clerical profession for anything less than openly supporting Satanism (I suspect support for Islam would be quite acceptable).


John Holbo 01.12.16 at 1:01 am

“LFC@18: one explanation for the admitted decline in proofreading and copyediting in the UK was that such work was formerly done efficiently, mostly by defrocked clergymen, or those who had lost their faith, and who had no other means of support.”

I spy with my little eye, something that starts with ‘hilarious unintended consequences argument.’ The decline of Christianity has destroyed typography! Without the social and economic precariousness that comes with being a defrocked clergyman, those textual nits won’t get picked! A wave of migrant typos is streaming over the borders of our pages, taking our classic texts! (Sure, in the past they might have been integrated into the corrected text over time, but now …?)


MH 01.14.16 at 4:31 am

It seems there’s a consensus: you’ll never completely rid your works of typos and errors. While making the book as clean as possible is a decent goal, I would try not to overthink it. What’s important is that your book do whatever it is you want it to do. Which seems in this case to inspire discussion, philosophical exploration and make accessible decidedly difficult works (Plato). For what it’s worth, I appreciated your third edition because I thought it was highly accessible. Congrats on the new edition–your website looks great.


John Holbo 01.15.16 at 1:36 am

Thank you kindly, MH!


Collin Street 01.15.16 at 2:03 am

These days we get files electronically; even if we’re re-laying out the entire book we still use the typing that was done by the author.

Back-in-the-day — before my time — everything had to be re-typed. From typescript, or going back far enough manuscript. Or, you know, set using tiny bits of metal, and having done a bit of that it’s a wonder that anyone produced anything, tbh. I can’t help but think that the shift from professional word-inputters to amateur author skills might be linked, here.

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