Notes for Jasper Neel Plato, Derrida, and Writing
Key concepts: arche-writing, auto-affection, differance, graft, inaugurate, logic, logocentrism, mythographic writing, nonlinear writing, pharmakeus, pharmakon, philosophy, Plato-Rousseau-Saussure theory, poststructural analysis, preformationism, psophist, solicitation, strong discourse, structure, subjectivity, theft of writing, thinking, trace, totalization, undeconstructed logocentrism, writing, writing in general.
Unit operations of philosophy and thinking revealed. Plato creates the thinking subject who writes by writing.
Related theorists: Barthes, Benjamin, Bogost, Derrida, Descartes, Diogenes Laertius, Foucault, Gee, Hackforth, Geoffrey Hartman, Havelock, J. Hillis Miller, Jaynes, Landow, McLuhan, Ong, Plato, Spinuzzi, Ulmer.
Risks, Rules, and Assumptions
(ix) Speculative philosophy thus proscribed the preface as empty form and as signifying precipitation; it prescribes it, on the other hand, insofar as it is in the preface that meaning announces itself. (Derrida, Dissemination)
Cannot imagine whoosh of hot air being expelled from the book: to Marx on nature of consciousness as related to agitations of air that is sound now mechanically produced by formant synthesis as the voice of the Big Other, machine consciousness: going beyond throwing back to the senseless void from which distantly past writings emerged would never be interested in reading my stuff, write software to process ancient texts to incorporate their authors those distant conscious composers mind thinking forward to this now.
(ix) a belch, some uncomfortable hot air.
Studying writing as a process in any book approximates what happens working code, as in providing basic instances of postmodern concepts, computer technologies instantiate unknown, unknowable alien temporalities.
(ix) And so I send this back to Plato
and Derrida, neither of whom, I am sure, feels or ever felt the least
need of it. Like every writer, though, I must find a place, and the
place I have found, like that found by all my predecessors, makes me
send back, reflect, repeat, kick off, adjourn, mark empty spots for
words left out, listen for what I missed, attempt a countermotion,
and occasionally even expel hot air, at times from an overfulness, at
times from a gnawing void.
(x) This book is an attempt to study what writing as process might actually mean.
From the title, is the claim that philosophy territorializes writing though Plato and Derrida: if so, then the philosophy of computing reterritorializes all texts via fossification, the turning of public domain texts into free, open source software available from the public cyberspace Internet where we locate the big computational other with which we are trying to communicate.
(xi) “Saving” writing from philosophy requires liberation from both Plato and Derrida.
Can this conclusion of corruption be avoided by making the simple point that the theft of writing expresses what McLuhan famously stated as media containing other media: do we not turn in a completely different trajectory of possibilities by picking up soldering irons working code?
(6) Once one unravels a few of the strands, enough of Phaedrus will be undone for us to see Plato behind the tapestry with a pen in his hand, in silence, attempting the greatest theft of all time, the theft of writing. Rather than using writing, he tries to use it up, leaving nothing for those who follow. Plato uses the most powerful system available to humanity, the system of writing, to steal the most powerful voice of Western civilization, the voice of Socrates, and then he tries to negate the system itself, leaving himself with both the voice of authority and absolute control of a system that after him will be corrupted, unable to regain a position of authority, unable to begin the search for truth.
(8-9) Plato's movement in 367 is really an attempt to hide his own voice. Perhaps Plato's most brilliant insight was to realize how difficult disputing his texts would be if he removed himself from them by taking on the role of recording secretary for the martyred, authoritatively dead Socrates.
(9) As a result of the floating time frame, every statement must be interrogated with at least three questions. . . . Complicated thought these questions are, the answers they generate are even more complicated because they reveal Plato's attempt to steal discourse from Western society.
(12) That is the evil of Phaedrus: its delightful surface turns those who look for the man with the pen into meanspirited cavilers. But there was a man with a pen, and his motive was not to ridicule Lysias or enlighten Phaedrus or even give us a pleasant afternoon's read.
(12) Plato has built himself a formidable position indeed. He has used writing, the one possible means to invent his specialized kind of “thinking,” and then denied that means to all who follow him.
(13) One who can only speak is a prisoner of uncontrollable sequence. One who writes, on the other hand, invents history first, then controls it, and finally determines its sequence.
Description of writing as manipulable beyond possibilities of speech demonstrates its similarity to real virtualities Castells argues constitute what follows orality and literacy; no surprise that the next section is titled control.
(13) But in order to make this second speech into speech (and to keep it from being writing), Plato must create a time, a place, and a speaker. And that is what he is up to in both the written speech of Lysias and the “extemporaneous” first speech of Socrates.
Invokes the image of Plato controlling a writing Socrates.
(15) The image from the frontispiece of Matthew Paris's Prognostica Socratis Basilei, made famous in Derrida's La carte postale: De Socrate a Freud et au-dela, is inescapable.
Make the speech of wholly other machine processing via the symposia project which leverages espeak formant synthesis in a very crude, procedural usage ignoring the affordances of the not understood call back API. Another good project is adopting a shared object pmrek game control architecture.
(17) Socrates' voice lives in the death of Plato's voice, which lives in the death of Socrates' voice. Whichever voice one hears, the other man is speaking. Or at least so it seems.
III. Beginning and Ending
The speech of Lysias by Plato is what I used to call a very stupid phenomenon, demonstrating very complex rhetorical operations made possible by writing.
Plato takes over Socrates' voice in Phaedrus
order to destroy the sophistic writing of Lysias, but because Plato
himself already wrote the sophistical writing of Lysias, what happens
is that Plato gives up his own voice to the dead Socrates in order to
destroy his own writing (the forged speech by Lysias), which was
written in the first place to be destroyed.
(22) [quoting Hackforth] he [Socrates] made all his literary predecessors look like very small-fry—that is, supposing him to persist in the actual type of writing in which he engages at present—still more so, if he should become dissatisfied with such work, and a sublimer impulse lead him to do greater things.
