Rhapsody of Philosophy
Dialogues with Plato in Contemporary Thought
Rhapsody of Philosophy
Dialogues with Plato in Contemporary Thought
“This book is well written and largely avoids jargon. Topics discussed include the role of representation, the relationship between beauty and truth, and the question of discourse and its relationship to the world. This volume is suitable for both undergraduates and graduate students in philosophy, literature, and allied fields.”
- Sample Chapters
“This book is well written and largely avoids jargon. Topics discussed include the role of representation, the relationship between beauty and truth, and the question of discourse and its relationship to the world. This volume is suitable for both undergraduates and graduate students in philosophy, literature, and allied fields.”
Max Statkiewicz is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
A Polemic Introduction
Only a philosophical rhapsody makes possible a philosophy of rhapsody. —Jean-Luc Nancy
The philosophical drama of Plato . . . is a rhapsody. —Friedrich Nietzsche
You are poets and we are poets . . . rivals and antagonists in the noblest of dramas. —The Athenian Stranger
“The task of modern philosophy has been defined: to overturn Platonism.” Gilles Deleuze’s claim expresses the sentiment of many writers, from Friedrich Nietzsche to Jean-Luc Nancy. But would they also agree with Deleuze when he ascribes to Plato himself the leading role in this task? This would require a kind of dialogue with Plato rather than a univocal interpretation of his meaning, a play that would take into account the “rhapsodic” mode of his own dialogues, a dia-logos that would eventually split the dominant logos of Western (Platonic) metaphysics rather than reversing its terms in a simple duologue. This book argues that modern thought cannot do without such a dialogue and such a play. Neither a mere philological analysis of Plato’s texts, however meticulous, nor a summary dismissal of Platonic metaphysics suffices to grapple with the major philosophical, political, ethical, and aesthetic problems of our time. Legated by the tradition of Platonism, these problems must be confronted in the very mode of their first formulation. The “closure” of the Platonic epoch offers a unique possibility for such thought.
This epoch—“our” epoch—has been characterized as the “age of the world picture,” our world as the “world of representation,” and the exacerbation of this phenomenon as “the society of the spectacle” or the “precession of the simulacra.” Guy Debord, for example, the prophetic analyst of the “society of the spectacle” (and its staunch critic and enemy), implicitly refers to the Platonic, “ideological,” “theoretical” origins of the spectacle when he writes in aphorism 19 that it is “heir to all the weakness of the project of Western philosophy, which was an attempt to understand activity by means of the categories of vision [les categories du voir]. Indeed the spectacle reposes on an incessant deployment of the rigorous technical rationality to which that philosophical tradition gave rise.” More specifically, although cautiously, Deleuze affirms that “Plato inaugurates and initiates because he evolves within a theory of Ideas which will allow the deployment of representation.” But it will allow this deployment, I would like to claim, only when Plato’s thought hardens into a systematic theory, conveyed in the rigid, systematic form of a treatise.
It is perhaps the opposition between the rule of representation and the freedom of the dialogic form that Debord points to when in aphorism 18 of The Society of the Spectacle he sets spectacle and dialogue in opposition (“the spectacle . . . is the opposite of dialogue”) and when in aphorism 221 (which closes the volume) he assigns to dialogue a revolutionary function : the self-emancipation of our epoch cannot take place “until dialogue has taken up arms to impose its own conditions upon the world.” Thus Debord would certainly agree with Deleuze’s insistence on the recourse to Plato and would link it to the importance of the dialogical form. Martin Heidegger, although quite explicit in pointing out the foundational character of Plato’s text in respect to the epoch of the “world as picture,” also points to the possibility of a confrontation/dialogue with Plato within the “closure” of our epoch. Such a dialogue would combine the necessary inscription within the rule of representation with its dialogical interruption.
An authentic dialogue, in other words, would question, cut through (dia) the “Platonic,” as well as its own logos, the logic of representation. Such a dialogue does take place in contemporary thought, and it is also ultimately of Platonic origin. I call this dialogue “rhapsodic,” in reference to the profession, or rather vocation, of the rhapsode—engaged, like Ion but also Homer and Hesiod and even Plato himself, in a “chain” of magnetic, enthused “rings,” transmitting voices to one another—and in reference to the very etymology of the word, the verb rhaptein (to stitch together, even apparently heterogeneous elements such as rigor and play, image and simulacrum, identity and difference, philosophy and poetry), as well as the noun rhabdos (a wand borne by the rhapsōidos), marking the rhythm of his performance. The latter derivation, although often rejected by modern etymologists, was common in antiquity and contributed to the rapprochement between the institution of the rhapsode and the god Hermes, from whom both Plato and Heidegger playfully derive hermēneia and hermeneutics.
Thus, “rhapsodic” here does not refer—not essentially—to a miscellaneous collection or a musical piece of irregular form, nor does it refer to the historical uses of the word in a philosophical sense (the form of thought that Immanuel Kant rejected as incompatible with the rigorous method of his analytic) or to the “philosophical rhapsody” (a relatively loose style of “rhapsodische Prosa”) of Hamann, Herder, and before them, Shaftesbury. Rather, it refers to the mode of thinking—Plato’s mode, replayed in the texts of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, Luce Irigaray, Deleuze, Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe—that challenges the dominance of univocal interpretation, as well as the corresponding treatise format, in the modern philosophical tradition.
Indeed, while the treatise format has become the paradigm of philosophic writing because of its “first person orientation” (“I write what I think about this or that”)—that is, its sanction of the modern notion of the subject—the rhapsodic mode, both in Plato and in his contemporary “continental” readers, offers a way of questioning this notion. In fact, the very notion of a text as a stable object of study and of the self as its originator or guardian will need to be questioned: Plato “himself” will be addressed as a “mimetic gentleman” (Benjamin Jowett’s translation of “mimētikos anēr”) or a rhapsode. In this way, “rhapsody”—a mimetic play, a mode of discourse distinguished in the third book of the Republic—becomes a mode of thought as well. And Plato’s dialogues that initiate it should be read neither as treatises nor as theater plays in need of interpretive treatment in a treatise, contrary to what some recent tendencies in Plato scholarship suggest.
Eventually, this mode also calls into question the very possibility of simply interpreting, and either accepting or dismissing, Platonism in the history of Western philosophy. Since “Platonism,” as Derrida rightly maintains, commands this history, philosophy will always be Platonic, and we shall need to “think what takes place in Plato, with Plato, what is shown there, what is hidden, so as to win there or to lose there.” It is for this reason as well that the reading proposed here is to be distinguished from traditional doctrinal, as well as “dramatic,” interpretations. Both in fact share a dogmatic stance toward the question of “Platonism”: either acceptance or rejection of a determined set of theoretical presuppositions. They also share an unconditional and reverent acknowledgment of Plato’s command over his “own” text, although this authority/authorship may be differently explained and supported.
To be sure, the practice of the rhapsodic mode is hardly conceivable within the existing structure of academic disciplines in which disciplines are rigorously separated from each other and favor expert knowledge rather than a questioning of their status and an interdisciplinary dialogue. This structure, however, is not exactly Platonic, despite the name. Platonic dialogue often treats of ontology, ethics, poetics, and politics not as separate disciplines but as different approaches to the same problem of truth, rigor, and (poetic) justice. This fact is not always noticed since modern readers of Plato are, more often than not, the readers of (not so critical) readers or anthologies, that is to say, of excerpts rather than the integral texts of the dialogues, and these excerpts are generally so distributed that there is no danger of “confusing” academic disciplines. But the system of rigorous academic distinctions is in fact Aristotelian, and in all rigor should be named after the Lyceum rather than the Academia. It is Aristotle and his followers who “sorted out” the disciplines “confounded” in Plato’s text, in particular politics, poetics, epistemology, and ontology, and thus relieved the tension between them. Even granting that Aristotle developed and systematized Socrates’ own gesture, the crucial point is that this gesture became frozen when it was extracted from the rhapsodic frame of the dialogues.
