Plato, when doing philosophy, often used a method familiar to any 17 year old with a passion for music: he would pull out a line from one of his favorite singers – Heraclitus, Democritus, Parmenides, et al. and finger it until it gave up its meaning. Unfortunately, the history of philosophy, from Heraclitus to Elvis Costello, shows that philosophers are less and less inclined to linger over these gnomic spasms that come in – as though fully formed in a whole other universe - from the outside, while they are more and more concerned about creating logically coherent structures in this world that they can argue for and against.
However, I, like Plato, think it is worthwhile pondering the weighty obscurities summoned like spirits in a great phrase. For instance – to return to Elvis Costello for a moment – it seems to me that the proper measure of that phrase in his song, Radio Radio, which goes: I want to bite the hand that feeds me – has not yet been attempted.
Of course, the naïve listener might think that this is pure resentment. The naïve listener instinctively takes the side of the hand, and is thus lost. However, the listener who has a larger sense of the dialectical peculiarity of the human situation would not so quickly go over to the hand’s side. Instead, this listener might consider that biting the hand that feeds you is, at least in some urgent cases, the necessary prelude to understanding just what it is that the hand is feeding you. This is not only the truth of punk – it is the truth of satire, of film noir, of all kinds of insomnias, ideological and personal.
Biting the hand that feeds you is a lot more difficult than it might seem, especially when the hand is so much larger than you, and you are so dependent on the hand that you can barely stand without it.