I recently finished a second rate move entitled The Switch, wherein Jason Bateman explains that “neurotic” simply means “introspective.” He goes on to say that his son—unbeknownst to everyone except the viewer—may be neurotic, but that it is a good thing. He walks through life thinking about things and making opinions and asking questions. This is all his neuroses brings him in life, and that it should not be frowned upon or mocked.
Besides this being an adorable way to defend his son, I think there is something wonderful about the idea. We use the word neurotic as a lighthearted insult but what exactly are you saying?
Someone who remains fixated on certain ideas or habits should not be ridiculed. Just because someone exhausts all mental processes before taking an action—as long as they then then complete that action—does not give you reason to change them. If these things are true, then calling someone a name that implies that they are mentally involved in the world does not seem to be an insult after all.
In the words of my wise mother…”It is a mental thing.”
At the risk of making too great a leap, I think that Plato knew this too. The Symposium is a neurotic expression of an interest in the idea of love. Plato uses five interlocuters to explore all that “love” means and every possible path on which to find it. This dialogue is clearly a classical piece of text that has been revered and lauded for centuries. It harps and obsesses and questions and whats more, it causes its readers to do the same—and tenfold.
Working with this definition of neurotic, I fully accept its applicability to my life. I was that kid who sat in the windowsill just watching people walk in and out of my apartment building.
“What if I were them?” I remember asking.
“What would I look like where I am sitting, from down there?”
Maybe this is typical childlike curiosity.
Maybe I was just weird. Introspective. Neurotic.
I think it is this kind of neurosis that Plato wished to endorse in the Symposium, and almost every other dialogue he wrote. We are to be this neurotic, for it is the only way to explore those questions that we usually skip over. We have to harp on those things that seem natural, that seem mundane.
Happiness. Goodness. Evil. Pain.
We feel them everyday but hardly stop to understand them. I want to to understand them. I want to see them in action when I read the news or walk around campus. In fact, I do. I want to sit up into the wee hours of the night with four of my friends, ruminating, agonizing over these ideas. These feelings. These anxieties. These neuroses.
At the end of the Symposium Socrates tells the boys what he knows about love. He says that a wise priestess explained to him what love is, and where it comes from. Diotima, she was called, Diotima of Mantinea.
At a dinner celebrating the end of my Philosophy seminar, my professor gave us a few last words.
“Take your faith seriously, know that it can stand the tests of modernity.”
The group of young men that made up our class sat in wonderment as Father Bradley graced us one last time with his years of wisdom. He then turned to me; he inspired me with what will forever remain one of the most flattering and daunting tasks I will ever receive:
“Watch over them, Amanda. They need supervision,” he said, “you can be their Diotima.”