Indeed, when Plato introduced—in a poetic form—his quarrel with the poets, when he rejected—in a mimetic mode—mimesis, he certainly did not think that generations of readers would take his play all too seriously (or perhaps not seriously enough!) and, beginning with his student Aristotle, would defend poetry or Plato, or both, would apologize before the court of Western philosophy and literary theory for his not conforming to the “logic of the logos.” It is the otherwise unquestioned presupposition of this misconceived series of apologies, the presupposition of a (rigorous) distinction between the rigor and stability of philosophy and science, on the one hand, and the waywardness and motility of art and play, on the other, that needs to be questioned. For does not Plato himself, or a rhapsode playing his part, proclaim play as well as seriousness to be the essence of philosophy? Indeed, the Athenian Stranger in Epinomis (991b–992b) suggests, both in jest and in earnest (paizōn kai spoudazōn hama), that a blend of serious rigor (akribeia) and of play (paidia) marks a most truly wise man (ton alēthestata sophōtaton). And the apparently narrow scholarly question of the “authenticity” of this dialogue might point to the “authority” of an author/pretender/rhapsode donning the mask of Plato, an imitator (mimētēs) of Plato, a false (pseudos) Plato, or “Plato,” whose text, through the voice of the Athenian Stranger, integrates play, that is, mimesis and drama, into the serious business of philosophy. The rhapsodic mode of reading Plato does not exclude his name from the play of quotation marks; “Plato” himself becomes a character.
Thus a reconsideration of the quarrel between philosophy and poetry in the Platonic-rhapsodic rather than the Aristotelian-systematic framework has to include the problematic of the voice in/of the dialogues: ventriloquist Eurycles, rhapsode Ion, the nameless “boy” of the Theaetetus, and eventually Socrates “himself,” speaking in the voice of another. Such an approach relinquishes the commitment to the author(ity of) Plato and his text and confronts instead a character/rhapsode like any other. But in order to do that, we must not limit the dramatic interpretation to the classical form of the theater of the author. Plato “himself” seems to oppose such a reading when in the Theaetetus, he stages the “author” of the account of a dialogue between Socrates, Theodorus, and the title character and makes him intervene between the direct dialogue and its narration by Socrates, between the event and its redescription. And the “historical” Plato was apparently willing to play a rhapsode with his text: Diogenes Laertius describes his reading/performing Lysis and On the Soul. One imagines Plato playing not only the role of Socrates but also those of the characters whose views would never be taken seriously by most interpreters. This mimetic, poetic performance also governs his writing, which should be understood as a dialogue between poetry and philosophy rather than as a condemnation of the former by the latter.
This is also the case for the dialogue of modern thought with Plato, which ultimately cannot be separated from the dialogue between poetry and philosophy. What Heidegger says of the dialogue between poetry and thought—that it is long and that it has barely begun—is also true of the dialogue with Plato, because the two kinds of dialogue are essentially related; the confrontation with Platonism is the conditio sine qua non of the dialogue with poetry called for by Heidegger and other continental thinkers. Indeed, the dialogue with poetry cannot take place in the traditional mode of univocal philosophical interpretation. And it is precisely this mode that Plato’s dialogues themselves—bringing together philosophical inquiry with a rhapsodic, mimetic technique of presentation—undermine. Their challenge to such univocity results in a tension, manifested in the “quarrel” between philosophical truth and poetry or mimesis, which may in turn contain the seeds of the dialogue between poetry and thought.
The nature of rhapsodic dialogue becomes clear when it is polemically juxtaposed with the so-called dramatic reading of those who also claim to take into account the dialogic nature of Plato’s work. Thus I’ll take the risk of exposing myself to the objection of coming in after the war and the battle (polemou kai makhēs), as Callicles says to Socrates, who arrives late to Gorgias’s performance. Indeed, Stanley Rosen has recently declared that the “hermeneutical battle” for the recognition of reading the dialogues as dialogues and not as treatises “has been won and does not need to be refought.” Rosen refers here to the method of reading “acknowledged by competent Plato scholars” that stresses the necessity of making a “connection between discursive argument on the one hand and the dramatic form and rhetorical elements of the text on the other” in order to “arrive at a satisfactory appreciation of his philosophical teaching.” Dialogue, for Rosen and most other Plato scholars attentive to the formal aspects of the text, is a literary, rhetorical, and dramatic genre particularly well suited to conveying Plato’s meaning, for extending his invitation to philosophy—a protreptic genre. In contrast to a treatise, a dialogue should obviate some of the flaws of writing, censured by Socrates in the Phaedrus and by Plato in “his” letters. A dialogue would be able to imitate, even if imperfectly, the live philosophical exchange of the type we associate with Socrates. It would thus fit into Aristotle’s system of mimetic arts as a “Socratic dialogue” (Sōkratikos logos). I am insisting on this imitative character of the Socratic dialogue, and I shall insist more, because it is the question of mimēsis that will justify, I hope, my being not altogether late, at least for the feast (heortē), that is, for the play. Indeed, my claim is that the notion of imitation, which dominates the so-called dramatic interpretation of Plato, needs to be challenged by rhapsodic or playful mimesis and thus that the hermeneutic polemos or battle does need to be “refought” or replayed.
The mimetic, imitative character of Plato’s written dialogues has always been affirmed by the “dramatic” readers and sharply opposed to the “reality” of living philosophical dialogues. Drew Hyland’s opinion is most consistent in this respect. One of the first to have emphasized the philosophical importance of “the dialogues as imitations,” he reiterates the point more than three decades later with the same force: “Every Platonic dialogue is an imitation of philosophy.” What distinguishes Plato’s dialogues from treatises is that “the dialogues are in every case the imitations of philosophy. Plato, that is, writes for a public audience always and only mimetically.” In both of Hyland’s texts, the imitation is coupled with the invitation to philosophy. The dialogues have a protreptic function, which is best performed mimetically, through the “dramatic portrayals” of “philosophical situations.” The term “dramatic portrayal” suggests a tableau of the neoclassical, Aristotelian theater as well as the painterly mimesis of book 10 of the Republic. Indeed, Hyland inscribes Plato’s dialogues within the structure of representation of this book. There is a “kernel of truth” in characterizing the work of art as not being reality itself but only “an imitation of what is more real (the object painted) and ultimately of the most real thing, the Idea.” Since dialogues are “philosophic works of art,” their relationship to philosophy should be understood mimetically: “as imitations of philosophy, they are not philosophy, the reality itself.” There are some problems in forcing the dialogues into the representational structure of the Republic: Hyland’s example of “secondhand accounts,” such as Parmenides, Symposium, Theaetetus, which as “imitations of imitations” epitomize the view of art in the Republic, raises the question of the distinction between the dialogues. Does this mean that, on the one hand, direct dialogues are closer to reality and, on the other, the most complex dialogues (the Symposium and Theaetetus) are even further removed from the truth and the king? These questions, if asked, might challenge the hermeneutics based on a simple distinction between the reality of philosophy and its “dramatic” representation in the written dialogues.
But Hyland does not consider these questions, since they do not belong to the drama proper. What does belong, for example, in the Crito, the dialogue he chooses to illustrate the “dramatic” reading? First and most importantly, the character of Crito. He is an old friend of Socrates, he is wealthy and financially competent, and “he is not a philosopher.” Hyland gleans all this information from the text edited by Burnet and from Burnet’s scholarly erudition. Burnet also supports the crucial point that Crito is not a philosopher. In fact, all the other dramatic elements—“the questionable status of some of the arguments, the apparent tension between Crito and Apology, and the perplexing admission of Socrates that not all the arguments have been considered”—cohere only because Crito is philosophically naive (“philosophy is not for everyone”). We have thus obtained a dramatic framework “in which the specific arguments of the Crito must be understood and judged.” All of them converge in something that looks rather like an instance of ideological subject formation within the drama, with the function of “remov[ing] from citizen Crito the dangerous principle of civil disobedience” and “the therapeutic purpose of restoring Crito to his status as obedient citizen.”
