By A.T. Stojkovich


The Montréal Review, April 2024


Journals (2008) by Alan Feltus


We met again. This time, outside campus walls. He did not give me an address, but coordinates. Degrees, minutes, seconds—a series of numbers devoid of social, cultural, and historical meaning. No street names, no landmarks, not even a building number. Universal, untethered.

Looking at a map, I noticed the pin was a stone’s throw from campus, conjoined by a single walkway that bowed along the reservoir. Upon entering, I wondered if I was in the right place. Warm lighting, old stools, tobacco timber columns, and the drooping odor of malt. A pub, in short. Contrasted with the turbulent rigor of academia, this was ordered chaos. I moved around booths and tables looking for him. After lapping the nearly empty bar, there was no sign of him; I assumed he was yet to arrive. I walked to a booth at the far end of the tavern and hung my coat up beside it. When I turned to sit down, there was Beauchard, nursing a beer. A stout, by the looks of it. We shook hands and talked as old friends. He bought me a beer and we let the interview flow with a comfortable freedom.

Andrew: In your recent article “The Appearance of Justice,” you state that most readers misread certain thinkers and their intentions. In both this article and your recent book, you suggest a new reading of the Republic that rubs against the sharkskin of these popular readings. Your reading, you seem to hold, is the “true reading."

Early in the Republic, Polemarchus asks, "And are you stronger than all these? for if not, you will have to remain where you are.” Here, we are given a taste that “might is right.” Throughout the text, you argue, might proves itself. Thrasymachus fails to be disproven. Plato persuades us that he is the rightful artist-tyrant. How do you reconcile your reading that Plato argues for strength with your preference towards individuality in thought?

If might is right, then why are the popular readings of these nuanced thinkers "false," per se? How do we reconcile this difference and establish truth and falsity? How do we, as you put it, divide “worldly reputation” and “the righteous path”?

JLB: First, let me thank you, not only for wanting to continue our discussion, but even more so for reading my work. There is no greater compliment you can pay an author than to read what he has to say and read it well. On that note, I would begin to answer that charming question of yours by quibbling with your suggestion that I propose true or definitive readings of the texts I write about. (City of Man, you no doubt recollect, is subtitled A Novel Reading of Plato's Republic, suggesting that if it is not true, it is at least new — and perhaps a bit novelistic). What I would say is that while there may not be a single true reading, there can certainly be a multiplicity of true readers, and that is what I hope to call forth with my work.

What makes a reader a true reader? (I could easily ask you this question since you appear to be one). In the first place, the true reader must be a desirer of wisdom, not one part and not another, but all of it. He must want to taste every kind of writing with gusto, approaching the art of reading with delight, with an insatiable appetite to know. He must have a good memory and refuse to be distracted by the readings offered by others. He must want to read for himself and see reading as an art to be cultivated. He must recognize that authors often hide things in their books and believe that his job is to uncover whatever has been hidden.

These are all preconditions, of course, but one who possesses them is well on his way to deciphering a thing or two from a given text and certainly enjoying the task set before him. As for Plato, I don't really know what he says on the power of the few over the many in the Republic. That work is a profound mystery to me. I'll have to reread it to let you know what I think of it. But I do appreciate you reading my recent essay in the Montréal Review. Someone recently suggested that that piece could be read as the hermeneutic key with which to unlock the mystery of my other works and I thought that was a fine insight.

You suggest that the good reader’s nature is an “insatiable appetite to know.” But does it matter what this reader wants to know? What if he wants to know the inner workings of the piece in the style of a New Critic, using the text itself as his yardstick? What if he seeks to understand the etymological reasons for a writer’s use of vernacular in a text, focused not on the book’s content, but on its form? What if a reader wants to know how the story, the characters, and not the mode of writing, reflect back on his life? These are all very different ways to read a text with gusto and delight, but who is to say which method is truer than another?

I suppose when I say that a true reader has an insatiable appetite to know I mean to know himself, as the old inscription at Delphi would have it. For human beings, knowledge is always self-knowledge. We can’t, after all, know by any means other than ourselves. To say this is to draw attention to the metaphysical foundation of the epistemic, the problematic status of the knower. To oversimplify, it is always a mind that thinks about how minds think, and failing to take this paradox into account leads to the kind of risible epistemological blindness the best examples of which can be found in scientific—read, objective—accounts of religion and religious phenomena.

