Archive for the Socrates Category

king’s lead hat

Posted in Deleuze, MM, Socrates, sophists on February 25, 2008 by untimelymediations

One reason why I’m having trouble making sense of The Logic of Sense has to do with the fact that Deleuze doesn’t seem to be following one argument through this text; rather, each successive chapter seems to build on the logic of the prior chapter in a way that recalls the denotative series that Deleuze writes about in the Fifth Series: “In short, given a proposition which denotes a state of affairs, one may always take its sense as that which another proposition denotes” (29). I’m not sure that recognizing this has helped me make better sense of the text, but I did want to note that I see the structure at work all the same.

That said, I want to devote some energy to trying to make sense of Deleuze by situating him into some of our other readings, in particular, I want to try and see where Deleuze might work as a way to think through Plato’s and Socrates’s relationship to the sophists.

Plainly, Deleuze has some reservations about Platonism, esp. its emphasis on ideal forms and the forms’ relationship to truth; at one point, he offers a critique of “depressive Platonism: the Good is reached only as the object of a reminiscence, uncovered as essentially veiled; the One gives only what it does not have, since it is superior to what it gives, withdrawn into its height” (191). What I find interesting, though, is his response to these misgivings; rather than an outright dismissal of Platonism, Deleuze can be seen to work toward a conflation of Platonic, pre-Soractic, and Stoic philosophy. For Deleuze, this work takes the effect of drawing attention away from the Platonic fixation on height and depth and instead insisting on the transcendental surface; depth becomes of interest primarily “by means of its power to organize surfaces and to envelop itself within surfaces” (124). While it might be easy to dismiss this as a philosophical response to the reality of biological development (in which membranes are formed outside and then folded inside the increasingly complex organism), Deleuze insists on the contiguous relationship between physical and metaphysical surfaces: “And, to the physics of surfaces a metaphysical surface necessarily corresponds. Metaphysical surface (transcendental field) is the name that will be given to the frontier established, on the one hand, between bodies taken together as a whole and inside the limits which envelop them, and on the other, propositions in general” (125). Deleuze flattens to a single surface the Platonic cosmogony of bodies and forms; in Deleuze, bodies are not imperfect realizations of an abstract Idea(l) but are rather the actualizations of their own potential forms as events and singularities.

For me, then, this leaves Deleuze in the space of recuperating Isocrates’s philosophy-rhetoric. Deleuze notes that “the pre-Socratic philosopher does not leave the cave; on the contrary, he thinks that we are not involved enough or sufficiently engulfed therein” (128). In other words, we need to be more involved with the shadows and surfaces that flit before us in the cave; if we are to make them productive and useful for the definition of our own characters, Deleuze seems to suggest, we must ignore the Platonic voice at the mouth of the cave, calling us outward. We must instead recognize our own shadow-surface and make what we can of that.

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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.