(23) And suddenly Phaedrus reveals itself not as an attack on Lysias but as an attack on Isocrates. Plato's principal rival as an educator in mid-fourth-century Athens.
Disingenuous to attack writing by writing, continuous repetition of Platonism a strangely computational, algorithmic proposition, the reverse side of the asymptote of democratic rationalization exemplified by fossification, in which writing as programming reterritorializes philosophy.
[quoting Derrida] “the author of the written speech is already
entrenched in the posture of the sophist: the man of non-presence and
of non-truth” (Dissemination,
p. 68). In order to attack writing and sophistry, Plato becomes a
writer and a sophist. This is disingenuous. But Plato is playing for
much higher stakes than dominance of mid-fourth-century Athens. He
has set out to define thought for humanity, and his strategy is more
than disingenuousness: it is vicious, for he uses rhetoric and
writing to define and then occupy the moral high ground, and then he
tries to destroy the means he has used so that one one else can use
that means again, not in 367 B.C., not ever. What Platonism offers in
not dialectic. What Platonism offers in Phaedrus
a continuous repetition of Platonism.
(23-24) But here at the end, when the text should end, it begins as a text, for only texts repeat themselves exactly as before while revealing themselves to “say” something quite different from what they said the first time. . . . Reread texts do not say the same thing over and over again.
IV. Repetition and Replacement: Composition as De-composition
Obviously this claim has more impact if we are familiar with the writing of Isocrates.
The number of allusions to the writings of Ioscrates in Phaedrus
so great that Ronna Burger calls it a “hidden dialogue with
Isocrates which runs through the Phaedrus”
152, n. 24). The very fabric of Phaedrus
on the writing of Isocrates; indeed Phaedrus
(25) Isocrates lives in the already-completed future that Socrates predicts, a future that has shown him to be a writer and a sophist, not a Socratic philosopher.
Like the explusion of defunct, deprecated code, discourage future study of particular texts of Isocrates built into rhetorical structure of Phaedrus: is this strategy in the sense of social critique in the philosophy of technology?
(25) In fact, Plato's treatment of Isocrates is a miniature of the Platonic strategy throughout Phaedrus: appropriate a medium belonging to others while pretending not to use it, and then use it to build your own position; once your own position is established, call attention to the medium as corrupt and inadequate and try to remove it from history, denying it to both the past and the future.
EXAMPLE 1: ISOCRATES, OR THE ABSENCE OF PRESENCE.
Eternal play of signifiers: no absolute origin.
(25-26) By its very nature, writing is replacement. Something has to come before it. And anything not original, anything in fact derivative or repetitive or imitative, cannot be finally authoritative. It is a place in the sequence of discourse; thus, it “always owes its motion to something else” (sec. 245c).
EXAMPLE 2: LYSIAS, OR THE PRESENCE OF ABSENCE
Explanation of recursivity in Phaedrus more easily comprehended with a programming background, along with the more obvious example of the Midas combinatorics: is this recursivity and algorithmic, looping assembly kinds of philosophical unit operations; not that this subtext exists in Neel, but as remediation as software takes command.
(26) Thus in addition to beginning at the end when Isocrates is finally brought on stage, thereby allowing the reader to know how to begin rereading, the text of Phaedrus begins before it begins.
Landow inside/outside; no boundaries versus logical time; this was written in the margin years ago and is not understood now.
Before writing Phaedrus,
Plato wrote the speech by Lysias that he would later situate inside
his own dialogue as its raison d'etre.
(28) It is a brilliant rhetorical ploy: use a medium against itself so as to debase it and impede its use by all followers. That way, only you can have it in its pristine form.
EXAMPLE 3: MIDAS, OR CONTINUOUS SELF-REVERSAL
Like hypertext entry anywhere into writing makes it meaningful by overall discourse context, logocentrically privileging what reiterates canonical texts.
(28) Socrates notes that “it is of no consequence what order these lines are spoken in” (sec. 264d). And this is writing. Wherever one enters it, there is something before and something after that makes it meaningful.
Working code frees writing from ultimate precession of simulacra that is human discourse (soul writing) by mixing in incomprehensible potentials of alien temporalities of machine cognition: the Big Other speaks.
(29) By commencing this interrogation of writing, the invisible Plato is attempting to free one written text, his own, from all interrogation. He does this by using his text as the voice of the interrogation of writing. It's high time we pulled the tapestry down and revealed Plato in the game with the rest of us where writing tells him what he thinks he knows, not the other way around.
2. THE STRUCTURE OF
ORIGIN AND THE
ORIGIN OF STRUCTURE
Reverses organic (hierarchical) discourse metaphor; compare to Hayles suggesting aliens would find postmodern humans strangely embodied by discourse.
(30) You see, Plato's Socrates is wrong when he says, “Any discourse ought to be constructed like a living creature, with its own body, as it were; it must not lack either head or feet; it must have a middle and extremities so composed as to suit each other and the whole work” (Hackforth, secs. 264C-d). Actually, it's the other way around: any living creature ought to be constructed like a discourse, with its own language as it were; it must not lack either a preexisting sign system or group of sign users; it must have an infinite series of differences so that it can come to know itself through differing from itself and thus be whole by being part.
I. A Vignette in Which the Critical Edifice Divides Without Collecting
Recall auto-affection from Of Grammatology.
(30-31) [quoting Derrida Writing and Difference] It is speech as auto-affection: hearing oneself speak. . . . In emerging from itself, hearing oneself speak constitutes itself as the history of reason through the detour of writing.
Ironic that a detailed analysis of Phaedrus is required by Neel to expel it from the recommending reading by others, who are unaware of history of criticism back to Diogenes Laertius, since it is instead treated as a classic, and especially when Derrida too has spent much care reading it: is this position viable, or inconsistent; is Phaedrus more like a dangerous place we all secretly enjoy treading, entering, traversing?
for the failure of Phaedrus's
structure on the basis of popular notions that Phaedrus
Plato's first written work and thus suffers from the excesses of “the
freshness of youth” (p. 311). . . . The assumption that Phaedrus
poorly constructed remains the same; only the explanations
(36) If we want to remove Phaedrus as a hallowed text in the history of writing and rhetorical theory (as I do), we must study it as an origin, not a structure.
