Metaxy (μεταξύ, “between”) is defined in Plato’s Symposium by Socrates’ teacher Diotima (Διοτίμα, “honoured by God”) of Mantinea as the “in-between” or “middle ground” (Plato’s Symposium, trans. Albert A. Anderson [Agora, 2003] 28-29; see Symposium 201d-212b and R. G. Bury’s The Symposium of Plato (Perseus) for annotation and a gloss of the text and characters).
Józef Simmler, “Portrait of Jadwiga Łuszczewska (Diotima)” (1855)
For her, the In-Between is the place of Eros, Love, who in Greek theogony is the child of Poverty (Penia), i.e., lack or need, and Plenty (Poros), i.e., resource or means (lit. passage). He is a daimōn (δαίμων, “spirit, tutelary divinity,” i.e., genius L): a semi-divine entity, and an intermediary between the divine Gods and human beings (for the Neoplatonists, the term described the place of human beings between the Gods and animals, for Eric Voegelin, between two poles of experience: finite and infinite, or immanent and transcendent [see Order and History]).
The Alchemical Androgyne
More interesting is its role in her style of dialectic, as described by Luce Irigaray in “Sorcerer Love: A Reading of Plato, Symposium, Diotima’s Speech” (An Ethics of Sexual Difference, trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill [1993; London: Continuum, 2004] 20-30):
[I]t doesn’t use opposition to make the first term pass into the second in order to achieve a synthesis of the two, as Hegel does.
Hegel’s Dialectic of Thesis→Antithesis→Synthesis
(as against Diotima’s Dialectic of Thesis↔Metaxy↔Antithesis)
From the outset, she establishes an intermediary that will never be abandoned as a means or a path. Her method, then, is not a propaedeutic of [preliminary to] the destruction or the deconstruction of two terms in order to establish a synthesis that is neither one nor the other. She presents, uncovers, unveils the insistence of a third term that is already there and that permits progression: from poverty to wealth, from ignorance to wisdom, from mortality to immortality. Which, for her, always comes to a greater perfection of and in love. (20-21)
This third term, then, is Eros, love or desire. Love loves; he is the lover, not the beloved (or, strictly speaking, he—or she or s/he—loves).
We need not read the Diotiman dialectic of desire as Plato presents it: as teleological (desire for consummation with another) or othering (desire for an-other for the self), as in the following representation of domesticating desire à la the Hegelian (and later Sartrean) master-slave dialectic.
Need (i.e., Poverty/Penia) is not consummated and thereby extinguished by tapping into a resource or finding a means to its end (i.e., Plenty/Poros). Instead, for Diotima (and Irigaray) desire goes both ways. It is neither telelogical nor othering. Poverty (the negative) and Plenty (the positive) are two poles between which Love mediates.
between knowledge and reality, there is an intermediary that allows for the encounter and the transmutation or transvaluation between the two. . . . The mediator is never abolished. . . . Everything is always in movement, in a state of becoming. And the mediator of all this is, among other things, or exemplarily, love. Never fulfilled, always becoming. (21)
For Irigaray, “Love is a philosopher and a philosophy”—and, rather idealistically and predictably, alas,
Philosophy is not a formal learning, fixed and rigid, abstracted from all feeling. It is a quest for love, love of beauty, love of wisdom [lit. philo-sophia], which is one of beautiful things. (24)
[t]he philosopher is . . . a sort of barefoot waif who goes out under the stars seeking an encounter with reality, the embrace, the knowledge or perhaps a shared birth [connaissance Fr. “knowledge,” i.e., co-naissance], of whatever benevolence, beauty or wisdom might be found there. (24)
He or she doesn’t want to possess truth or beauty (like a beloved, i.e., an othered lover), but remains in search of it (as a lover, i.e., a lover for their own sake). Philosophy is “a perpetual journey, a perpetual transvaluation, a permanent becoming” (27).
Thus, when Diotima examines Socrates, “she teaches the renunciation of already established truths” rather than “positing authoritative, already established truths” (22).
N.B. Why is the in-between important? See
- Homi Bhabha on “Culture’s In-Between” (and see Jacques Audinet on the in-betweenness of “mestizo zones“);
- Hans-Georg Gadamer on “the locus of hermeneutics [in the] in-between” (and a gloss by Nick Davey);
- Michael Inwood on das Zwischen (the Between) in Heidegger (or example, in Being and Time , in Parvis Emad’s dreadful translations of Contributions to Philosophy [1936-38] and Mindfulness [1938-39], and in Parmenides [1942-43]).