Now, this ideological/therapeutic function is not limited to the Crito. It might in fact characterize most of Plato’s dialogues, which would thus hang on the rhetoric of persuasion. The turning or invitation to philosophy, on this view, consists in the comparison between the purity of philosophy, glimpsed, for example, in the Apology, and the dramatically portrayed necessity of coming to terms with the multitude (hoi polloi), of which Crito is one of the representatives. In the words of another recent “dramatic” reader of the Crito, one must take account of “the distance between what Socrates thinks and what Kriton can understand, or that between what the philosopher is and how he must present himself to the many (as faithfully law abiding, for example).” But can it be that it is the insistence on this distance, and on the necessity of the ideological formation of the political subject, that “invites” readers to philosophy? Can it be, in the words of a critic of this reading, that Socrates, “like the sophists, . . . persuades people (including his closest associates!) to embrace doctrines that he takes to be false?” Does the ideological/therapeutic function, which in this “dramatic” hermeneutics allows Socrates in the Crito and elsewhere to withhold and to falsify arguments, apply to the readers of the dialogues as well?
Hyland seems to think so, withholding as he does from his readers the rhapsodic character of the words that he quotes from the Crito (they are pronounced, he says, “at a decisive point” in the dialogue), taking the passage out of the dramatic context of the speech delivered by the laws to whom Socrates only gives voice (and “face” [prosōpon]). The speech begins at Crito 50a5; Socrates is addressing Crito: “Look at it this way. If, as we were planning to run away from here, or whatever one should call it, the laws and the state came and confronted us and asked: ‘Tell me Socrates, what are you intending to do?’” And the address of the laws themselves continues with a few short returns to the direct dialogue between Socrates and Crito until 54c6, where the laws exhort Socrates: “Do not let Crito persuade you, rather than us, to do what he says.” Socrates compares the effect of the words pronounced by the laws to the effect of the music of flutes on the Corybantes and concludes with a suggestion that the voice of the laws might be the voice of the gods (54d–e). Hyland quotes the passage (51b–c) on the comparison between the allegiance to one’s parents and to the laws, but he doesn’t mention the figure of prosopopoeia. Why this obfuscation of the rhapsodic dimension of the Crito? Is it not because it would unsettle the representational schema to which the dramatic reading adheres? Indeed, the prosopopoeia raises the crucial issue of the emergence of the laws into language; “the Laws act only through being known to human beings,” says Leo Strauss, referring to the Apology (24d–e). In this sense, the laws themselves function like language, which does not easily submit to the intention of the subject/speaker. Socrates acts as a rhapsode within language and thus sets in motion the chain of messages (hermēneiai) that includes Plato and his text, the text that gives voice to him, Socrates, who gives voice to the laws, or to his prophetic dream, or to Homer’s Achilles in his dream (44b–c), and so forth. All these voices need to be taken as the voices of the community rather than dismissed as the empty talk of the hoi polloi in need of political/ideological therapy. Only when read rhapsodically can the dialogue be genuinely protreptic. Only then can readers—all readers—be included as the ultimate “ring” on both ends of the “chain”: as the recipients of the message or as the initiators of the chain through their reading (provided, of course, that reading is not limited to an analysis of the dramatis personae).
The rhapsodic complexity of the dialogues seems to exceed Jacob Klein’s “dramatic” reading as well. In the introduction to his book on Theaetetus, the Sophist, and the Statesman, titled Plato’s Trilogy, he opposes Platonic dialogues to treatises and promises to pay close attention to the dramatic setting of the dialogues. But when it comes to Theaetetus, he questions the whole prologue, suggesting it is not being part of the “original” dialogue. He mentions another “rather frigid” prologue, on the authority of an anonymous commentary to Theaetetus, but doesn’t give any details or justification for dismissing a generally accepted text, and he eventually disregards both prologues in favor of an immediate consideration of the “dialogue proper.” The rhapsodic moment is suppressed for the sake of “dramatic unity” that in the Aristotelian mode (Klein evokes the authority of Aristotle’s Poetics) excludes from consideration any element outside of the drama proper (exō tou dramatos [Poetics 1454b3]). What is important for Klein, just as for Hyland, is the representational structure itself, with its distinction between an imperfect imitation and reality—for Klein the “genuine and ultimate thoughts of Plato.” In his Commentary on Plato’s “Meno,” Klein reaffirms the classical opposition between the reality of ta erga (works, deeds) and the imitation in words (logoi), except that here the logos itself seems to undergo a split between the “drama itself” or “dialogue proper,” on the one hand, and its representation, on the other. But Klein suggests reading this opposition in terms of the treatment of images in book 10 of the Republic, as well as the in “allegory of the cave,” and he provides a series of interpretive rules for the dramatic interpretation, in particular the rules of reading the “ethological mimes”—in which the action of the speaker reveals his or her character and thought—and “doxological mimes”—in which the character of the speaker reveals the truth or falsity of his or her opinions. Here as well, the representational model of the dramatic tableau seems to prevail in spite of the apparent attention to the mimic aspect of the dialogues.
In the case of Theaetetus, however, the distinction between the model and its image could hardly be maintained if the prologue were allowed its dramatic impact on the “dialogue proper.” The prologue has a complex rhapsodic structure, complicated by the use of writing. The conversation between Socrates, Theodorus, and young Theaetetus had been narrated (by Socrates himself) to Euclides from Megara, who wrote down a memoir (hupomnēmata) of it, and after that, every time he was in Athens, he talked to Socrates about the conversation and tried to check its accuracy. We, the readers are participating in the dialogue between Euclides and his friend Terpsion, who had just met the old Theaetetus, dying from the wound he received at the battle of Corinth. Euclides explains that he simplified the narration by suppressing the part played by the rhapsode/narrator Socrates—in other words (the words of the Socrates in the Republic), he transformed the mixed mode of diēgēsis or narration into pure mimēsis. Many different voices are intruding here, and they so complicate the relationship between the “drama itself” and the “dialogue proper” that one can understand Klein’s reticence to include it in his reading. Any attempt to save the representational structure while still reading the dramatic prologues seems doomed to failure. Only a genuinely rhapsodic reading will be able to respect the integrality of the dialogue and at the same time set into play its mimetic character.
Harry Berger offers an intriguing example of such a reading, which only apparently attempts to reduce the prologue to the “dialogue proper.” Beginning with the passage on the supposedly Protagorean theory of perception, and suggesting that it functions as “a displacement, a metonymic condensation, of the larger, more complex human relationship,” Berger suggests that the fact that “we are bound to one another” (allēlois dē leipetai sudedesthai [160b]) is not an epistemological necessity but an ethical requirement. He makes this suggestion in a dialogue with Gail Fine and Willard Van Orman Quine, whose insights and terminology he then extends and displaces. The postulate of the interrelatedness of all knowledge requires not only a continued circulation “within a given field” (Fine) but also an “opening up [of] the boundaries of any ‘given field’” (Berger). Not only is “the total field” “underdetermined by its boundary conditions” (Quine), but also, in the dialogue, “the boundary conditions of the text are underdetermined by the boundaries and interior of the dramatic encounter” (Berger). In other words, it is the “dialogue proper” that might undermine the prologue, but only when the prologue is read in the first place: “Reading may indeed be made to conform to the dynamics of an effluence theory that transmits authority and authorized meaning, for example, from Socrates to Euclides to his slave [the rhapsode/reader] to Terpsion, or from Socrates to Plato, or from Plato to us. But it need not necessarily do so. It may move in the other direction as well.” In the latter case, the authority of “Plato” and “his” text would be seriously undermined. The “authority” of the rhapsode/reader would be reinforced, provided it is not based on a privileged access to the “drama itself,” “philosophy itself,” or the “mystery of the model.” The kind of reading outlined by Berger depends on the rhapsodic dialogue between Socrates and his figure of Protagoras, which yields the interpreted line “we are bound to one another” in its particular dialogical sense. It is the dialogic nature of our boundedness to each other that, in the dialogue with Fine and Quine, leads Berger back to the rhapsodic prologue, which cannot be dismissed as a simple boundary disturbance, and eventually opens up the text to “us,” the ultimate rhapsodes/readers.