Does Plato really define thinking by replacing it with writing: I have already singled out the Socratic reverse engineering method, as well as the questioning ridiculous unit operation; Neel articulates three rules of discourse on 52: definition, knowledge of truth, and ability to divide and collect.
(36) What is at risk in Phaedrus, however, is not the relative importance or unimportance of structure: what is at risk is the act of thinking, for Plato is defining thinking.
Suggest Phaedrus is an intentionally self reflexive evaluation of writing by writing, accomplished by presenting an impossible auditory phenemenon; connect ensoniment of symposia project to this example of defining and transforming thinking.
(37) Phaedrus the written text defines “thinking” by replacing “thinking” with itself. Thus when Phaedrus gives the rules for itself, without ever doing so directly, it has given the rules for thinking. Writing then becomes the absence, or series of absences, that allows itself to be filled up with thinking, for without writing there is no thinking of the sort embodied in Phaedrus, which absolutely never could happen as conversation. Nobody talks or ever has talked like the “speakers” in Phaedrus. Plato's attack on writing implies some position outside writing where writing itself can be seen whole, evaluated, and regulated.
World of writing; tie in Clark extended cognition.
(38) Plato operates in a world of writing in which what one knows emerges through the recursive, nonsequential externalizing of discourse, discourse that then remains available for limitless modification. At the same time, he valorizes a world in which knowledge is an entirely internal phenomenon that, rather than being created, is gradually recognized through oral discourse with a lover.
II. A Vignette on the Idea of Structure
Dynamic texts confound this characterization separating of act of writing and concretized structure it becomes in its singular, final form.
The distinction between structure and origin is crucial because the
one thing the act
cannot be is structure. At the moment of structure, writing has
ceased to be writing and has become a text to be read because the
writer is what must be gone for the reader to take over. As long as
the writer is still the writer, any analysis of structure is
precluded: what will be the text, the site that will present itself
for excavation as structure, is not yet fully itself.
(40) Phaedrus orients our research and fixes its results by privileging rules over their embodiment.
Structural analysis is preformationist.
Second, structural analysis is problematic because it is, to use
Derrida's term, preformationist.
(41) the first word spoken or inscribed is like the first cell formed in a living being, with the complete DNA code and all the instructions necessary for the formation and development of the whole organism.
Maybe he wishes this disingenuous method made habit, and only seems to be railing against it?
(41-42) Finally, structural analysis is problematic because it demands the law of simultaneity. . . . The disingenuousness of a writer demanding such structure from discourse while at the same time denying writing as a mode of attaining that structure cannot be overstated.
Plato creates the thinking subject who writes by writing; tie in Ong.
(42-43) All one has to do is ask Who says so? It doesn't matter where the question is posed because the answer will always be the same, Nobody, because nobody says anything in Phaedrus. No one thinks Socrates' second speech could be an extemporaneous, oral creation. No one thinks the sort of structure demanded by Socrates' dictum could be achieved in speech. Both emerge only because Plato can write, with the leisure to remake his discourse into the “structure” it will present itself as having always had. Both the idea of structure and the act of Platonic thinking emerge from writing. Plato was creating “thinking,” and the only way he could create the kind of thinking he did was in writing, because the sort of disinterested speculation advocated throughout the Platonic canon is impossible in a preliterate culture.
A Very Odd Vignette
SOCRATES AS GOOD-OLE-BOY?
(46) Manipulating one's audience through the creation of a simple, one-of-the-folks ethos is as old as rhetorical strategy itself.
WHERE (WHO? WHAT?) ARE YOU?
(46) There is no doubt that Plato was influenced by the Pythagoreans, a secret brotherhood that included everything from the merely strange to the downright looney (Guthrie, pp. 215,336).
Cryptic Pythagoran encoding circulated oral software; oppositions like opcodes do not have to be studied as remains of living processes but reality constitutative in their own right as programmed entities.
(48) Pythagoras appears to have taught his followers by using cryptic akousmata (which loosely translated means “something heard”) and symbola. These were then formed by his pupils into sacred discourses and handed on orally and in careful secrecy.
(50) The only possible field for such opposition is writing. For only with writing can opposition be captured, divested of its force, and studied like any other structure as the remains of a once living process.
IV. A Moveable Vignette That Comes
(51-52) But wait, without such popular folk myths, without the language and the history such myths enable and carry, how is Socrates to understand himself? His strategy for self-knowledge is to treat his “self” as a closed, realized structure, as a knowable entity. . . . Thus, whatever self-knowledge Socrates reveals in Phaedrus depends absolutely on the vocabulary and syntax of an unexamined set of popular beliefs that must never be interrogated for the self-knowledge to occur.
Three Socratic unit operations of the closed loop system of self knowledge; ambiguous versus nonambiguous picked up on page 57.
(52) And what about the rules of that discourse itself? There seem to
be three: a definition of terms, a “knowledge of the truth,” and
an ability to divide and collect.
(53) Plato's voice of knowledge is nothing more than the silence of the questions he cannot ask in order to ask the questions he does ask.
(54) In writing he could generate structure through his own force as a writer, and then reuse that same force to mask itself, seeming to leave behind structure with no need of origin.
Disingenuous of becoming a writer to legitimize thinking based on dynamic spoken dialectic.
(55) Doesn't the pattern of oppositions in Phaedrus reveal that sophistry, rhetoric, probability, and writing are absolute necessities for the text's structure, for without them philosophy, dialectic, truth, and speaking have no way of knowing themselves? In order to privilege philosophy, dialectic, truth, and speech, didn't Plato have to become a sophistical rhetorician who could write a text that would probably persuade his readers? I wish I didn't think Plato knew the answers to these questions.