The folly of the scientist can be gleaned in this: he profanes the mysteries he studies by attempting to examine them from without, as if he were not involved. But we are always involved. We are always a part of our observations, of our knowledge. The hypothetical reader who only cares about the stylistic choices of the author is not a true reader because he is not curious about why he only cares about the stylistic choices of the author. He does not see that he is implicated in his reading, that his reading says something about him. But great books insist upon showing us we are implicated. They turn the spotlight back on us and force us to examine ourselves. Some are wont to do so – I call them good or true readers. Some resist doing so — I call them scholars or academics. They typically refuse to read and instead rely upon the readings of others when they want to know what a book has to say. They call that secondary literature. I call it a lack of curiosity and a thoroughly unphilosophic approach to existence.

The epistemic limits of knowing other minds prompts the single-most important question in writing: Why publish? If writing is a means to Delphic ends, why do we need to share that isolated and self-enclosed task with others? If the only benefits are internal, why do we eagerly foist that internal struggle back onto the world?

In our last discussion, you drew attention to the fact that near the end of City of Man there is a fictional dialogue between me, the work’s author, and the reader, a character I created for the purpose of illustration. Do you remember?

Of course.

And in that dialogue, my fictive interlocutor mentions “the philosopher’s secret art.” Do you remember what it is?

Yes, I do.


He says its “sleight of hand.”

Sleight of hand! It is imperative, the reader says, to pay attention and refuse “to be taken in by the philosopher’s secret art—sleight of hand.” That is the essence of good reading. Attention. Attention before all else. Well, lucky for me I learned well from my character-reader — who, as it turns out, is also my greatest teacher — because I was in fact paying attention when you asked me that question and I noticed that you are quite the philosopher yourself. Yes, you tried to sneak one by me with your cunning question but I won't be fooled! I did not say that the Delphic maxim “know thyself” is the sole purpose of writing – though, to give the daemoniac his due, it’s true that I intimate something similar in my preface to CoM. I said that that sacred aphorism is the essence of good reading. The reader reads to know himself, but that’s not why the writer writes.

No, I am very skeptical of Nietzsche’s Mihi ipsi scripsi – I write for myself. What is more, I don't believe he meant it. (Zarathustra stands as testimony against him). One writes not for oneself. One writes for what’s beyond oneself. For small authors, that means writing for the sake of the reader. (And make no mistake, the postmodern author’s obsession with the reader is a mark of the smallness of his spirit – he wants the reader’s admiration, he wants to be praised). For big, expansive authors – those who would coin a new word, sing a new note – that means writing for the sake of his creation, for his characters, as I say in The Mask of Memnon, or for the love and joy of the work of creating.

What, then, is the difference between reading and writing? I acknowledge this sounds ridiculous. One reads, another writes. But allow me to turn to our last interview. You said “The best readers are great writers. That is, reading is equal parts attention and creation. One never reads a book without also writing it.” Am I misconstruing your words and equivocating definitions? And if these two actions are different, where is the line? Broadly speaking, if great readers are great writers, are great writers great readers?

Have you read the wonderful tragicomic novel Fog by Miguel de Unamuno? I was turned onto Unamuno by your colleague at Senex, Jamieson de Quincey. (He’s a brilliant, brilliant author by the way. I can’t praise him highly enough. My next project may turn out to be on Don Quixote and if it is, that will be thanks to Unamuno). Anyway, in the book Unamuno appears as a character among his characters and confesses to one of them that he’s built his entire philosophy on the notion that one ought always to mix things up. Whereas most philosophers work to discover clear and distinct ideas, Unamuno strives to undefine things and make a mess of every thought and every situation. That’s how life is — chaotic, messy — so that’s how philosophy ought to be, how literature ought to be.

Is the reader the author of the works he reads? Yes. Is the author his own finest reader? Without question. Is writing reading and reading writing? Absolutely. Can a character be an author and write his own books? Why not? Can the author be authored by his characters, is he as much a creation of his creations as they are created by him? That makes sense to me. No, I’ve never quite seen the use in distinguishing one thing from another. Distinctions are always abstract, always added onto the thing itself. But some of us want the real thing and we won’t settle for a counterfeit idea of it. We want to be alive, fully alive. We don’t want to be told how life ought to be. Life, of course, is dirty. Being alive means getting mixed up and confused, caught in webs, twisted around by paradoxes. For Borges, life is a labyrinth. For me, it’s a library. But each book contradicts every other and the only way to understand even the smallest sliver of it is by reading book after book while simultaneously writing your own – that is, learning from the lives of others and living yours as best you can.