Rhapsodic reading is rare in Plato scholarship. Berger’s reading is an exception to the general rule of accepting the authority of the ideal model, the author’s intention, and that of the authoritative interpreter. In an influential, recently reedited, collection of essays, Platonic Writings, Platonic Readings, Charles Griswold emphasizes the representational principle: “Plato presents us with dramatic imitations of the practice of philosophizing.” And this practice can give us access to the ideal model: “The true ‘forms’ and ‘looks’ (eidē, ideai) of things cannot be entirely inaccessible; for even the efforts to deny their accessibility or existence assume them.” Griswold makes his point in a debate with “deconstructionists,” who “see their own point, as well as their opponent’s point, and they do so in the light of intelligibility.” “Elenchic deconstruction is dialectic unaccompanied by the insight that there is a Whole”; “intelligibility and wholeness” cannot be denied even by the “antiphilosopher.” The “insight that there is a Whole” is, one might say, the insight possessed by the “synoptic” philosopher (ho men gar sunoptikos dialektikos, ho de mē ou [Republic 537c7]), extolled in the discussion of education that follows in the wake of the so-called allegory of the cave in the Republic.
But why should we read the allegory from the perspective of the one man who supposedly leaves the cave to gaze at the sun or from that the modern philosopher who identifies with him rather than with Socrates? This perspective is already a result of the major transition in Western thinking that might be detected in the “allegory of the cave” when read without an unquestioning deference to its “author’s expressed intention.” Heidegger gives such a reading in his Platons Lehre von der Wahrheit, translated as “Plato’s Doctrine of Truth.” In fact, he is obliged to recognize that Plato’s text is not explicitly about truth. In this case, one can only talk of Plato’s “teaching” (Lehre) in terms of the “unsaid” (das Ungesagte). It is true that the question of education and that of truth are essentially related and that the transformation of the nature of one will lead to the transformation of the other. But Plato’s text needs Heidegger’s voice in order to form a more explicit Lehre. Lehre will still retain its tentative character and thus perhaps shouldn’t be translated as “doctrine” with its “doctrinaire,” dogmatic connotations. There is no authority/authorship of Plato that would authenticate his “theory”; there is only a voice that gets heard through Heidegger’s reading, which in this sense may be called rhapsodic.
But this unsaid teaching is not a speculation; it is based on what is said. Heidegger doesn’t say this, but what is said in the text is not said by Plato either, not directly in the first person. It is said by Glaucon and Socrates, but, again, not directly. The dialogue between them is a reported dialogue in the long narrative of Socrates. The Socrates who presents the image of the cave and tells the story of the prisoners is in fact a character in Socrates’ “own” story that he told to the unnamed audience. The readers might perhaps identify with this audience if they remember the beginning of the Republic, or with Glaucon as the immediate addressee of Socrates, or with the prisoners in the story, but not necessarily with the one who might have been liberated, the one who might have seen the light of intelligibility and attained the synoptic grasp of “the Whole.” Is not the latter pretension a hubris somewhat incompatible not only with the rhapsodic structure of the Republic but also with a genuine turning to philosophizing?
“Allegory” is the most common translation of the Greek word eikōn (more literally “resembling image”) that is used by Glaucon and Socrates in their discussion of education in the Republic. Socrates’ well-known description of the underground world and its inhabitants comes at the outset of book 7 (514aff.): the people imprisoned at the bottom of a cavelike dwelling, chained so that they cannot move their bodies or heads, are forced to watch a spectacle of shadows on the opposite wall; the shadows are projected by the objects paraded between the prisoners and the fire as the source of light. There follows the story of one liberated prisoner’s painful turning and progress toward the objects and the light of fire in the cave, then upward toward the outside world; his final look at the sun reveals the source not only of the view of the world but of the world’s being. The last episode tells of the return to the darkness of the cave, when the accommodation of sight seems even more difficult than on the upward journey. This allegory/image is supposed to illustrate our human condition in respect to education. Indeed, Socrates asks Glaucon to imagine the scene when he introduces his story at the beginning of book 7: “Next, I said, compare the effect of education [paideia] and of the lack of it [apaideusia] on our nature to an experience like this.” (514a). The verb translated by Grube as “compare” is apeikason, which has the same root as eikōn, or image, “icon.” Thus apparently in Plato’s own text the language of representation is suggested as part of (Glaucon’s and the audience’s, the readers’) education even before the story begins; we do not enter the world of images, we are there right from the beginning. In a sense, the turning in/from the cave has always already begun.
Heidegger does not deny an intimate connection between education and imaging; how could he? “Education” in German is Bildung, the root of which is Bild or “image.” Bildung is a “formation” that can be understood in a double sense: a “forming” (Bilden) in the sense of “the impressing of a character that unfolds” (entfaltende Prägung) but also in the sense of conforming to a paradigm (Vor-bild). It is the latter meaning that comes closer to the etymology of education (e- and ducere, or “to lead forth, guide”) in Heidegger’s view: a “guiding by a paradigm” (Geleit durch ein Bild), and it is this model of education that Heidegger associates with the notion of truth that emerges, is e-duced, from the “allegory.” In fact, it does not emerge but it appears as in a flashlight. Light of fire and of the sun and their play in shadows and reflections determine the visibility of being. It all depends on the correctness (orthotēs) of the gaze turned toward idea/eidos, or “visible form,” the principle of visibility, as in Griswold’s “light of intelligibility.” Idea as the principle of intelligibility becomes here the “whatness” of the thing—in later, Latin terminology, quidditas, essentia rather than existentia. In order to be (real), a thing needs to pass the muster of its “whatness,” an image needs to conform to its model. In ethical and theatrical terms, the model will become a “character” (ēthos), a place of reference. This structure necessarily refers to the notion of contemplation (theōria) and to its agent, the philosopher. Ideas (ideai/eidē) are after all “looks,” “aspects,” even if they are offered only to the gaze of the “eye of the soul” (omma tēs psukhēs). Heidegger points out the interdependence between the notion of the subject—a modern notion that he traces, beyond René Descartes, to the Latin and modern reception of Plato and Aristotle—and its representation, that is, the world as picture. In the English language of the Anglo-American tradition the word for (the philosophical, theoretical) “I” is conveniently homophonic with the organ of sight. Contemplation remains the dominant stance in the interpretation of Plato. The unity of his thought is ordinarily understood in reference to the synoptic, global view of the philosopher contemplating the “spectacle” of ideai, in the sense of an “ideology” of representation.
Even though the notion of truth as the correctness of images, of representation (Vorstellung), comes to dominate the original alētheia, the sense of alētheia as the process of unhiddenness is still present in the “allegory.” The topography of the scene, an underground abode, open on its upper side, with a steep, thorny path that leads there, on the one hand, and the etymology of the Greek alētheia (alpha privative plus lēthē, or “forgetfulness”), on the other, suggest a difficult process of emerging into the light of day and of struggling with the forgetfulness of lēthē that the term apaideusia only partially expresses. The continuous struggle of unhiddenness, unconcealment (Unverborgenheit) presupposes a more originary “hiding” nature of being, to which Heidegger seems to point in a later note to his essay, when he refers to Heraclitus’s fragment 123: “Nature [or rather being] likes to hide” (phusis kruptesthai philei). This originary essence of truth as alētheia is still present in Plato, still determining his language to some extent, still resisting the enframing within a picture (“the Heraclitan world still growls in Platonism,” Deleuze will say); but it needs the voice of the rhapsode/interpreter (Heidegger or Deleuze for example) in order to appear under the surface of representation.
What kind of education would accompany such a notion of truth as unconcealment? Heidegger perhaps hints at it in the notion of “the impressing of a character that enfolds,” but he does not develop it himself. Unless one considers his discussion of the dialogue between Sophocles and Hölderlin as pointing toward the “formation” of the homely status of a human being or the formation of a people in the journey through the unhomely (das Unheimische) or uncanny (das Unheimliche); after all, it is in terms of the homely that Heidegger conceives the situation of the prisoners in the Republic (“at home,” zu Hause). In historical terms, it is the Homeric rhapsodic tradition that brought about the unconcealment of being. Now, this reference would apparently contradict Socrates’ condemnation of Homer and the tragedians. Except that Socrates “himself” acts as a rhapsode when condemning the rhapsodic tradition; he thus enters the space of play. And it is the notion of education, or paideia, as play, or paidia (both terms are derived from the Greek word for “child,” pais, paidos), discussed in book 3 of the Republic, that might perhaps be able to counter the educational effects of the transformation of the essence of truth, so momentous for the “ever-advancing world history of the planet.”