(56) Divided, diseased inscription. . . . This is what Plato leaves us with after Phaedrus.
Quotes Barthes Writing Degree Zero at beginning of many sections in chapter 3 on divided, diseased inscription after Phaedrus.
(58) Such distinctions about what kinds of words there are or about how words convey meaning can be made only in the gap between past use and future use.
2. THE PROCESS.
No hard mastery in programming written texts; everything bricolage.
One does not invent and then arrange. Nor does one arrange already
invented without reinventing. Unless the world has changed in an
unimaginable way in the last twenty-three centuries, there is no
possible way that all of Phaedrus
invented first and then arranged.
(62) Plato apparently was frightened by the constantly reversing, infinitely open process of composition and thus tried to write in talking.
(63) Plato denies priority to rhetoric, whether written or declaimed, and gives priority to thought, which must be dialectic. He does not want us to notice that his maneuver depends on a style so sophisticated that it seems to be absent.
(64) Plato's genius is to depreciate writing, ridicule the vainglorious desires of writers, and do so while seeming not to write himself.
(64) Plato did not find his truth in dialectic. That is merely the style through which his matter comes to know itself. The matter itself is knowable and reknowable only in writing, which Plato would have us believe is nothing more than play.
Mythic example of multiple versions to complicate textual encoding; see McGann and Burnard.
(64-65) Dionysius of Helicarnassus and Diogenes Laertius tell us that Plato worked constantly revising (Dionysius calls it “combing and curling”) his dialogues. When Plato died, they found a tablet in his house with several different beginnings for the Republic.
II. Physicians, Diseases, Drugs
What does it mean to suggest my drug of choice is programming, given writing?
under doctor's orders.
(66) Plato's drug of choice, his pharmakon, is obviously writing. His addiction is complete and incurable, for he wrote all his life until his death.
1. WHATEVER GOES AROUND COMES AROUND.
THE MOVING AND THE FIXED.
(72) Plato's Socrates describes soul as the opposite of writing. And how does he describe it? In writing. I think the idea of soul in Phaedrus finds itself in its opposite, writing, which promises the possibility of originality, permanence, and truth, among other things, but never delivers except through the rhetorical effect of closure, which the writer made up in the despair of knowing the writing of truth would never be finished.
(73) The operation of Phaedrus is an operation of repression as Phaedrus tries to emerge from itself as writing by denying itself.
MY WRITING? OR, WRITING ME?
(73) The truth of everything and all people after Plato is writing: you are, one might say, either what you write or what somebody else writes down about you.
(74) The ultimate problem of Phaedrus, therefore, is its destructive distortion of the human condition, for it sets up a field in which discovery of self precedes its expression, in which a first, unique voice opens the way to such a discovery, and in which speaking originates knowledge. Phaedrus itself, however, does not work this way.
(74-75) Actually, it's the other way around. Writing is the process that allows one to externalize one's self, to generate the possibility of an “I” and a “me.” Only through writing can one operate systematically, recursively, and sporadically enough to seize control of one's “other” voice. . . . If the soul has traces of truth inscribed in it, the only way to “read” that inscription is to externalize it, get it out in the light of day—in writing.
Writing is Socrates soul.
Enter new alternative to everything being writing to counter basic structural flaw, as well as external formation of subject via writing, with programmatically generated emergent phenomena powered by working code, speech of the Big Other; Neel will tell the previous story that founds texts and technology studies.
writing is Socrates'
that the fiction of writing is the origin of the Western idea of soul
in the first place.
(76) All you have to do is write down what (you say) he in his now-dead position of authority said. Thus what you “say” differs from what you say because what you say is merely what he said, and of course now that he is dead (martyred!) what he said defers any possible interrogation by its already gone presence.
(76) Havelock's Preface to Plato argues that Plato is pivotal in Western thought because he provided the means for an oral culture to “wake up.” . . . After Plato “the personality which thinks and knows” distinguishes itself from the “body of knowledge which is thought about and known.”
(78) [quoting Julian Jaynes] Writing proceeds from pictures of visual events to symbols of phonetic events. And that is an amazing transformation! Writing of the later type, as on the present page, is meant to tell a reader something he does not know. But the closer writing is to the former, the more it is primarily a mnemonic device to release information which the reader already has.
Can we still read Phaedrus as a serious document about computing, even if it is removed as a serious, technical document about writing?
(78) Yes, I do think that writing is the origin of the soul and of dialectic, and I think it functions to tell not only readers but also writers something they did not know. And I think Plato knew that too. . . . It is, however, high time we dismiss his Phaedrus as a serious document about writing, for the text is deceitful and false.
Drugs, Scapegoats, and Writing
Obviously invoking Platos Pharmacy in Dissemination, from which there will be many quotations starting sections. Should go back and consider significance of choices of introductory quotations throughout the book.
I. The Drugging of Writing
Not divine pharmakon represents the fallen category, suboptimal examples.
(80) No single word in English captures
the play of signification of the ancient Greek word pharmakon
its associated words pharmacia, pharmakeus, and
. . . for pharmakon,
as well as all the things it can represent,
signifies anything not divine.
(81) Used by the sophists (those fictional villains whom Plato needs to vilify in order to exempt himself), writing is the pharmakon that poisons truth, for psophistry operates as nothing more than the strategy of position taking. . . . The psophist substitutes the ability to convince others for the inability to know what others should be convinced of (in Plato's jargon, one would say the psophist substitutes doxa (itself) for sophia (wisdom).
(82) For Plato, therefore, writing is the replacement of dialectic with its “other”; writing is, in fact, dialectic with the self. Thus it must be written on the soul.
Description of unit operations of pharmakon resemble self assembling machine intelligence assemblies operating at human and high frequency frequencies.
