My wife’s book club is reading The Cave by Jose Saramago. It sounded interesting, so I read it too. It takes place in some nondescript time and place, perhaps in the not-so-distant future. Most of the landscape is barren, except for some small villages, and a city, and in the city a huge complex called the Center. The Center is a huge shopping mall, living complex, entertainment center — basically, everything you need in a massive single building. Many people are trying to flee the barren landscape and gain admission to the Center, where it seems everything will be new and clean and happy. The main character, an old potter named Cipriano, makes a living by selling his pottery to the Center. His wife has died, his daughter lives with him, and her husband is a security guard in the Center. The crux of the novel is the difficulty of deciding whether to move into the Center, since Cipriano’s business is not doing well. They live a charming, romantic life in the village, and it’s easy to see that moving to the Center has all the appeal of deciding to live in a shopping mall.
What interests me is trying to connect the novel to Plato. There’s a very obvious connection at the end of the novel, but before that there are also other interesting connections. Cipriano finds a dog that turns out to be perfectly adorable, and of course we know that philosophers are supposed to be like good dogs: friendly toward what they know, and hostile toward the unfamiliar. The dialogue between Cipriano and his daughter is very elegant, like Platonic dialogue. Cipriano and his daughter start making clay figurines, which sort of recalls the overall project of the Republic. And the overall theme seems to concern what it is to live harmoniously and according to one’s nature, which is Plato’s understanding of justice.
I hope some of you other philosophers have the chance to read it, as I’m sure there are other connections I’m missing.