Heidegger seems to neglect the particularity of rhapsodic mimesis when he brings together the allegory of the cave with an account of mimesis in book 10 of the Republic, considering the discussion of book 3 as merely “preparatory and provisional” (vordeutend): “On our way through these conversations, we encounter at the beginning of the seventh book the discussion of the essence of truth, based on the allegory of the cave. Only after traversing this long and broad path to the point where philosophy is defined as masterful knowledge of the Being of beings do we turn back, in order to ground those statements which were made earlier in a mere provisional manner, among them the statements concerning art. Such a return transpires in the tenth and final book.” Indeed, his discussion of mimesis as representation avails itself of the terminology acquired in the interpretation of the “allegory,” in particular the notion of the “outward appearance” (das Aussehen), that is, of the idea. Such a reading brings out the “ideological” function of the spectacle of the ideai and the subordination of poetry and the theater to the philosophical requirements of order. This subordination, which Heidegger sees in the tenth book of the Republic, is also that of Aristotle’s Poetics with its “catholic,” “general” determination of poetry, “ideal” characters/types, recognition, and catharsis.
But the view of mimesis as ideological representation needs to be distinguished from the rhapsodic mimesis in the third book of the Republic. In this book, mimesis is discussed within the problematic of education in the sense of the formation of types (tupoi), the rigor (akribeia) of the social distinctions is opposed to the rhapsodic play (paidia) of mimesis, and playing an other, impersonating him or her, giving voice to another, performing a role, might lead to an actual transformation (“[The guardians] should not depict or be skilful at imitating any kind of illiberality or baseness, lest from imitation [ek tēs mimēseōs] they should come to be [einai] what they imitate” [395c–d]). Thus rhapsodic play acquires a directly sociopolitical meaning. In book 10, on the other hand, there is no question of rhapsodic performance, of role-playing; mimesis consists in producing images of images, within the representational schema; it is the ontological status of images that is in question rather than the identity of the rhapsodic player. Thus the “turning” of the “allegory” of the cave can also be read as a turning from the rhapsodic to the representational mode. In the history of Western thought, this shift occurred with Aristotle, who “seriously” responded to Socrates’ challenge and integrated poetry within the representational system dominated by philosophy. The so-called dramatic interpretation of Plato’s dialogues belongs to this reaction/apology initiated by Aristotle and can thus be opposed to the rhapsodic mode.
The merit of Jill Gordon’s Turning Toward Philosophy is to dispel any doubt as to the Aristotelian character of the so-called dramatic reading. Explicitly drawing on the work of Hyland and Griswold, Gordon turns directly to Aristotle: “It makes sense to consult a contemporaneous and authoritative work on Greek poetry to see what it might tell us about Plato’s dialogues insofar as they are poetry.” This might indeed seem a “sensible” directive for a historical, “timely” reading. But is it even then legitimate to interpret a text using the hermeneutic system of an adversary? And the author of the Poetics is usually seen as Plato’s adversary: F. L. Lucas, Jacqueline de Romilly, and Stephen Halliwell would certainly agree with Martha C. Nussbaum in calling the Poetics a “consciously anti-Platonic text.” Besides, the “authority” of the Poetics has often been questioned as to the reading of Greek tragedy; do not Plato’s dialogues have in common with the tragedies the questioning of authority, the authority of muthos and logos? Would not an “authoritative” poetics cancel out this function? Does not in fact the “authority” of Aristotle’s text lie in the tradition that was able to use the Poetics for rendering poetry innocuous and acceptable to the powers that be, successfully meeting Socrates’ challenge in the Republic (607b), purifying poetry and making it “philosophical” (Poetics 1451b5–7)? One would expect that to rely on the same authority in reading Plato’s dialogues would render them rather tame.
This is precisely what Gordon shows in her book, which is not so much an attempt at a historical philological reconstruction of the missing book(s) of the Poetics, in the manner of Richard Janko, as a playful parody of both the Poetics and the “dramatic” readings of Plato. Socratic dialogue would be, according to Gordon’s Aristotle, “an imitation of philosophical activity which by means of language represents dialogue that aims at turning one toward the philosophical life.” Gordon follows this definition with a detailed comparison between the elements of tragedy as distinguished by Aristotle and those of the Socratic dialogue. She suggests the substitution of thought (dianoia) for plot (muthos) as the “soul” of the dialogue form. This substitution would facilitate identification with the characters, mainly Socrates, and thus the protreptic effect of the Socratic dialogue. Reversal and recognition are also prominent in the structure of the dialogue. Recognition in particular should play an important role in the interaction with the audience or the reader, in the formation of their identity. It is in the context of such identification with the characters that Gordon again refers to Hyland, who seems to be outdoing Aristotle: “I understand Hyland’s position to be that just what the interlocutors are portrayed as experiencing, the reader/audience is likely to experience. Comparatively, Aristotle’s description of the audience’s experience of pity and fear are due to a more vicarious interaction with the drama.” Gordon doesn’t use the word “catharsis” here, but the pair “pity and fear” is an unmistakable hint that that is what she means. The over-Aristotelian reading of the dialogues thus brings Hyland, Gordon, and, as we shall see, other “dramatic” interpreters within the range of Bertolt Brecht’s critique, the critique of the “Aristotelian,” “cathartic” theater. Far from giving the reader/audience any choice, the identification with the hero (and Gordon explicitly presents Socrates in this role) keeps them spellbound and forces on them the dominant ideological view. Brecht’s remedy against the ideological theater of the followers of Aristotle is his own “epic,” “anti-Aristotelian,” “anti-cathartic” theater. He doesn’t call it “rhapsodic,” but he might have. The actor in the epic theater is indeed a rhapsode, not only playing a role, identifying with the character, but also taking an ironic look at both the character and him or herself in telling his or her story. Platonic theater would be rhapsodic-Brechtian rather than cathartic-Aristotelian. It is certainly for this reason that Brecht’s theater has been explicitly called “Platonic”! In this comparison, I hope, the basic differences between the conception of the “dramatic” and “rhapsodic” dialogue are even more apparent.
Since Leo Strauss, almost no “dramatic” reader has refrained from comparing Plato to Shakespeare to make the point that it is inappropriate to identify the dramatic author’s thought with that of his character, say, Hamlet or Socrates. This is a remarkable comparison, but it needs to be grasped historically, that is to say, also, in an untimely way. How many Shakespeares were there, are there? Should we single out one of them—the Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon or the one from the court of Elizabeth—and try to isolate his “intention”? Should we dismiss all others as inauthentic, “anti-Shakespearian”? Tom Stoppard’s, Heiner Müller’s, or the Kabuki version of Shakespeare, for example, are perhaps no less legitimate than the versions offered by the “competent” readers supposedly privy to Plato’s or Shakespeare’s intentions. Moreover, Plato is not a dramatist like any other, and Ruby Blondell is right to warn readers of the dialogues away from an all too easy categorization: “In the recent push to contextualize Plato’s arguments with respect to both literary form and cultural milieu, it is crucial to remember that these arguments are, to an overwhelming degree, the main subject matter of his ‘dramas.’ ‘Dramatic’ criticism ignores this at its peril.” The truth is that, together with Plato, we his readers are engaged in the endless quarrel between philosophy and poetry, which is also an endless “dialogue of genres.” We cannot accept, as given, the traditional Aristotelian solutions to this quarrel and this dialogue: the attribution to poetry of a dominantly philosophical character and the separation of genres.
