Plato’s Republic is made up of ten books, and Book X, as many of us who have tried to teach the Republic know, is, well, weird. It contains the Myth of Er, which some Plato scholars—and just plain old philosophy and political theory professors—find troublesome to deal with. In fact, when I was in graduate school, some people suggested that one should just not have students read it—that the argument of the Republic was best gotten by simply reading Books I through IX. And I still know teachers who defend this view. Many who do teach it tend to focus on the arguments about certain kinds of art and their proper role in the well-governed Republic; a cursory review of summaries provided for students on the internet will show that many summaries of Book X include this argument only, and ignore the Myth of Er, which concludes Book X and the Republic as a whole.
Some people have suggested that the Myth of Er might be a way of convincing people that mirrors the arguments of Books I-IX—that it is meant for people who are more convinced to pursue just lives by stories and myths than by argument. According to these people, like the arguments offered in the books that precede it, it is meant to show that the only rewards for living a just life are the imminent rewards of such a life.
And then there was another theory I heard bandied about in my aesthetics classes in graduate school: if we are thinking of Socrates and his conversation partners as really sitting around talking about these things for the length of time implied by the dramatic structure of the Republic, then they must be hallucinating by this point, and the Myth is part of that hallucinatory experience. This seems plausible if we assume, as many of us did, that wine was involved.
Book XI is a journal of literary philosophy—or, if you like, of philosophically informed creative work—which we might think of as the book that Plato might have added to the Republic. The imaginary book, we might say. And if, as philosophers like to say, all of philosophy is a footnote to Plato, then what could be a more fitting title for a journal that brings together creative writing and philosophical reflection?