In effect, composition teachers ask their students to write in a
Platonic frame of reference where writing operates as the
ever-reversible pharmakon. . . . The “disease” of internal
certainty (which is merely another name for the “disease” arising
from the desire for ideological closure where dialectic is forever
precluded) is being “cured.” . . . Their teacher, however, who
also operates in the Platonic frame of reference, has demanded that
they use what seems like a poison (the writing that kills their
internal certainty) as is really a remedy (for the disease of
internal certainty) as a poison (the medium that allows them to
present a closed, persuasive essay that could lead a reader into
(85) Without knowing jargon words like sophistry and deconstruction, the students know all along during the process of their attempts to turn dialectical writing into psophistical writing that the teacher will be able to deconstruct their essays. . . . By inscribing antiwriting, the student avoids poisoning his or her internal security. Better yet, since the student has inscribed neither Platonic writing nor psophistry, nothing at all exists for the teacher to deconstruct. . . . A psophist is a pharmakeus who uses the powers of wizardry to destroy truth by changing truth (sophia) into opinion (doxa).
Sophist supplanted by psophist; psophist pharmekeus supplanted by hacker.
(86) As psophistry and dialectic struggle against each other, “pharmakeus against pharmakeus, pharmakon against pharmakon” (p. 124), psophistry offers ideological certainty through the rhetorical (doxological) closure of truth; dialectic counters this degraded psophistry by showing that truth must be excluded for that closure to occur.
II. Plato's Cure
Not impossible for non-human machines to think in unending series.
Writing as catachresis is hyperlink, symbol, unit operation.
(87-89) A dialectical position always holds itself in question; only a psophistical one claims to be complete, hence the seemingly endless process of deferrals that constitute Phaedrus. . . . One can choose almost any noun, verb, or modifier in the passage (note the words I have italicized) only to discover that this “word” in fact conceals a catachresis (the name that is no name) hiding an unending series of questions, uncertainties, replacements, deferrals, differences, and supplements. Defining any of those italicized words would open an unclosable dialectic. . . . After Plato, writing becomes the opportunity for beginning the dialectical procession toward truth; writing itself will always empty itself out at the moment of inscription.
The danger expressed as danger of driving writing teachers into literary studies.
The students' response is predictable. They have seen enough of
Platonic writing to know they are not ready to close down their
inquiries and inscribe them. As a way of giving in to the demand for
essays, they turn to psophistry, which is the only alternative
available in the Platonic frame of reference chosen by the teacher. .
. . In effect, they conspire with the teacher in the use of
psophistry by replacing the absence of their own knowledge with their
ability to generate a desired opinion in someone else. That's what
Plato feared above all else; it's what Phaedrus
against. And it's what drives most writing teachers into literary
(90) the idea of lovers seeking truth together and wishing to travel in the sphere of the same god is laughable, if not illegal, in the writing classroom.
(91-92) But this cure comes at a great price for writing, because it makes writing just one more metaphor for the romantic notion of the well-examined life, and it requires that everything written down in a writing class present itself as nothing more than a failed, dead, and incomplete dialectical search for truth.
Always foregrounding what you do not know directs attention, distorting reality around strange attractors.
(95) What I did not realize at the time was that my goal was to make both students permanently inadequate. Under my tutelage, they would learn how to remain in a state that would forever foreground what they did not know.
(96) In one way, pharmakos means the same thing as pharmakeus, except that pharmakos has the overlay of being a scapegoat, an evil force, an outsider.
Pharmakos emphasizes Socrates himself as a scapegoat moreso than a wizard; what does this do to Plato who constructs and controls behavior of Socrates?
Derrida argues that the word pharmakos
as visible in Plato's canon through its absence as it would be
through its presence.
(98) The Platonic frame of reference has determined English departments since their inception. . . . Three things, according to Hart, do not belong in English departments: logic, rhetoric, and philology.
Control over the masses, mass control, is the ideal role of the soul.
(99) Thus, the true danger posed by sophistry and rhetoric is that
they threaten the Platonic soul's control over the masses.
(99) But composition studies can't survive in Plato's academy without some theoretical matrix. That matrix, I believe, is the sophistry that psophistry effectively killed off. I'd like to advance it as an alternative theoretical matrix for a rhetoric liberated entirely from philosophy.
5. “THE MOST IMPROBABLE SIGNATURE”
The Derridean Theory of Writing
Neel calls himself an undeconstructued logocentrist, marking the word with an asterisk for words that will be defined later; make them behave like C pointers in the sense that they take you somewhere else; better analogy is function pointer than data structure pointer.
(101) Perhaps because I remain an undeconstructed logocentrist* (words marked with an asterisk are “defined” in chapter 6 below), I remain skeptical both about this explanation and about the needlessly poor writing that characterizes most of Derrida's pre-1974 canon. My “faith” tells me that any obscure, difficult text could have been written clearly had the writer genuinely wished for clarity and been willing to put in the work it requires.
(102) In fact, something about the way Derrida wrote in the decade between 1965 and 1975 is scary. The reader has the clear feel of being at the end of a Yeatsian gyre, waiting for a terrible change. The third problem, then, is the apocalyptic threat of deconstruction.
Critique of Derrida for period of poor writing, and indictment of wackiness of deconstruction; Turkle and others claim emergence of computer technologies embody these otherwise unlikely phenomena posited to articulate theory.
(103) Rather than an event that ends the play of meaning and finally reestablishes the origin of meaning in the mouth of God, rather than some terrible holocaust during which all “the lost” get sent off to perdition, Derrida's apocalypse exists all around us all the time. It reverses the New Testament idea of apocalypse by denying the absolute origin on which a New Testament type apocalypse would depend. . . . Though he often ends his analyses by saying that no words, no concepts, no “way of thinking” currently exists to say and think what needs saying and thinking, he operates consistently through the major philosophical and literary texts of the West and readily admits that he could not operate at all without those texts.
Ulmer supports the opposite conclusion view of Neel, in which Derridas wacky writing is the paradigm for future electronic literature, as does Landow; review exposition on plant fecundation in Applied Grammatology.