To sum up briefly: there is no alternative to the dialogue/confrontation with Plato in our—Platonic—epoch. Reading Plato’s dialogues as drama might appear to be a beginning of such dialogue, but in truth, the explicit integration of the dialogue form into the Aristotelian system of mimetic genres actually blocks its dialogic potential. The “dramatic” interpretation has wound up with the Philosopher’s Plato! Drama as imitation and image, with its function of identification rather than play, constitutes a powerful instrument of ideological recognition and identification. Just as with tragedy, there is a tendency in classical poetics to submit dialogue to the unity/unities. This tendency should be resisted, just as strongly as the Aristotelian/neoclassical domestication of tragedy. Rhapsodic dialogue is the mode of this resistance; hence its polemical character. But as with Socrates, and the contemporary authors discussed in this book, polemos is also, especially, play.
The “old quarrel” (palaia diaphora [Republic 607b5]) between philosophy and poetry is an example, perhaps the example, of polemos/play, if one understands it, with Socrates in the Republic, as hē . . . poiētikē kai hē mimēsis (607c5), that is, mimesis, which is play par excellence (Sophist 234b). Rhapsody is such mimetic play, and it constitutes not only one side of the quarrel but also its (abyssal) (play)ground, a Heraclitean “child’s play” (“pais paizōn”) rather than a serious well-defined game, such as an athletic competition. Thus if rhapsodic reading seems to resemble “dramatic” reading, it is only in the sense that a wolf resembles a dog (Sophist 231a). The function of the “dramatic” reading is to control the character of the text, which it regards as univocal or at least regularly polysemic. The “dramatic” approach joins here the most traditional view of Plato scholarship in maintaining the ideal of a univocal intention. And they both achieve this goal through a strict separation of seriousness and play in their reading.
A passage from the second book of the Republic (375–76) gives an illustration of the convergence between these two modes of interpretation in their resistance to the free play of the rhapsodic mode. Socrates and his interlocutor despair of finding an ideal character for a guardian that will combine two apparently opposite qualities: gentleness and ruthlessness (a guardian should be gentle to his fellow countrymen and ruthless toward the enemy). Socrates has an idea as to the model for such a character, a dog, for is it not gentle toward those whom it knows and fierce toward strangers? How amazing this “philosophical” feature in a dog is, marvels Socrates: here is an animal for whom “knowledge” is the only criterion for action. By using the quotation marks in the preceding sentence I have already suggested the traditional interpretation—that of Francis Cornford, for example—which recommends not to take seriously “the ascription of a philosophic element to dogs” because “for Plato, reason is an independent faculty, existing only in man and not developed from any animal instinct.” The coherence of Plato’s theory is the guiding principle for Cornford here. On the other hand, for James Arieti, who does not care much for Plato’s overall theoretical coherence but for “drama” alone, Socrates’ argument is just a “silliness,” and in the face of his interlocutor Glaucon’s acquiescence, the interpreter asks rhetorically, “Doesn’t even the most moderate member of Plato’s audience want to go up to Glaucon and, shaking him, scold, ‘Are you going to go along with everything Socrates says?’” That Socrates’ jest escaped Glaucon results from the drama in which both characters are engaged; that it has escaped some readers and interpreters was certainly not intended by Plato, according to Arieti, for whom, in general, it is safer to assume that Plato is ironic or that he is joking than that he is dead serious.
Thus, Plato is bantering or making Socrates banter; the results of both the traditional “doctrinal” and the “dramatic” reading are pretty much the same as far as the notion of interpretation is concerned: the exclusion of seriousness, that is, eventually, of play that would confront the text itself and its rhapsodic mode. Plato cannot be serious or Socrates cannot be serious: it is against the accepted doctrine of Plato; it offends common sense. But are not both interpreters using precisely the criterion of acquaintance or familiarity, that is, of an agreement with the accepted theory, or common sense, which the interpreter translates into the authorial intention, the hermeneutic principle of accepted pre-judices? Philosopher or not, a watchdog would be a model of the guardian-interpreter, a guardian of the text, of its intentional and univocal understanding.
But it is perhaps not necessary (pace Cornford, Griswold, Arieti, and others) to decide in advance between the dramatic seriousness and playfulness of the dialogues if we take “seriously” Socrates’ old quarrel between philosophy and poetry and set it into play. Socrates suggests in book 10 of the Republic that the problem of the relationship between philosophy and poetry is not new and in fact might be eternal as the problem of philosophy’s “literary” mode of presentation. There follows the famous banishment. But Socrates hastens to assure the “sweet friend and the sister arts of mimesis” that, together with the other founders of the ideal state, he will be willing to reconsider the judgment if poetry proves her political usefulness. “We are very conscious of her charms,” he says, “but we may not on that account betray the truth”—“amica poesis sed magis amica veritas”! Now, Socrates’ declaration should be related to the declaration of another Athenian, the Stranger in the Laws, who places both philosophers, the champions of truth, and poets, on a stage in a “true” play: “Best of strangers, we will say to them [the tragic poets] we [the philosophers!] also according to our ability are tragic poets, and our tragedy is the best and noblest; for our whole state is a mimesis of the best and noblest life, which we affirm to be indeed the very truth of tragedy. You are poets and we are poets . . . rivals and antagonists in the noblest of dramas” (Laws 817). Here, the truth of tragic poetry seems to be formulated by the Athenian Stranger acting as a political philosopher. But the final decision in the matter is deferred, and the debate, the quarrel, transferred to the domain of the rhapsodic play of mimesis. Thus the passage suggests a shift from the strict opposition between poetry and philosophy, between truth and play, to the recognition of a mimetic tension between them.
To summarize briefly again: there is an urgent need for a dialogue with Plato. This is because there is always a need to come to terms with one’s epoch, and ours is “Platonic,” for better or worse. The “worse” is the representational structure of our thought, with the society of the spectacle at/as its “worst.” The “better” is the potential for dialogic challenge, which can be found in Plato’s text as well (“Was it not Plato himself who pointed out the direction for the reversal of Platonism?” ). The difficulties of finding it results from our own immersion in images. Even those who emphasize the dialogue form as the key to reading Plato “dramatically” understand the drama as tableaulike imitation and submit it to the ideal “form.” Only the rhapsodic dialogue is able to resist the authority of the model-image structure. (The hubris of “my” claim may perhaps be mitigated by the hubris of another claim: that of the rhapsodic mode to undermine the subjectivity of the “I claim” or “I speak.”)
The very nature of rhapsodic reading prevents a theoretical generalization of it. All of the authors discussed in this book engage in a singular confrontation/dialogue with Plato. It is thus less in terms of positive assertions than in terms of questioning, and especially a questioning of the representational character of the epoch—a questioning of modern theory and the theater, of drama theorized by a subject/spectator (theatēs)—that I hope to engage the reader in a serious play with what too often is taken for granted: “the author,” “his or her text,” “its meaning,” “the world,” “the self.” This book accordingly does not impose a traditionally understood philosophical interpretation on the texts in question. Rather, each chapter brings together one of Plato’s dialogues and a rhapsodic confrontation with Platonism by several contemporary thinkers, who draw on the dialogue in developing their own thought, displaying the play of mimēsis, of pharmakon, of khōra, of hermēneia, and of play (paidia) itself.
In the book’s first chapter I read the Republic as a play between rigor and play, and between education (paideia) and play (paidia), in the company of Gérard Genette and Lacoue-Labarthe (as well as, indirectly, Heidegger, René Girard, and Rosen). The basic claim of the whole book concerning the dialogic inseparability of philosophy and its rhapsodic, “literary” mode of presentation is here discussed in terms of rigor (akribeia), which is shown to be in fact the focus of the first book of the Republic. Rigor, the key term in the logic, ontology, and politics of the Republic, has to be ratified in the rigor of literary distinctions. Thus, a strict separation between terms, functions, and types—and eventually between philosophy and poetry, which underlies the famous “old quarrel” (palaia diaphora)—cannot be sustained in the rhapsodic interplay of, say, mimetic and diegetic modes. When Genette maintains Socrates’ fundamental separation of the modes of discourse, he remains within the same ideological (“typological,” “typographical”) structure, even when reversing the valuation of the two modes and their corresponding genres.
