Archive for the Plato 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?

The Historicization of the Spirit, the Will, and Individuality

Posted in DR, Hegel, Individual, Plato, Will on January 30, 2008 by untimelymediations

Hegel develops a particular history; a history with a specific philosophical import.  It seems necessary to consider how this history, the history of Greek civilization, is useful to Hegel.  The questions become: What are his objectives in reading/relaying this particular history?  What does this history provide for Hegel?  What is the significance of the history that Hegel suggests? 

Here, it seems that Hegel is particularly interested in expressing the importance of the individual to Greek society.  This becomes evident both in his discussion of Greek civilization, as well as the theological constructions of this society.  Here he seems to emphasize the power of the individual over submission to a particular leader.  This becomes most explicit in his discourse on war.  Here, Hegel suggests that Greek citizens fight of their own accord:

The various peoples do not fight as mercenaries of the prince in his battles, nor as a stupid serf-like herd driven to the contest, nor yet in their own interest; but as companions of their honored chieftan – as witnesses of his exploits, and his defenders in peril (230)  

According to Hegel, the people fight as companions rather than in submission to a leader.  Also, the people witness the leader.  Here, there is a power bestowed upon the people, in that they are continually engaged in the act of witnessing.  What does this suggest?  Is Hegel advising similar recourse amongst his contemporaries? In his discussion of the spirit, soul, and most importantly, will, there is an inherent emphasis on self-determination.  Though Zeus is ruler, each God has his/her own will.  Here, Hegel provides that it is the responsibility of the leader to make concessions, and the responsibility of the people to determine.  Here, the people are attributed the power to witness, and decide.  The Trojan War, as Hegel describes it, becomes an issue of individual assent (231).

Furthermore, it is the individual that is central significance to the success of Greek civilization.  Individual government power assists in the accumulation of riches, and population/community development.  Though there are poor citizens, those that “want,” everyone feels the effects of free citizenship.  The way the passage is constructed, it seems to insist that this is very much divergent from more contemporary time periods.  Perhaps, the poor, in Hegel’s time, have experienced subjugation as they have lost the citizenship, the individual power, that he equates with the Greek people?

Moreover, following in what seems to be the Platonic tradition, Hegel, suggests the importance of the individual in relationship to nature.  Here, the individual stands as intermediary between nature and society.  The individual is equipped with a capacity to determine the importance of that which is observed.  This capacity is intimately equated with the soul.  The soul, as was hinted at previously, seems to be bound inextricably to the very individuality of the Greek people.  Here the question becomes: is individuality a derivative of the soul’s contemplation, or is individuality a necessary antecedent to the ability the soul has to interpret?  As he references, the Greek people looked to nature for wonder, and derived philosophy from this wonder.  The observant subjective spirit, gives meaning, as the spirit interprets nature (236). 

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?)

Corporeality, the Image-Image, etc.

Posted in DR, Image-Image, Phaedrus, Plato, Protagoras, Socrates, sophists on January 21, 2008 by untimelymediations

An Inadequate Corporeal (Body vs. Soul):

Perhaps, reading Rotman last semester propels minor preoccupations I experience in relationship to certain portions of each text; namely, the privileging of the soul over the body. Most specifically, the frustrations I experience arise in relationship to both Protagoras and Phaedrus. In each text, the body is degraded in relationship to the soul. This becomes evident in Socrates’ discussion with Hippocrates at the beginning of Protagoras. Socrates warns Hippocrates about the severity of entrusting the soul to a sophist. Here, the soul is equated with intellect, and is given a certain primacy over the body. The sophist, as Socrates suggests, becomes the merchandiser of the soul (Protagoras 6-7). In Phaedrus, the degradation of the body becomes even more explicit. During “Socrates’ Second Speech,” he illuminates what he considers to be the defining attributes of the soul…its immortality and its existence as the ultimate impetus or source. According to Socrates, the soul is equipped with wings that enable its transcendence. Immediately following this discussion, Socrates provides that souls differ as they are distributed amongst mortals. Of course, this seems more a means of degrading the Sophist than describing the specific attributes of the soul (See 248B – 249A). As the discourse continues, it becomes quite evident that Socrates believes the body to be an imprisoning force. Here, the degradation of the body in relationship to the soul becomes most evident.