(104) (I assume that Glas and
the “Envois” to La carte postale do
not represent the models for a “new” kind of writing that can now
appear in the wake of Derrida's deconstructive apocalypse. For an
argument that they do represent
such a new writing, see Ulmer.)
(104) Four effects of Derridean analysis seem obvious: self-contained, complete meaning is impossible; expectations of reading change; conceptions of writing change; and, as a result of these first three, a new sort of apocalypse is at hand, though what sort of appearance it may make remains impossible to predict.
Nonlinear writing captures multipurposive affordances of pluridimensional symbols.
in contrast, “spells its symbols pluridimensionally; there the
meaning is not subjected to successivity, to the order of a logical
time, or to the irreversible temporality of sound.” Nonlinear
writing, which Derrida also calls “mythographic”
allows a kind of technical, artistic, religious, and economic unity
that linear writing disrupts.
(107) Hartman, writing about Glas, makes the point about writing. Glas itself, he says, questions the ability of linear writing to move toward certain knowledge. . . . saving writing amounts to the most radical critique of “naive, phonocentric materialism” (Saving, p. 35). . . . [Paraphrasing J. Hillis Miller] But the moment logic fails, the moment the discourse the text wishes to privilege is exposed as harboring another discourse it cannot silence or comprehend, the reader has penetrated to the heart of language itself (“Steven's Rock,” pp. 335-38).
THE UNNAMABLE, MONSTROUS, TERRIFYING, ABNORMAL APOCALYPSE.
Speech over writing is the essence of consciousness in classical view of thinking, speaking, writing hierarchy.
(107) In Speech and Phenomena, he argues that “the very essence of consciousness and its history,” the essence of the West, is that speaking transcends writing.
Is disruption of presence by play related to Benjamin metaphysics of dialectical images?
(107) In Writing and Difference, Derrida argues that play disrupts presence.
I. Classical Writing
(110) all of his analyses attempt to explain how a given text came into existence and how it continues to operate.
(110) In the classical notion, writing is tertiary. First there is thinking, then speaking serves as an instrument to represent thinking, and finally writing serves as an instrument to represent speaking.
(111) One's own speech appears to link signifier and signified in a necessary and absolute way.
Writing and Speaking
(112) Derrida distinguishes between what he calls “writing in the narrow sense” and “writing in general,” which he also sometimes calls arche-writing (Grammatology, pp. 109-12).
Operation of supplement, writing in general, precedes everything else, liquidating all writing; then apparently speaking also, since Derrida hypothesizes it as a form of writing: does programming represent a break from this fate?
In other words, what Derrida calls writing-in-general—the operation
of supplement*, difference, repetition*, replacement, absence of
presence, absence of closure, absence of the transcendental
signified*--already constitutes everything that would present itself
as prior to and purer than writing.
(113) Derrida presents his hypothesis by defining “sign” as replacement.
(114) The description of writing rarely generates much opposition. The next step, however, does, for Derrida argues that the same characteristics that describe writing appear in speaking.
(115) By no means does our speech stay within our control. Once uttered, it becomes available for interpretation, repetition, and reformulation even by those who did not hear it, even after we are dead.
(115) Thus, each spoken signifier functions exactly as any written signifier, as a floating mark that never was and never can be pinned (or penned) down to a single production or a single meaning. Like writing, speech can be extracted from one context and inserted in another.
(116) In short, if endless repetition, constant reinterpretation, continual extraction from context to context, and infinite grafting of text to text describe writing, then writing describes speaking. . . . there can be no such concept as a spoken “I” without a written “I” to replace it and call attention to it by revealing its absence ([Speech and Phenomena] pp. 92-97).
Truth and meaning as fetishes due to Derridean nature of writing and speaking.
(117) Truth and meaning are absences that become objects of desire, one might almost call them fetishes, because writing and speaking reveal them as always existing absences (Grammatology, pp. 56-57).
Trace as basic unit operation of writing-in-general complemented by fossification.
“Writing-in-general,” therefore, names a process of movement.
Derrida often calls this process the trace*
pp. 85-86; Grammatology,
(118) By showing that speech operates exactly like writing, Derrida locates any sort of final meaning (which he would call a transcendental signified) as a sort of permanent absence. . . . Derrida accuses Western discourse of using play to end play, by which he means using systems of signification to present meaning.
Derrida milieu agree writing created the West.
In effect, Derrida's deconstructions of Husserl, Rousseau,
Levi-Strauss, Saussure, Plato, Freud, and others, work through the
same analytical process. . . . Writing, in other words, created the
West, not the other way around.
(119) The writer must operate a system while never expecting the system to deliver what it promises; for writing infinitely defers what it promises in order to keep the promise in motion. Writing will never do what the written text appears to do: fix and communicate closed meaning.
Absence and Presence
(120) To begin with, instead of seeing writing as the presentation of knowledge, one sees two absences. The writer must be absent before the reader can begin to read. And the meaning the text purports to represent must be absent for any sort of representation to occur in the first place.
(121) In a discourse, two voices appear to speak: on one hand, the “I” of the discourse; on the other, the semiotic system into which the text must fit so as to be recognizable as a text.
(121) The “I” attempts to make a unique statement, to reveal whatever “knowledge” the text has been shaped to carry. The system, on the other hand, constantly reveals how this particular discourse is woven into the web of similar discourses.
Formation of I that is the modernist self in voices sustained by semiotic systems of discourses of individual, system, and attending uniting them; relates to Gee and others who believe discourse of self always situated in social contexts.
(121) The attending discourse operates as a third discourse that unites the discourses of the “I” and the system.
Derridean perspective we are all written: recursive, unfinished, unclear, with margins and unthought as the interwoven discourses trail off from local strange attractors constituting selves.
The frightening thing about viewing writing from a Derridean
perspective is that the recursive, unfinished, unclear,
unsatisfactory, frustrating process of writing describes everything
that would like to present itself as prior to and manipulative of
writing—everything including “us.” We
are all written.
