Archive for the Jaeger Category

Radial Raheem

Posted in Aristophanes, hypertext, Jaeger, Leroi-Gourhan, MM, paideia, Plato, rhetoric, Tech on March 17, 2008 by untimelymediations

Couldn’t decide what picture to use, so you get both.  First, invertebrate porn:

Starfish porn!

Second, Radial Raheem:

Radial Raheem

Yes, I know it’s “Radio Raheem,” but give a guy break, eh?  Onto the post:

I’m stealing a page from Lacey’s playbook and offering two minicomments rather than a single sustained response. I’m also using the “research fatigue” card since I spent my break getting little sleep and typing up 80 pages of notes and 10 pages of introduction for the M.A. only to find that, in fact, I didn’t really have any idea what I wanted to write about. This isn’t an excuse, per se, so much as a warning for possible incoherence in what follows.

I) Intellectuals vs. Technicians.

We’ve spilled a lot of ink . . . pixels . . .whatever . . . this semester trying to pin down what constitutes “sophistic rhetoric” and how critics have reacted to, adapted, co-opted, condemned, or otherwise responded to its promises of threats (depending, of course, on who we’re reading). Of course, the only we keep coming back to as the source of all this angst is Plato, who condemns sophistry on a number of counts. At times, it’s been easy to demonize Plato for just “not getting it,” and for insisting on an idealized ontology that appears to have little guidance for how to actually conduct one’s self and manage social problems.

However, I think Leroi-Gourhan helps to counteract this urge to demonization. As ALe-G writes, “in all historical periods and in all nations, even when their activities are closely integrated in the religious system, artisans were relegated to the back of the stage” (172). ALe-G argues that this is a typically “human” move, to denigrate those that work at the material level while valorizing those whose social function is dependent on intellectual or knowledge work. “Society’s discrimination in favor if the ‘intellectual’ as against the ‘technician,’ which still persists today,” ALe-G explains, “reflects an anthropoid scale of values on which technical activity comes lower down than language, and working with the most tangible elements of reality lower down than working with symbols”.

Yet much of what we’ve seen and read about sophistic Greece would seem to challenge ALe-G’s comments here. While they seem an apt description of Plato (whose Ideal Forms removed the intellect further still from the body), the notion of Jaeger’s paideia—the shaping of the Greek culture as reflected in the training of the Greek citizen—seems entirely bound up with rhetoric and rhetorical training. Is ALe-G off his chump here? Or does the age of the sophists represent an anomaly? Perhaps the artisan-intellectual shift is more periodic than constant: if we take Aristophanes’s The Clouds to be a reactionary response to sophistry, perhaps we can then see Isocrates’s work as a shift back to rhetoric-friendly times?

II) Radial vs. Linear Thought

I’m intrigued by ALe-G’s comments about the radial trajectory of archaic thought. As ALe-G describes it, “the thinking of pre-alphabetic antiquity was radial, like the body of the sea urchin or the starfish” (211). Radial thought provokes him to cosmological metaphor: “It was a time when the vault of heaven and the earth were joined together within a network of unlimited connections, a golden age of pre-scientific knowledge to which our memory still seems to hark back nostalgically today”.

It’s not difficult to prompt the comparison between the “network of unlimited connection” that ALe-G writes of and the networked Web we know and love today. What might be valuable to think through, though, is the way ALe-G ties the archaic network to “pre-scientific” thought. If scientific thought is thought dependent on the scientific method (as I understand it to be here), then we might point to a certain linear teleology implied in the method: whatever the result, the scientific method is still designed to move from hypothesis to conclusion. Perhaps this also implies a linear mode of expression as well? On the other hand, science also invites reiteration as means of testing one’s conclusions; in this sense, science is less bound to linearity than it is to recursive thought.

I’m not exactly sure I have a point to make here, but I’ve always found the contrast between radial and linear textuality interesting, so I want to make something of this passage but I’m not clear what. Maybe there’s something to be said for the body as a cue for material, radial textuality; ALe-G seems to be suggesting that as intellectual came to be more and more divested from material experience, writing, contemporaneously, became more and more linear. So what might a bodily-derived writing experience be like had it evolved without science’s linearizing influence? Might we point to something like Rotman’s gesturo-haptic writing?


Super Response for Super Tuesday

Posted in Ambiguity, Hegel, Isocrates, Jaeger, KL, Marx, rhetoric, sophists on February 4, 2008 by untimelymediations

(Before this post begins, I’ve noticed that my blog apparently has spontaneously combusted—I’ll update the link on the right as soon as I start a new one/the old one un-combusts.)