That was the ultimate vision, and we saw it in pure light because we were pure ourselves, not buried in this thing we are carrying around now, which we call the body, locked in it like an oyster in its shell.

In addition to presenting the body as the physical imprisonment of the soul, an attack is leveled on the corporeal pleasures that one might experience. Specifically, this criticism can be located in Socrates’ recurrent insistence on speaking/writing well…“Certainly not for those you cannot feel unless you are first in pain, like most of the pleasures of the body, and which for this reason we call the pleasures of slaves” (258C). Here, if I am interpreting the passage correctly, the body that experiences pleasure is attributed a slave-like quality.

Yet, despite what would seem a consistent Socratic preoccupation with a corporeal that entraps the transcendent (i.e. the soul), Socrates suggests a rather confusing alignment of soul and body. Here, the argument oscillates from a strict degradation of the body to his omission that certain aspects of the bodily senses are in alignment with the body. He suggests that vision/sight is foremost of the senses aligned with the soul, and that one can reach the soul by means of traveling through the eye. This seems, in some respects, to provide an interesting challenge to Socrates’ initial preoccupations with the body.

Discourse on Discourse (aka. “the meta”) and the Image-Image

A common feature of many of the texts assigned this week (excluding, of course, Clouds), is that the dialogue often shifts to a topic that seems quite extraneous to that which was initially introduced or discussed. In Phaedrus, Socrates and his companion, prompted by Lysias’ speech, initiate the text with a discussion of love. Socrates attempts to address the question of whether or not it is better to be involved with a lover or a non-lover. Here, though, as in Protagoras, a transition soon occurs. After little preliminary discussion, Socrates turns the emphasis of the discourse to the spoken and the written. Socrates works to define several of the elements that contribute to a well formed work. For Socrates, to write or speak poorly seems to be the ultimate fault: “It’s not speaking or writing well that’s shameful; what’s really shameful is to engage in either of them shamefully or badly” (Phaedrus 258C). Though the transition is initially frustrating, it seems that this passage provides some illumination concerning the defining attributes of a good text.

For Socrates, speaking or writing well, is a means of directing the soul both in private in public. According to Socrates, the means by which one can accomplish this is to know the truth about which one speaks. Here, truth is privileged over opinions, and seems to be equated with a thorough understanding of the soul or the types of soul. The most useful of Socrates’ attempts to define worthy speech/writing, become evident between 263 B and 264 C.

“It follows that whoever wants to acquire the art of rhetoric must first make a systematic division and grasp the particular character of each of these two kinds of thing, both the kind where most people wander in different directions and the kind where they do not.”

Essentially, this portion of the text seems to be directed at predicting divergent understandings in language (different paths). Here, Socrates emphasizes predicting how an audience will interpret the language used. Based on this insight, the writer of a speech will be able to use the appropriate language, to acquire the goal intended. And now, thankfully, I have found the refutation to the most banal of often-uttered Frost quotes. Socrates prefers the path traveled more often. Eat that Robert!

“I think, he must not be mistaken about his subject; he must have a sharp eye for the class to which whatever he is about to discuss belongs.”

Again, the predominant emphasis in this portion of the text is on understanding the audience to which the text is directed (directing the soul). Amongst some of the other points addressed, are the defining of terms used at the beginning of a work, and the ordering of points based on necessity. Here, necessity insists a certain structure. Points arise in relationship to the necessity that they arise. Socrates seems to be insisting that there is a natural order to an argument; that arguments flow by natural form: “But surely you will admit at least this much: Every speech must be put together like a living creature, with a body of its own” (Phaedrus 264C).

