Can dinner be the food of love?

The thought police Brief Answers To Big Questions
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The Independent Culture
We know from Plato's Symposium that Socrates, Phaedrus, Aristophanes et al met at a banquet one evening in Athens to discuss the subject of love. But I couldn't help wondering last week whether anyone would turn up on a cold evening in South Kensington to investigate this subject with perfect strangers over dinner? I need not have worried. The 20 or so participants, whose ages ranged from teens to eighties, were such a lively, articulate crowd that in fact the discussion could have gone on all night.

Socrates credited Diotima, a wise woman, with helping him to sort out his ideas on love, but it is a sad fact that women were excluded from that party chez Agathon - whereas our symposium benefited enormously from the input of women, especially our organiser, Gale Prawda, an American philosopher who comes over once a month from Paris (where she runs similar events) to host this dinner.

How does it work? The dinner is held upstairs in a private room at a Cafe Rouge and Gale kicks off by introducing the subject. While she is drawing our attention to what various philosophers have said about love, waiters are circulating and we each order from the good standard brasserie menu, whatever suits our appetites and pockets. Each person then introduces himself and without further ado the discussion takes off. My neighbour, an incredibly elegant and exotic looking 84-year-old woman, commented that most people mistake Eros, the physical side, for real love. Marianne, a French philosopher, countered that in sexual attraction there is a source of energy necessary for a certain sort of love. What is falling in love anyway? here we benefit from the views of a middle-aged man who admits he has just done so. A young man of 16 claims that love is a human invention.

Opinions, anecdotes and quotes are put forward in quick succession: Blake's, "He who kisses joy as it flies by, lives in eternity's sunrise ..."; Spinoza's view of joy; Swann's love for Odette de Crecy; Aristophanes and the division of the three sexes by Zeus; Love in Racine's Le Cid. Is the seat of love the brain, the heart or the sexual parts? Love thy neighbour. These are just a few of the topics we cover between soup and pudding. Gale intervenes only to interject a relevant philosophical concept or to calm matters when we all talk together. there is a great sense of camaraderie. the evening is over far too quickly.

All great fun - but is it philosophy? Of course it is, in the best sense of the word - love of wisdom. We were just more fortunate than the aforementioned Diotima, who would never have been invited to the feast. The love dinner was another manifestation of the way philosophy has fled the ivory towers of academia to enjoy itself in the streets, open to all.

The topic of the next philosophical dinner is destiny. To be held at Cafe Rouge, 102 Old Brompton Road, London SW5 3RD, on Saturday at 7pm. It costs pounds 15, plus the price of whatever you eat. Fax 0181 979 3891

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