In writing this response, I fully understand the risk of my sounding slightly morose and vulgar.  Over the weekend I was submerged in funeral planning, although as a good academic, I related the experience of death back to philosophy and rhetoric.  I have been overhearing the same conversations, individuals repeating the same apologies for the loss, the same condolences.  Derek mentioned in his post that the lexicon of the Presidential campaign is rather ambiguous, and so, too, is the lexicon of grief.  In “To Niocles,” Isocrates reinforces the notion (contra Hegel’s small “n” notion) that in speaking and ruling, one should constantly think of the masses, to “take thought for the common people, and do everything to rule them in a way that pleases them” (161).  Listening to friends and family react to death, people are very hesitant to specify anything—they are offering their apologies to comfort the masses in a way that I do not see comforting whatsoever.  (Ya know, all the “I’m so sorry for your loss”-es, “If there’s anything I can do, please let me know”-s, and the ever popular “She’s in a better place now”-s.)  But, we are all guilty of this, as we have all been in these situations where rhetoric does not suffice, so we revert to the same, ordinary phrases.  There is nothing we can say that will please the masses (in this situation, those closest to the dead), nothing that will release their pain of loss.  So, while I find Isocrates’ insistence on moderate and blanketed speech troublesome (in the same, ambiguous manner as “American family” and “tyranny” are supposed to ‘mean’ the same thing for everyone), perhaps Isocrates is right.  Since, according to Isocrates, we should not aim to please one group over another perhaps the sameness of condolences appear sufficient when one is in funeral-mode.
So maybe this funeral experience is the perfect example of Sophistry, that everyone coming and going, dropping off food, sharing their memories and condolences represents the “selfish selflessness”—they are doing these things not to make the family feel any better, but that it ultimately makes the giver feel like a better person.  Someone dying of cancer is much different than someone dying in a car accident—the family has known her that death was imminent for sometime now, and her monthly decay was somewhat preparing everyone for this weekend.  However, there are friends (some from whom the family has not heard in more than an decade) stopping by to say hello.  It’s funny because they all seem to say, “we knew she had cancer, but we didn’t know it was that bad.”  These statements lead me to believe that they are not stopping by to comfort the family, but rather that they are simply pretending to care, and hoping that all their lasagna and lunch meat will make the family feel better.  Actually, it seems that one offers such gifts so that there is a personal/selfish return—in effect the giver feels better knowing that s/he has given rather than how the family feels about receiving the gift (here seems to be the perfect space for Derrida, but that’s next week!).

Now, I would like to set aside all the “funeral talk” and focus on Marx and Hegel’s writing on the Greeks, placing particular attention on the individual verses the collective good or gain.  As Jaeger notes of Isocrates’ “Niocles”:

“The better should not be ruled by the worse, nor the wise be governed by the foolish.  In association with others that means that the prince must criticize the bad and vie with the good.  The essential thing is that he who wants to rule over others must apply that principle to himself, and be able to justify his position by his own true superiority to them all” (96).

For the Sophist, being concerned firstly and ultimately with himself is the means to pleasing the masses.  By “applying that principle to himself,” the Sophist can neither be the brunt of criticism, nor can he be the critic, since he is no different from everyone else.  By always thinking primarily of the individual, the Sophist’s best intentions are, in a roundabout way, the masses.

Hegel maintains that the differences between the Platonists/Socratics verses the Sophists lies in the emphasis placed on the individual.  We can see this divide in the following passages:

“The mission of Socrates was to express the beautiful, good, true, and right, as the end aim of the individual, while with the Sophists the content was not present as an ultimate end, so that all this was left to the individual will”

“[For the Sophists], the Notion of the thing as determined in and for itself; for it brings forward external reasons through which right and wrong, utility and harmfulness, are distinguished.  To Plato and Socrates, on the other hand, the main point is that the nature of the conditions should be considered, and that the Notion of the thing in and for itself should become evolved” (366-367).

(Okay, I have to run off again, but I plan to connect the individual aims of Sophistry to the modes of production discussed in The German Ideology.  I will finish this post later, fully understanding the risk of ridicule for having an incomplete post.)

