Recently, one of my students came into class terribly incensed that Socrates put up such a weak defense of himself in The Apology. Afterall, he seems to dilute his strongest arguments with extraneous ones.

I love it when students come in annoyed with a philosopher. This means they read closely enough to have an opinion. Most often this happens with Nietzsche, and I then go on to make a plug for Nietzsche as anything but a nihilist; I have to get my kicks somehow. At any rate, the student is right; the Apology is not Socrates’ best rhetorical showing. Of course, the larger point is that he is not seeking to defend himself in the sense of getting himself off the hook. Plato wants us to see what Socrates stood for.

There are many famous apologies that are defenses in the modern sense of the word. I wrote a very eloquent one that never saw the light of day a few weeks ago. As long as the bad witch continues to point at me and call me names and others actually lend her statements credence (even if they are getting paid to do so), I will defend myself. Yes, I am the kind of person who cannot let that go. Why should I? I do not do well with defamation of character. Again, why should I? I’ve been thinking a lot about Kafka’s The Trial. It’s been a year like K’s. Lots of promises of deadlines at which time the confusion will be cleared up, the charges brought to the fore, the opportunity to defend oneself just around the corner. But, if you know Kafka’s commentary on the law, you know K never gets to defend himself, let alone hear the charges. I am hoping for a significantly better ending–“But the hands of one of the gentleman were laid on K.’s throat, while the other pushed the knife deep into his heart and twisted it there, twice. As his eyesight failed, K. saw the two gentlemen cheek by cheek, close in front of his face, watching the result. “Like a dog!” he said, it was as if the shame of it should outlive him.”

If you’ve never read The Trial, it’s available in several electronic forms from the Gutenberg Project. See http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7849. Sorry about the spoiler.

Is there a point, though, where defending oneself in the face of the other’s deprivation is not worth it? This weekend I heard a story so repulsive I realized this woman was sick a decade before I met her, an attacking, selfish, twisted person who has done great harm to someone I love. I was so shocked–maybe it was the sum of the horror stories, maybe the nature of this particular one. I know I cannot make her stop lying, but at the moment, all I want to do is look away from that gaping maw of selfishness and consumption.

I actually did apologize that feelings were hurt, several times, years ago now, but I cannot apologize for wrongs I did not commit. I can and will defend myself when attacked and when boundaries are crossed. But at the moment, I am just looking away. I don’t want to see all that ugliness. That is what everyone does to Kafka’s K, they look away. Here, it is the accuser, not the accused, that makes me shudder.



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