On-timely Mediation


(Ha! I made it on time this week!)

Ah, there is one advantage of this untimely post—I get to reflect on what McGinnis said before we get into discussion! After reading his post (admittedly, it happened just before sitting down to write this response), I’ve realized that there are some important aspects to these readings that I had neither thought about and/or approached differently. So Mike, I am going to ‘steal’ your questions. Take that.

• What is a sophist?

Interdisciplinary is indeed a tidy way of describing the sophists, but I not completely convinced this definition is ultimately fitting. Certainly, we can describe their knowledge as widespread, and some might even say scattered, but I do not believe that our pedagogical approaches/education as a whole are much different. We do not need skilled memory in order to know the “body, geometry, and epistemology.” Biological memory is no longer necessary for interdisciplinary studies, since I have a computer and a collection of books to assist me. Detienne clarifies this distinction (albeit in a round-about way) when he states, “Memory is essential in an oral civilization, and specific mnemonic techniques must be perfected” (42). However, contrary to Detienne, memory is non-essential for today’s digital orality, and only fluency in and knowledge of specific computer applications will allow one to study interdisciplinary-ly. I guess, then, we can see a resurfacing of ‘sophists’ in today’s culture—sophists are, then, people who have moderately advanced knowledge about many topics because they know where /how to find and apply it.

• What is sophistic rhetoric?

I have always thought “sophistic rhetoric” to be a redundant term. If we are dazzling someone with our rhetoric, are we not ‘tricking’ him or her into something they did not previously believe? In a way, we can look to last week’s New Hampshire primary and Clinton’s tears as a decent example (or her laugh, too, but the ‘teary’ results seem more immediate). By crying, Clinton convinced voters of her humanness, her elect-ability. By crying, Clinton displayed not Presidential qualities (presumably what one should vote on), but rather that she cries for America, too. Sophistic rhetoric is like campaigning—we are (likely) voting for part of the candidate’s beliefs not simply because they align with ours, but because we are tricked into believing that the other issues are either great or don’t matter.

• How are the sophists and their work related to earlier Greek traditions?

Detienne insists on choice—“Man no longer lived in an ambivalent world in which ‘contraries’ were complementary and oppositions were ambiguous. He was now cast into a dualist world with clear-cut oppositions. Choice became an urgent matter” (125-6). To me, I see the sophists characterized by “distinction”—one is not x, but z. Not a, not b, but rather c. One is distinct from something else, although not necessarily opposite from them. All is related, but one needs to choose what something is not in order to determine its being.


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