Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

'Phaedrus.' (the Rhetoric of Jacques Derrida, Part 2)

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

'Phaedrus.' (the Rhetoric of Jacques Derrida, Part 2)

Article excerpt

IN MY PREVIOUS ESSAY, I concentrated on the importance for Derrida of regarding a text, qua text, as an ahierarchical phenomenon, and of the unity of contradictions necessary for a deconstructive reading.(1) In this essay I shall discuss in detail the realization of the latter principle in Derrida's reading of Plato's Phaedrus.(2) This will illuminate the problematic relationship between the deconstructive interpreter and his text. Since the path is long, the reader will need to follow me patiently through the different and sometimes tedious stages of the discussion. I shall begin with Plato's notions considering the origin:

The soul as a whole [[unkeyable]](3) is immortal, for that which is always in motion [[unkeyable]] is immortal. But that which is both a cause of movement for something else and is moved by something else is able to stop its moving, and therefore is able to stop being alive. Only that which moves itself ... is the beginning and the origin [[unkeyable]] of movement. Yet, it is an origin without a genesis [[unkeyable]]. For it is a rule of necessity that from the origin becomes all that exists while the origin itself becomes from nothing. For if the origin had become of something, it would no longer have been an origin ..., and since that which is moved by itself comes into being as immortal, one will not have to feel shame saying that this thing itself is the essence of the soul and its logos [[unkeyable]]. For any body which is moved by an external source is soulless, while the body which is moved by an internal source has a soul, since that is the essence of the soul's nature.... It is thus a rule of necessity that the soul would be without a genesis [[unkeyable]] in as much as it would be immortal. (245c5-246a2)(4)

The expression [unkeyable] is usually translated as "the soul's essence and definition."(5) Although the validity of this interpretation cannot be disputed, in a metaphysical context(6) one might prefer to preserve the Greek original, [unkeyable]. Thus, there is almost an identity between essence and logos,(7) and therefore a reaffirmation of what Derrida calls the "logocentric hierarchy." This logos is the uncreated origin, and as such the beginning of everything. It is not, however, identical to the logos which is contrasted to writing, since it is definitely not what one might call speech. It is quite similar, though, as can be seen from the repeated use of the word "logos." What is this logos, then?

The answer is found in the context. The passage preceding the one cited above makes a distinction between two types of soul: the human and the divine (245c3). In other words, Plato makes an internal division within the signifier "soul." The same technique is apparent here; we have, in fact, two kinds of phenomena under the heading of logos, and only the logos connected with the divine appears in the above section. The human logos is something different. This difference is marked in my analysis in the following manner: "Logos" refers to the divine Logos, and "logos" to the human logos. The division itself is far from new and the hierarchical aspects have been previously noted.(8) I give it emphasis here due to the fact that the Derridian avoidance of paying attention to such internal divisions will be revealed as a crucial element in his rhetoric.(9)

Somewhat later in the dialogue, when Socrates deals with the art of eloquence ([unkeyable]; 266c3), it becomes evident that an internal division within the category of the human logos is also needed. While the Sophists Thrasymachus and Lysias are mentioned in connection with dialectic, Socrates and his interlocutor are searching for the definition of a different kind of art: rhetoric. The latter, says Phaedrus, has "escaped our notice," and Socrates agrees that it should be discussed (266c8-d4). Here Phaedrus comments, "No doubt, what is written in the books about the art of eloquence [[unkeyable]] is quite long. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.