But does Socrates himself not warrant the opposition between form and content in the Republic? Doesn’t he attempt to distinguish between what is to be said (ha lekteon) in the myths accepted in education and the way it is to be said (hōs lekteon)? Yes, but “Socrates himself” is never really himself in the dialogue. He is a rhapsode, telling the story of a conversation concerning justice (dikaiosunē) in a mode that is not compatible with the very rule of justice about to be announced: one man, one job. This rule and the strict separation between classes, genders, and professions is what the “competent readers” of the Republic would not hesitate to call content; and yet it is also a form of discourse—a dialogue, in fact, that questions the strict delimitations of modes and genres of discourse and eventually the rule of justice itself.
At the outset of his recent commentary, Rosen recognizes the importance of the rhapsodic mode of the Republic, where Socrates “assumes the identities, and utters the speeches, of everyone in the dialogue, which is accordingly also mimetic,” but he immediately opposes it to Plato’s “invention of the entire Socratic monologue,” and it is the monologue that seems to determine Plato’s political thought as it is developed in the course of Rosen’s book. One of the great merits of Rosen’s book is thus to have shown on the political level the conflict between the two modes of mimesis and the transition from rhapsodic play to (mostly visual) representation, a transition that Heidegger analyzed in his reading of the “allegory of the cave.”
In conjunction with Lacoue-Labarthe’s reading of Heidegger’s reading and his theory of truth as alētheia (through Girard’s notion of mimetic crisis), I argue for the necessity of the rhapsodic origin, a necessarily an-archic origin, of any rigorous order. Akribeia rather than alētheia, in its play with mimesis or play, would thus be at stake in the Republic—in any republic. Throughout this book, the rigor of the separation of types, classes, and genres progressively leads to a different kind of rigor, epitomized by the rhapsodic mode of the Ion that is also present in the Republic—written in a mixed rhapsodic mode and genre and as such an example of the irreducible play between mimesis and diegesis, between the truth, or at least “non-true lie” of the muthos, and the true lie of role (dis-)playing. Neither Socrates’ rejection of dramatic mimesis nor Genette’s neglect of it on the ground of its representational straightforwardness acknowledges the rhapsodic play in Homer, in Plato, and so forth, which consists in the constant dia-phora or “carrying across” between the two modes of discourse: simple narration and dramatic presentation. It is such a dia-phora that marks the dialogue that Lacoue-Labarthe establishes between Heidegger and Girard. His notion of “typography” brings together the rigor of types (and that of the modern “subject”) with the “disinstallation” of the play of writing. One of its implications is the dependence of the subject of enunciation on the mode of this enunciation. Lacoue-Labarthe’s own essay might be considered an instance of what we call the rhapsodic mode.
It is within the problematic of such a mode that the second chapter, “Le Beau Jeu: The Play of Beauty and Truth in the Phaedrus,” asks seriously an apparently frivolous question: why the philosopher would not get the truth if she were a woman. This question might prove more serious than the famous “why Plato wrote dialogues” question and might indeed begin to answer it. It is true that Nietzsche answered the question (in fact, his own) a long time ago, but philosophers/scholars do not seem to have taken it seriously enough, that is, playfully enough. Heidegger, for one, in his Nietzsche: The Will to Power as Art, addresses the opposition between art and truth, characterized by Nietzsche as a dreadful or raging discordance (ein Entsetzen erregender Zwiespalt), in terms of Nietzsche’s intended overturning of Platonism. But Heidegger claims that there is no discordance in the Republic, only the hierarchical subordination of poetry or art to truth, and that the discordance of the Phaedrus is “felicitous,” a “beglückender Zwiespalt”: beauty, the domain of art, becomes a privileged site of the uncovering/unforgetting of truth. This view of poetry, or art, and truth in Plato and Nietzsche makes possible Heidegger’s own characterization of art in “The Origin of the Work of Art” as the “setting into the work/to work of truth” (das Ins-Werk-Setzen der Wahrheit). Building on the argument of the first chapter, I attempt to substitute here the notion of akribeia, or rigor, for that of alētheia, or truth. It is indeed akribeia that brings play into the definition of poetry and art—in Plato as in Brecht’s epic or rhapsodic theater—as a “setting into play” of the ideology of types or typography.
Here again, the so-called dramatic reading becomes a foil to the rhapsodic one. Griswold’s Self-Knowledge in Plato’s “Phaedrus” attempts a return to the representational notion of truth with its radical distinction between “literal and nonliteral truth” and its “subjection” of the latter to the former. The interpretation of the poetic palinode and the myths of the Phaedrus are forced into a “rhetorical framework,” discovered in the “rhetoric of the palinode itself.” This rhetoric is submitted to philosophy defined as “true psychotherapy,” a means of enforcing the “conservative” categories and distinctions. It is Griswold’s neglect of the rhaps-odic character of the palin-ode that is ultimately responsible for his obliteration of the serious play in the Phaedrus.
Nietzsche’s quarrel with Richard Wagner concerns the same danger of eluding play in art. Wagner’s art is false because dead serious, in spite of its theatrical character, which he uses to form an ideology rather than to question it. Nietzsche’s critique is here at one with that of Socrates. And, also like Socrates, he rhapsodically gives voice to a number of dramatic characters—Socrates, Euripides, Zarathustra, the last man, the overman, “Wagner,” and most importantly of all, “Nietzsche”—in displaying his thought. It is thus not an accident that Derrida brings together truth and play on the basis of Nietzsche’s text in his Spurs. He shows that truth is necessarily included within the realm of play by woman, artist par excellence, who stands for truth as untruth, as art, as the play of dissimulation and revelation. Again, such a play can only be fully understood within the context of the opposition between the supposed rigor of scientific discourse and the rhapsodic mode of Plato’s and Nietzsche’s writing. Heidegger’s reading of Nietzsche’s overturning of Platonism, and hence, his view of both Plato and Nietzsche, doesn’t do full justice to this mode, to the notion of woman-play in the relationship of art to truth. Ideal beauty, whose brilliance contributes to the recollection of the other ideas, needs art or the pharmakon of mimesis in order itself to appear. Socratic, rhapsodic speeches constitute such a pharmakon, and they belong to Plato’s pharmacy/theater, just as writing as examined by Derrida does. They reveal the play between self-identity and dissimulation, between self-possession and being possessed, between logos and inspiration. The dissimulation and revelation of ideal forms may be called the truth of unconcealment (alētheia, Unverborgenheit), but it is also a pharmaco-logical play that challenges the rigor of a univocal logos. The play of signification, a play between the logic of rigorous definition and an irreducible ambiguity even within a single signifier (for example—and this is not an arbitrary example for Derrida—the signifier pharmakon), is crucial here. The playful character of writing throughout the Phaedrus must be taken into account, and any attempt , whether by King Thamus in Socrates’ story or by Plato’s interpreters, to come to a decision is frustrated in the dialogue by the logic of play that Derrida tries to carry on. The pharmakon will never be just a poison or just a remedy; the beau jeu (not exactly “fair play”) will always preserve an element of risk and of play between beauty and truth, between poetry and philosophy.
The third chapter takes up a major problem of Platonism, which happens to be also a major problem of the contemporary “society of the spectacle”: that of the legitimacy of representation, that is, of the distinction between images and simulacra. Plato’s dialogue the Sophist ostensibly attempts to reduce the risk of collapsing the distinction between philosophy and its mimetic doubles, art and sophistry, precisely by maintaining the distinction between images and simulacra. I read this dialogue with Deleuze (“Plato and the Simulacrum”), Michel Foucault (“Theatrum philosophicum”), and Jean-Luc Nancy (“Le ventriloque”). I also refer to Rosen’s “dramatic phenomenology,” elaborated in his reading of the Sophist, which I claim is still governed by the rule of representation. Now, every analytical philosopher knows well that the Sophist is about predication rather than about Eleatic metaphysical conundrums. And the great merit of Rosen’s book is rigorously to show the impasse of such a reading, the “predicationalist’s”’ reading of the Sophist based on the oversimplifying translation of the verb eoikenai by “duplicates” or “is the same as.” The Greek to eoikenai and the modern “likeness,” “similarity,” or “resemblance” are slippery notions, hardly able to conform to the rigor of logical symbols.
