Plato’s Cave Revisited

In Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s ‘The Coming Race’ ventures down a mining cave and eventually finds himself being welcomed into the underground city of a superior human-like race.

Reading the story my thoughts led to Plato’s allegory of the cave and how the story could be seen as a inversion of that allegory. Instead of travelling out of the cave, he ventures down the cave.
And indeed the society he meets in the cave seems like quite a reversal of our Western society. The women are bigger than men, the child smarter than the father and their paintings have no central perspective.
The alternation of known concepts creates a familiarity and an alienation that fluctuates throughout the story and allows the reader to perceive and contemplate on the contemporary society with a new distance.

Indeed posthuman ideas are expressed in the text in the transgression of the human body in the concept of Vril – an energy that connects the beings of the human-like race.
However I would argue that posthuman ideas are also seen in the contemplation of our society that the narrative technique offers us.
Man and the ideas of democracy in the Western civilisation is made visible as a construct in the meeting of the superior other race and is deprived of its universality.

Instead of listening to Plato, this other species has settled deep down inside the caves and evolved into something awe-inspiring, thus forcing us to reflect on how ideas that form our society also form our race.



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2 Comments on "Plato’s Cave Revisited"

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Maria O'Connell

I agree with you that it is an examination of how ideas influence views of race. What is perhaps most disturbing to the American narrator is that democracy (in the American way) does not seem to be favorable to the society that he wants to achieve. It’s also interesting how tremendously that frightens him. Eventually all he wants is to do is run out of that cave into the world of shadows, yes?

Lara Eva Sochor
To view The Coming Race as an inverted version of Platos allegory has not yet crossed by mind, although it really obvious come to think about it. On the other hand I would not go as far as to say, that the Vril-ya pose as an opposite to Western Society of that time. My reasoning for that would be, that the narrator does tell his hosts about the achievements of humanity at his time and is subsequently asked to keep quiet about it [Bulwer-Lytton, 1871: 42f]. I their eyes the narrator and his kind are still nothing more than barbarians,… Read more »