(124) The act to writing sets up a continuous internal struggle between the “I” attempting to emerge and consolidate itself in inscription and the “you” who validates the discourse, determining whether it is acceptable.
Always networks of discourses, dia-logos, including repressed, unthought discourses: at this juncture of multiply layered discourses mirrors the scientific model of Clark where boundaries of brainbound and extended shimmer.
(125) The “genuine logos,” it turns out, “is always a dia-logos” (Saving, pp. 97, 109-110). Every discourse carries another discourse. The “I” can never separate itself from the “you” that the “I” needs to differentiate itself from in the first place in order to allow discourse to begin; nor can it free itself from the discourse of the “you,” which never finishes interrogating the text and showing its flaws; nor can it free itself from the discourses of the system in which it operates. The silence of the unthought, the repressed, the forgotten, and the implied all attend the discourse of the “I” (see Margins, p. xxviii).
Never was a unified, prewriting self.
(126-127) As Derrida speculates on Freud's analysis of the fort/da game . . . in fact, he is saying that Freud says. . . . The process of writing reveals that a unified, prewriting “self” never existed.
V. Grafts = Dissemination
Weaving and splicing texts (Spinuzzi); then there is the Derridean graft exemplified by Glas and Dissemination.
Even so, no matter how much a text struggles to keep itself pure and
different from other texts, it originates as a weaving of prior
(129) Both Derrida's own texts and his descriptions of the way he writes depend on the idea of graft, that process of inserting something alien into a preexisting host. . . . Derrida's texts operate in the rupture created when he inserts hist text into another text, a text that would rather keep Derrida out.
Hypertext connection, search results related to writing as grafting.
(129) Because writing depends on graft, on attaching itself to other texts, writing always disseminates itself, going places, carrying meanings and revealing connections the writer not only does not intend but cannot, in advance, even imagine (Dissemination, pp. 39-41, n. 39). Everyone who has ever “finished” a text and given it to someone else knows this feeling of dissemination.
VI. A Pretext for Writing
Writing-in-general precedes speech, thinking, and even perception, so basis of phenomenology.
(132) Writing-in-general, Derrida argues, precedes not only speech and thinking, but also perception.
In the Boa-Deconstructor's Coils
(134) In fact, most composition teachers have always read their students' work with the eye of a deconstructor. Derrida's readings of such writers as Rousseau, Husserl, and Plato differ only in insignificant ways from our readings of our students' papers.
Derridean reading is deconstructive like evaluation of student writing by composition teachers, always dismembering it, always finding some flaws, seeking to reveal its unit operations, rather than focus on the value of its content.
Transgression of doing what texts does not want done to it due to these flaws, like psychoanalysis, also like forcing failures of buggy software by QA testing.
resistance to Derrida's readings lets us know how the student writer
feels about the way we treat student texts.
. . the teacher—who writes in the margins of, between the lines of,
between (and even inside) the words of, and in the spaces all around
the students' texts—sets out from the beginning to show those
moments in the texts where the texts do not accomplish their own
goals, even though such analyses may be embedded in considerable
praise for what the students have accomplished.
(136) The teacher's incisions, like Derrida's, depend on clipping out examples of the writing, dismembering the text in order to expose its operations (see Dissemination, p. 305).
(137) He admits all along to a strategy of transgression, of doing what the text would least like to have done to it.
Writing as process like iterative software development: problem is evacuating meaning and purpose by focusing on flawed structure, always finding the compositional problems.
(138) The alternative to teaching psophistry or antiwriting is to teach writing as process. But that alternative too often implies either a neutral or a “good” pedagogy. Those of us who have adopted it must recognize just how thoroughly that pedagogy commits us to a Derridean philosophical position. And more importantly, we must recognize the degree to which writing as process threatens much of what our students hold dear.
Nine Terms in the Derridean Lexicon
Review of Derridean lexicon of presence, transcendental signified, trace, absence, differance, supplement, representation, foundation, logocentrism.
(141) Derrida says, in effect, that the terms in the group to be discussed cannot be defined: “The movement of these marks pervades the whole of the space of writing in which they occur, hence they can never be enclosed within any finite taxonomy, not to speak of any lexicon as such” (Dissemination, p. 25).
(142) Though Derrida argues that the strategy goes back to Plato, Descartes more clearly than anyone else introduces the procedure whereby Western thinkers assure their self-presence.
(142) Since Descartes, the most elaborate attempt at a reduction to the origin of thought appears in the works of Edmund Husserl.
(143) Demonstrating the fundamental maneuver of deconstruction, Derrida reverses the hierarchy Husserl (or, in Grammatology, Rousseau) attempts to set up. He shows that solitary mental life does not precede and inform systems of indication; instead, systems of indication create the possibility of solitary mental life by replacing it, representing it, and showing that it is gone.
(145) “God's infinite understanding is the other name for the logos as self-presence” (Grammatology, p. 98).
(146-147) a meaning without a signifier, a meaning that would neither need nor allow something to stand for it. . . . The so-called 'thing itself' is always already a representamen shielded from the simplicity of intuitive evidence.” (Grammatology, pp. 48-50)
Logic is a trope; think hyperlink, logotropos.
and Phenomena Derrida
tries to show that logic,
rather than being a maneuver founded in presence and acquainted with
the transcendental signified, is a trope, an effect of
(149) Student writers believe in the transcendental signified.
(150) If Derrida is right, no such transcendental signified exists or could exist outside the presence of God. Thus, when we tell our students to pick a thesis or to discover a central idea and treat it fully, we merely exacerbate their fears of writing.
(150) What (dis)appears in place of the transcendental signified is the trace, which creates the transcendental signified both by never appearing, so as not to become the transcendental signified itself, and by replacing the transcendental signified by its own constant movement.
(150-151) Each element, in fact, is constituted by the trace within it of the elements from which it differs. . . . Writing is merely “one of the representatives of the trace in general, it is not the trace itself. The trace itself does not exist” (Grammatology, p. 167).