Sophists and the City

Posted in Aristophanes, Jaeger, KL, Phaedrus, Plato, Socrates, sophists on January 21, 2008 by untimelymediations

Sometimes we have to be a tiny bit selfish, and this week’s readings surely exemplified this trait lying within each of us. Most clearly in Plato’s Phaedrus, the descriptions of Eros and the motives of lovers/non-lovers, illustrates that sophistry truly is wildly, intelligent trickery. With “judgment weakened by passion,” Phaedrus’ notes that “lovers consider how by reason of their love they have neglected their own concerns and rendered service to others” (4). Both Zizek and Lacan have noted that desire equals lack, and with some stretching, we can map this notion back onto sophistry. (Okay, here it goes.) By “neglecting their own concerns,” the lover selfishly seeks out pleasure rather than true friendship seen by the non-lovers. The lover, then, is constantly vying for attention, making oneself attractive to a variety of others (I am pretty certain that ‘others’ suggests men of some stature, while the ‘lovers’ are young-ish boys, but I don’t wish to make an incorrect assumption, so pardon the gender-neutrality.) Making oneself attractive to others is like updating one’s CV for different jobs—one displays what one needs (or, lacks) at this specific moment, and why that person/school would be the perfect match. Crudely speaking, Mr. Right Now. (The more this response continues, the more it is sounding like some strange Sex and the City episode. Yikes.) Lovers and sophists alike fit themselves into different situations by recognizing their own need, and finding someone to fill it. This moment of recognizing the personal need is what I find so brilliant about the sophists. As Jaeger notes,

“Now, if we assume that the purpose of rhetoric is to deceive the audience—to lead them to false conclusions by resemblances alone—that makes it imperative for the orator to have exact knowledge of the dialectic method of classification, for that is the only way to understand the varying degrees of resemblance between things” (189, emphasis mine).

If lovers and (as?) sophists both deceive their audiences, flattery and trickery are not done out of foolishness or accident, but rather though complete and precise knowledge of their subjects.

Unlike Mike, this response is not my magnum opus, so before I am run out of room, I would like to say a few brief words about The Clouds. What I have always loved about The Clouds is that while he is housed in The Thinkery, Socrates is overtly pretentious—and it works. The audience can finally laugh at rather than feel obliged to respect the man. Strepsiades, convinced (deceived?) that he “can just get out of all [his] debt” and “make men think of [him] as bold and glib,/as fearless, impudent, detestable,/ one who cobbles lies together, make up words,” clearly identifies himself as a /with the sophist/s, and lets Socrates lead him off to the ‘naked’ truth (19). Jaeger points out that the “fundamental resemblance” between Socrates and the sophists is they both “analyzed everything, and thought nothing was so great for so sacred that is was beyond discussion and did not need to be founded on rational basis” (372). Maybe the Thinkery should have a soccer team… (Get it? Like that YouTube “moment of zen” video?)

Socrates’ Doubt

Posted in Gorgias, Jaeger, MM, Phaedrus, Protagoras, sophists, theory on January 21, 2008 by untimelymediations

Apologies in advance if this doesn’t seem up to normal standards of eloquence; I had already typed out a beautifully written and immaculately reasoned response to this week’s readings, but my connection to teh interweb went bats and I lost that draft. So, for your reading displeasure, a hastily reconstructed version of the earlier piece. I now know how Coleridge felt, by the way.

To begin:

Do I understand you, I said, and is your meaning that you teach the art of politics, and that you promise to make men good citizens?

That, Socrates, is exactly the profession which I make. [This is Protagoras speaking.]

Then, I said, you do indeed possess a noble art, if there is no mistake about this; for I will freely confess to you, Protagoras, that I have a doubt whether this art is capable of being taught, and yet I know not how to disbelieve your assertion.

Until our last meeting, I thought I might be unique in my fixation on the beef between Socrates and the sophists. As we learned last week (or as KL and I learned and JP instructed), attempts to deal with the sophists and with sophistry are hardly new; what might be the most recent revival of the sophistry is their recuperation as proto-champions of the postmodern in the work of Vitanza, Jarratt, and others. JP’s criticism of this move notwithstanding, I’d like to raise questions in response to both the beef and the recuperation, with an eye on trying to forecast some of the directions our reading this semester might take.

So: wherein lies the beef? I think the passage from the Protagoras cited above is an interesting place to start in addressing this question. Elsewhere, Socrates has been notably critical of rhetoric and of the sophists in particular. In the Gorgias, Socrates is suspicious of rhetoric’s presumably tenuous relationship with capital-T truth; the Phaedrus raises this concern again and adds to it a critique of sophistic pedagogy, aesthetic, and theology. It is in the Protagoras, though, that Socrates most explicitly critiques the promises of sophistic practice; namely, the twofold promise that sophists like Protagoras teach their students both the “art of politics” and how to be “good citizens,” that is, to be virtuous.