We can’t always be writing, but we can always be cultivating insights, developing thoughts, and asking questions of the world we live in. What are some steps you take beyond writing, both figurative and literal, to write, to learn by living, to live by learning?

Graham Greene says somewhere (I forget where, perhaps in The End of the Affair?) that for the author, every minute is spent writing. When you’re at the pharmacy, driving down the highway, having a solitary drink or sitting at the back of the church, even then you’re writing. What he means is that your unconscious is always working things out, always crafting the story or argument even when you seem to be absorbed in conscious life. Then, when you finally sit down to write, the book is already there, already written, and it’s up to you to simply find the words to capture what you’ve felt and known in the secret recesses of your heart.

This has been true for much of my experience as a writer. I do think one is writing all the time and if not writing, being written. Life, it seems to me, is very much like a novel. When we reflect on it, interpret it, investigate it, try to figure out what it means, we become the readers of our own stories. When we reimagine it, try to make it say something new, we are life’s author. But then, of course, there is so much of life that we don’t author for ourselves, so much we don’t control. Every day we find ourselves in situations we did not intend, confronted by questions we never asked. In these moments, I suppose, we are like characters in the story of another.

The character of Socrates famously says in Plato’s Apology that the unexamined life is not worth living. But he never specifies who it is that ought to do the examining. Perhaps he means — as he has been taken to mean for millennia — that it is up to each of us to examine his own life, to make his life worthwhile. But mightn’t he also mean that the author, by his skillful examination of life, makes life worth living for others? That by offering us his insights and reflections, he gives us something to live for? That his art is capable of immortalizing the fleeting moments of our lives, capturing them with the written word, stemming the flow of time and providing us with life not as it is (unlivable), but as we'd like it to be (eminently worth living)? And if so, what does that make us? Characters? Actors on the world’s stage?

Perhaps, as Mallarmé says, Le monde est fait pour aboutir à un beau livre. The world was made to become a beautiful book.

Beauchard and I finished the interview along with our pints. He checked his silver wristwatch and mentioned that he had to get going. Something about the clouds seemed to bother him. He shuffled out of the booth and I walked him to his car. I waved as he pulled away. The cold air scraped my lungs and I felt a noxious clarity, if there could be such a thing. After his car seemed to vanish into thin air, I asked myself, “Why a pub?” I turned to walk back inside. The moment I felt the warm and brackish vapors on my face, I realized I knew why. In fact, I’d known since I sat down to talk with him.

Our second conversation, as opposed to the first, was riddled with mischievous conjecture, artful language, and musings on creativity. This is the tacit social agreement of any pub. Drunk or not, the pub allows us to take liberties in conversation we otherwise wouldn’t. It gives us leeway to say what we understand, not only what we can reason. Beauchard knows this. Moreover, he brought me here without an address, without a social context. In this way, the pub became a universal, not a particular. And, in its universality, the pub stretches its arms across the human timeline. It need not be beholden to a name, a street, a city.

The way I see it, this pub is to the university as the Piraeus was to Ancient Athens. Both are divided by a single road, a single thread connecting two ideas. And, just as at the Piraeus, we were outside of everyday life, yet not entirely divided from it. Yes, the tavern is a prelinguistic, post-social agreement to outrageous claims and the like. It is a place where karaoke serenades as the Muses. It is a place where the beer taps are Pierian springs, offering patrons a taste of liquid inspiration. I am reminded of Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Criticism.”

“A little learning is a dang'rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.”

We searched for literary truths in our hearts, in our souls, and with half our minds, seeking to disprove Alexander Pope’s theory that drinking largely offers sobering effects.


Jean-Luc Beauchard is a philosopher and Catholic priest. He is the author of The Mask of Memnon: Meaning and the Novel (2022), City of Man: A Novel Reading of Plato's Republic (2023) and The Fruit of Death: Fragments on the Theory of Sexuality (forthcoming, 2024). He can be reached at

A.T. Stojkovich is a freelance writer, editor, and independent scholar. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.




By A.T. Stojkovich


The Montréal Review, January 2024




By Jean-Luc Beauchard


The Montréal Review, October 2023




The Montréal Review © All rights reserved. ISSN 1920-2911