The Elean Stranger in the Sophist defines the simulacrum as an image without resemblance, and on the basis of this notion—a gesture toward an overturning of Platonism—Deleuze and Foucault develop a view of modern art and philosophy of the Dionysian kind found in Nietzsche, Antonin Artaud, and others, which tends to “glorify” the world of simulacra. As attractive as it appears, however, the possibility of the total liberation of simulacra from the order of representation seems doubtful in general and in Plato’s text in particular. An examination of René Magritte’s and Francis Bacon’s paintings, which should support Foucault’s (This Is Not a Pipe) and Deleuze’s (Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation) views, respectively, shows the difficulty of conceiving a simulacrum without any relation to the representational order. Paradoxically, such a liberation would require a certain mastery, a methodological rigor of separation (Plato’s dialectic of diairesis, or division) of the kind that eventually fails in the Sophist. The dialogue shows a certain claim of simulacra to representational status, even through a somewhat slippery mode of resemblance. The sophist, in particular, seems to resemble the philosopher, even if only in the protean character of nonresemblance with himself. The self-referentiality of Plato’s text, emphasized by Nancy, links the questioning of the notion of the subject with that of the mode of discourse on which such a notion depends. The Stranger’s Eleatic belief in the possibility of a rigorous separation between being and nonbeing, as well as between the terms that designate them, is belied by the very experience with language, which always forces us to bring together what we would like rigorously to separate. This leads to the notion of the sumplokē, or entanglement of beings, which the Stranger develops into the “community of genres.” This un-Eleatic ontology constitutes the basis for a play that attempts to deal with the conundrum of the “reality” of art, a conundrum that is displayed by notions such as “(re)semblance” and “fantastic art.” Nancy’s notion of “ventriloquism” playfully refers to the same experience of uncanny resemblance and helps to focus on the mode of discourse that renounces the illusion of rigor and objectivity, since it is aware of the other voice, the voice of the other, constantly present in any statement. Again, I call this mode of discourse “rhapsodic” and point to the affinity of its “stitching together” with the community of voices entangled in the Stranger’s sumplokē.
The fourth chapter, “The Abyssal Emplacement of World and Discourse in the Timaeus,” proposes a reading of the Timaeus in dialogue with Julia Kristeva, Irigaray, Judith Butler, Elizabeth Grosz, Derrida, and John Sallis, which shows how the cosmological and discursive stage of khōra (“place,” “space,” “ground,” “land,” “country”) becomes the un-common place for questioning the foundations of Western metaphysical, political, and aesthetic hierarchies, especially the phallogocentric—“paradigmatic,” “typical,” “fatherly”—repression of the feminine grounding (in all senses of the word) of emplacement. The representation of the ideal models and univocal terms in khōra is disturbed by khōra’s singularizing effect. The otherness of khōra, its radical difference, “in a sense irreducible to a difference of sense,” irreducible to the requirements of akribeia, undermines the efforts of Plato’s demiurge to force the initial chiasm of the same and the other into an all-including circle of the same as well as the efforts of the philosopher to circumscribe his cosmo-logical discourse within a “logical” myth. Thus, the Timaeus, the least dramatically mimetic of the Platonic dialogues, is shown here to be nevertheless the place where the rhapsodic mode of discourse (already dismissed, as we have seen in the Republic, because of its ontological, political, and poetical inadequacy) is again, and more radically, problematized. Chora, the third entity of the cosmological system of the Timaeus, is supposed to make possible the creation of a world in motion in accordance with immutable ontological, epistemological, and political oppositions, a world that would include the orderly society described in the Republic and invoked again in the Timaeus. Mimesis in the sense of resembling representation has its place in this process: the phenomenal, changing world is a copy of the ideal, unchanging paradigm.
But chora, far from performing its duty of filling the gap between these two worlds, opens an abyss, a chasm that risks undermining the entire system. Indeed, chora, which has no proper place or characteristics, has more to do with rhapsodic mimesis than with resemblance and representation. Described as “nurselike” and “motherlike,” chora evokes the status of the feminine in Western thought: a “receptacle” for the creation of a (masculine) world, it is itself passive, without form, without imprint. Since it is hardly possible to banish chora, the place of support of the world and/of discourse, a (theoretical, cosmological, political, poetical) effort has to be made by the guardians of world and discourse to exorcise the disruptive, revolutionary potential of mat(t)er, of femininity, of Eros, of the semiotic, of rhapsodic mimesis, and so forth, into which the authors discussed in this chapter translate the khōra of the Timaeus. They would perhaps all agree with Sallis in comparing the liminal character of chora with the status of the Good in the Republic: “epekeina tēs ousias,” or “beyond” (“otherwise than”) being, except that the transcendence of chora would be the opposite to that of the Good; a star could never be the image of it/her but at most a planet. Chora’s errancy, its/her “dispersal that holds apart from being,” is inseparable from the discourse on chora. And indeed, Platonic chora can be read in terms of the discursive practice that disrupts the conservative order of a treatise, as can be seen by a comparison with a Hellenistic paraphrase of the Timaeus (of Timaeus)—one of the first attempts to domesticate chora, to make it strictly cosmo-logical, orderly—that in fact becomes a foil to the rhapsodic mode of Plato and its contemporary heirs.
My “Rhapsodic Conclusion: ‘The Dialogue That We Are’ in Plato, Heidegger, and Nancy” takes up the problem implicitly raised by all the preceding chapters, that of interpretation. The “interpretation of Plato” took on a new meaning with Hans-Georg Gadamer, in whose hermeneutics Plato’s dialogue and Socratic dialectic became the model for the work of interpretation. Enforcing the priority of the question, Platonic/Socratic dialogue at the same time, on Gadamer’s view, opens up its horizon, and the state of indeterminacy in the movement of the conversation should exclude any dogmatic abuse. But the dialogue should also determine the direction of questioning (Richtungssinn), the sens of the question, leading to a “correct meaning” (richtiger Sinn). The continuum of meaning (Sinnkontinuum) in history marks the tradition embedded in language itself and its prejudices. Gadamer’s reading of poetry follows these hermeneutic directives in an attempt always to secure a precise and definite meaning. It is perhaps this requirement of rigor that makes some modern readers, such as David Roochnik, despair of a common language between poetry and philosophy. Plato’s Ion is hardly a model of the dialogue on this account.
My reading develops, on the contrary, the notion of hermēneia, broached in this dialogue, in Heidegger’s “Dialogue on Language,” and in Nancy’s “Sharing Voices” as radically different from philosophical (“hermeneutical”) interpretation as instantiated by Gadamer’s work. It points to the necessarily rhapsodic nature of any theoretical attempt to dominate poetry and mimesis, and thus to its necessary failure. A logically rigorous theory will always need to examine its own language, will always need to question the authority/authorship of its concepts, will always need to split and share its logos through the dialogue of singular voices, ultimately through their writing. Thus, such an attempt, as I hope to have shown, in the end defeats its own purpose, since it opens the way for a dialogue (dia-logos) rather than hermeneutic mastery. In Nancy’s notion of partage (sharing), such a dialogue offers a chance (a divine but finite theia moira) for a communal space of a radically different kind than the one presented in the most common interpretations of Plato’s Republic.
I have suggested that the dialogue between poetry and thought depends on the dialogue of contemporary thought with Plato. But the progress of this book, and especially this final chapter, suggests that the latter dialogue might also depend on the dialogue between poetry and thought, as the example of Heidegger’s reading of Hölderlin and Trakl—and of the other thinkers discussed in this book, who also enter the dialogue with poetry—suggests. This is because it is in the dialogue with poetry, in the experience with language that it makes possible, that the conditions of our being-with (sun-einai, Mit-sein) are most conspicuously manifested. The dialogue between Plato, Heidegger, and Nancy is thus the culmination of the readings traced throughout this book, revealing the full scope of the mode that we have discerned both in Plato and in his most astute contemporary readers.
© 2010 Penn State University
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