What Socrates’ doubt about Protagoras claims reveals is that, in essence, Socrates (and Platonists generally) and the sophists are essentially arguing at cross-purposes. Socrates’ question above betrays a (willful) misrepresentation of the sophistic promise; for his critique of the sophists to make sense, Socrates must ask the question as if politics and virtue are separate goals of the sophistic pedagogy. What is he asking Protagoras may be paraphrased as so:

Do I understand you, I said, and is your meaning that you (1) teach the art of politics, and that you (2) promise to make men good citizens?

But for the sophists and, as Jaeger argues, Greek culture generally, that distinction is not one that is readily made. As Jaeger explains,

… the Greeks in the classical era … thought that political morality and personal morality were practically identical: since the state was the sole source of all moral standards, and it was difficult to see what moral code could exist apart from the code of the state, the law of the community in which the individual lived and had his being. A purely private moral code, without reference to the state, was inconceivable to the Greeks. We must forget our idea that each individual’s acts are ruled by his conscience. (Paideia I 326)

Against the Platonist assertion that virtue was achieved through solitary pursuit of a transcendent Truth through the rigors of dialectic, the sophists taught that virtue was achieved through communal interaction using rhetoric–the divine gift necessary for the establishment and continued functioning of the polis. For Socrates and Platonism generally, rhetoric was thus, at best, a distraction from the quest for divine revelation; at worst, it mired its practitioners in the debased world of men and matter. The sophists, conversely, might have understood Platonic dialectic to be unproductive, an exercise in futility that produced no tangible results in the world of daily experience; rhetoric, on the other hand, was of immediate use, and could be deployed for the moral edification of both the individual and his community.

What this means about the sophists and sophistic rhetoric is that rhetoric is fundamentally a tool for getting along, for making one’s way through a world filled (gosh darn it!) with other people, who have plans, goals, and agendas that are not one’s own.  Rhetoric is what mandates appropriate function and action in such a world.  In short, every rhetoric is an ethics.

Now: what does this have to do with theory? I want to suggest, however tentatively, that what sophistry and theory have in common is just this interest in what makes the social work, what is necessary for a society to conduct the work of being social.  For the sophists, as we have seen, the answer is rhetoric; for Hegel, the dialectical movement of history; for Marx, the class struggle.  Of course, these examples also suggest ways that the system can be used, changed, manipulated–that is, like sophistic rhetoric, theory (or maybe Theory) outlines a way to make the social work for one’s own ends.  So, to the extent that we’re willing to accept my postulate here, we might say that theory and rhetoric are both equally about praxis as much as they are about critique.  And further, if I’m right about the connection between rhetoric and ethics, then we can also suggest some of the following implications and raise some of the following questions:

  • If rhetoric and theory are both about praxis, and if rhetoric is fundamentally an ethics, then an ethics is fundamentally a praxis as well.  I’m not sure where that gets us, but it sounds neat.  Perhaps what it suggests is that an ethical theory is sort of limited; an ethics is only valuable to the extent it can be utilized toward some productive end in the lived conditions of a given society.  Ethics, then, is kairotic.
  • Perhaps the difference between critical theory and philosophy, then, is that one asks about what makes the social work and the other asks what makes the subject work?  If (as our study this semester seeks to ask) the sophists are the forebears of critical theory, then we might rightfully expect to see a similar interest in how society works, so the connection btw the sophists and Hegel, Marx, and their heirs; what the Platonists seek to find, though, is the subject’s relationship to Truth rather than to the social–so the legacy of Plato rests with Kant and his heirs.
  • This might also explain something about why the sophists were reclaimed so quickly in the era of pomo’s golden age: to the extent that pomo and poststruct and decon and all that jazz argued for a subject built from the discursive tropes of the social, the sophists’ emphasis on the individual’s use of/by the social makes a certain amount of sense.  The question, though, is how to use the sophists without insisting that they were protopostmodern when they weren’t even pre-modern?  The sense of self or subject that comes out of reading Aristotle, the sophists, Isocrates, and Jaeger and Detienne is not necessarily the same as we understand it to be now–even if I’m not sure I could explain what it is.
  • Which raises a methodological and historiographic question: how do we recuperate the sophists or any other “lost” rhetoric or theory without necessarily, however implicitly, forcing it into our assumptions about the subject and the social?

Okay–enough for now.  McGinnis out.