Friday, February 5, 2010

Silence of the Lambs analysis - part 65: Plotinus on the senses; rel. to Aurelius


Neoplatonism is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century CE, founded by Plotinus and based on the teachings of Plato and early Platonists.[a] Saint Augustine was influenced by the works of some Neoplatonists, particularly in The Six Enneads of Plotinus. Augustine found there an original synthesis of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics (Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic). Among other topics, Plotinus writes on the relationship between sense perception and memory:

"Perceptions are no imprints, we have said, are not to be thought of as seal-impressions on soul or mind...Memory is not to be explained as the retaining of information in virtue of the lingering of an impression which in fact was never made; the two things stand or fall together; either an impression is made upon the mind and lingers when there is remembrance, or, denying the impression, we cannot hold that memory is its lingering. [We] reject equally the impression and the retention...

"But if perception does not go by impression, what is the process? The mind affirms something not contained within it: this is precisely the characteristic of a power — not to accept impression but, within its allotted sphere, to act...Our tendency is to think of any of the faculties as unable to know its appropriate object by its own uncompelled act; to us it seems to submit to its environment rather than simply to perceive it, though in reality it is the master, not the victim...

"The very fact that we train ourselves to remember shows that what we get by the process is a strengthening of the mind...

"Sensation and memory, then, are not passivity but power..."

If we go by the above, then it would seem that Hannibal Lecter uses what Marcus Aurelius would call his directing mind when he perceives Starling with his bodily senses, and when he remembers these sensations.

Top left and right: During Starling's first visit with Lecter, Lecter can detect Starling's scent through the holes at the top of his cell plexiglass barrier. Above left: Starling during this meeting. Above right: A short while after detecting Clarice's scent, Lecter says, "Memory, Agent Starling, is what I have instead of a view."

a. Wikipedia, 'Neoplatonism'. Web, n.d. URL =
b. Plotinus. The Six Enneads, Fourth Ennead, Sixth Tractate. Trans. Stephen MacKenna and B. S. Page. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, URL =


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