Perhaps, though, this seems to be where Socrates’ speech encourages additional frustrations. Specifically, during this meta-discourse, Socrates addresses the written as the image-image (an image of an image). The written speech is an image of the oration; that which flows more naturally from the body. Though Socrates is working on the idea that a work must be directed at a particular audience, and that the written transcends the particularities of an audience, this discourse gives weight to the idea that the written is degraded as copy. This, itself, is fairly reminiscent of John Berger’s work in Ways of Seeing:

“The uniqueness of every painting was once part of the uniqueness of the place where it resided. Sometimes the painting was transportable. But it could never be seen in two places at the same time. When the camera reproduces a painting, it destroys the uniqueness of its image. As a result its meaning changes” (Ways of Seeing 19).

Though, I agree that an image is extracted from a certain context of viewing, I am reluctant to degrade the image-image, especially in light of the digital. It seems more fruitful to consider how new contexts contribute, than to attribute the image-image such an overpowering absence. Though, now I fear, I might be further off track than I had intended.

Considering my lateness to this apparent race (alright, I’m starting to sound like Kanye), I will exclude the section I had entitled “Sophist Hatin’ (or, a Cry for the Sophistic System of Education in Contemporary America). I believe that Mike’s discussion of the fundamental disagreements between critical theory and philosophy suffice. Furthermore, Mike seems to be especially right in his declaration of the relevance of the Sophists to the readings that arise later in the semester. It seems that the work of Hegel and Marx will work nicely in conjunction with the discussions of economic division and class that arise in Protagoras. Namely, Protagoras’ effort to illuminate a certain class privilege inherent to education, by use of the example of the flute players (22), and his suggestion that students decide what amount to pay the sophists. This, of course, piggy-backs on Protagoras’ defense that everyone has a right to be taught, in his use of Hermes/Zeus’ distribution of shame/art-of-politics as argument.

A “Sophistic” Refutation

Posted in definitions, Detienne, MM, Plato, reply, sophists, Sprague on January 14, 2008 by untimelymediations

In reply to Lacey’s post below, a counter-post: I’ll follow up with the post on week 2 readings later in the week.

Interdisciplinary is indeed a tidy way of describing the sophists, but I not completely convinced this definition is ultimately fitting.

I want to stress that I’m also not confident that interdisciplinary is the best word for describing sophistic practice; in fact, what might be an interesting point of discussion is the very concept of disciplinarity as it relates to sophistic work.  To the extent that the sophists’ primary legacy (per Detienne) was the desacralization and commodification of speech/rhetoric, we might look to the sophists as the first practitioners of disciplinarity (and we might note further, in Jaeger 316, the sophistic influence on the Trivium and Quadrivium, later to be called the Seven Liberal Arts).  This would, in part, help illuminate the later objections to the sophists as seen in Plato and others (in Sprague). If Platonic philosophy was the next step in disciplinarity, i..e. the next move in distinguishing one body of discursive practice from another, the objections voiced by Socrates begin to make more sense; the sophists would then represent a far less defined sense of disciplinary work, an evolutionary throwback, so to speak, that lingered as a distinct rebuke to Socrates’s and Plato’s further refinement of philosophic practice.

Sophists are, then, people who have moderately advanced knowledge about many topics because they know where /how to find and apply it.sophists are, then, people who have moderately advanced knowledge about many topics because they know where /how to find and apply it.

Or, as Socrates might have it in the Gorgias, know-nothing gadflies who use puffed-up prose who appear to know it all.

If we are dazzling someone with our rhetoric, are we not ‘tricking’ him or her into something they did not previously believe?

I think this too is something Socrates is on about in the Gorgias.  (I have read the two assigned dialogues, but my 1020 just did Gorgias so it’s fresh in my mind.)  I don’t think Socrates would disallow the idea of persuasion, but when aligned with truth, knowledge, wisdom, justice–all the stuff Socrates is always harping about–is it “persuasion” or “learning?”  Socrates at one point argues that

the rhetorician need not know the truth about things; he has only to discover some way of persuading the ignorant that he has more knowledge than those who know

So we might make the distinction btw just and unjust persuasion, where, if we agree with Socrates, “just persuasion” is better understood as learning.

Food for thought. See all tomorrow.