No escaping metaphors.
(152) In “White Mythology,” Derrida demonstrates the futility of
trying to expunge the trace and reveal the origin behind it. In
principle, of course, concepts ought to be separable from the
metaphors that express them. In face, however, not only is such an
attempt difficult, the terms and procedures to separate the two are
(153) The only difference between the novice and the professional is that the professional has given up on finding a place to “begin.” The writing process never really starts anywhere.
Absence enables writing.
(154) Rather than the absence of full presence, absence is the prior medium in which the desire for presence can become aware of itself. Because the absence of self-present meaning is the precondition of speaking or writing, absence, instead of opposing or negating presence, precedes and enables it.
(156) The neologism differance first appeared in English in David Allison's translation of Speech and Phenomena.
(156) differance “combines and confuses 'differing' and 'deferring' in both their active and passive senses” (Positions, p. 98, n. 3).
As it cannot appear in logocentric discourse, differance seems related to halting problem and other set theory paradoxes encountered in computer programming.
resembles Saussure's differences.
. . . Whereas Saussure sees the differences in a semiotic system as
the set of everchanging relationships the speaker manipulates in
order to generate meaning, Derrida describes difference as the
infinite disappearance of either an origin of or a final resting
place for meaning. Insofar as Derrida describes differance, he
consistently does so by explaining what it is not.
(157) Differance, he says, “is literally neither a word nor a concept.”
(157) difference is not something that can appear in logocentric discourse.
(158) Differance is neither structure nor origin.
(158) Differance is neither absence nor presence.
(158) Neither, however, is differance a master term.
(158) Differance is neither an activity nor an effect.
(162) if writing clarifies thought, then thought needs the supplement of writing to be whole and thus thought without writing is not itself, at least not fully so (Writing, p. 212).
Movement of play in games of supplementarity threatens classical, modernist reason; there is a supplement at the source.
The sequence of supplements, the forever multiplying chain of
supplements and replacements, the effect of writing on thought,
thought's absolute dependence on writing to know itself, all this
implies that everything
through the intermediary.”
(163) This amounts to a profound threat to reason. Reason does not wish to admit that the self-presence where reason itself operates lacks something. Nor does reason wish to acknowledge its own dependence on some sort of written or spoken language to free itself and identify itself.
(164) One wishes to go back from the supplement to the source: one must recognize that there is a supplement at the source” (Grammatology, p. 304).
Platonic and Nietzschean division of reality degrades mediated thought due to urge to operate according to the reductive, determining logic like a computer algorithm function operation whether procedural or object oriented.
(166) There are, Miller explains, two forms of repetition: Platonic and Nietzschean. Each contradicts and yet requires the other. . . . In the Platonic view, the world is icon, in the Nietzschean, simulacra, if not phantasm.
Terms must remain under erasure; universality of writing-in-general liquidates all terms.
I am proposing transcendence of reductionism into units determinism, embracing programming and liquefying all such postmodern arguments: texts skirt programming and it is thus not unlikely that programming creeps into humanities rhetoric.
As a result, writers must write using terms that remain “under
the terms themselves carry so much excess baggage.
(169) In fact, they [students] do not see their own tests as texts; they see them as presentations of meaning.
(170) One of the principles of Western thinking, Derrida argues, has been to assume that what linguistic expressions mean is one thing; how they can be applied is another thing entirely. Such a separation, he argues, amounts to the theological conception of language. . . . By deconstructing the separability of meaning and expression, Derrida shows how what the West calls “thought” depends on the repression of writing, for writing reveals most clearly thought's absolute dependence on signification.
Differance founds thought; Cartesian ego is an effect of language.
(170-171) We in the West, in other words, believe we can know what we think not only without saying it or writing it down, but also without thinking it to ourselves in a linguistic way. Deconstruction attempts to show that what presents itself as thought begins in exclusion . . . differance, or the play of absences, founds thought. The Cartesian cogitato, ergo sum is an effect of language, not an origin or foundation.
Starts by trying to speak through Foucault, his master; all writings, especially Glas, appear through commentary, openings, shuffling other texts.
Derrida had, in his words, “the good fortune to study under Michel
p. 31), yet he presumes to speak using three pages from the middle of
and Civilization as
his point of departure. He explains in detail the discomfort, the
“unhappy consciousness” of the student trying to speak across, or
through the voice of his teacher.
(174) All of his writings (Glas being the most elaborate and complicated example) appear through commentary on, openings in, and shuffling among other texts.
Hard to take any writing seriously when play and supplement ground all writing activity.
(174) Derridean analysis so threatens what is “important” and what is “practical” because the discourses of importance and of practicality operate on the assumption that signification can be grounded. As long as writing remains devalued, as long as it is nothing more than the vehicle to carry meaning, this ground remains firm. If, however, writing precedes and enables all discourse, if in fact all the humanities, the sciences, and the professions are always already writing, never free from the tertiarity and repetition of writing, then the ground of their activity is not signification, but rather play, or supplement, or differance or whichever Derridean term one chooses.
Logocentric meaning pretends to emanate from speech escaping infinite play of writing.
Derrida's shorthand term for any meaning that pretends to emanate
from speech, logic, reason, the Word of God, or any other absolute
origin that precedes and escapes the infinite play of writing.
(175) First, logic, reason, humanity, and history can present themselves absolutely. . . . Second, within logocentrism the one who thinks can efface the signifier, leaving nothing but “the signified in its brilliance and its glory” (Grammatology, p. 286). . . . Speech emanates from the interior, from absolute proximity to meaning; writing merely represents speaking, and corrupts it in representing it (Speech, pp. 75-87).
Inauguration as Ending
(177) After all, the Derridean canon offers a powerful theoretical matrix within which to conceive and to teach writing, a matrix in which the never-finished process of inscription is itself the truth of all things.
Solicitation as deconstructing theological belief in external meaning, back to the point of everything needing to be done under erasure, including instructional examples exercised for the objective of teaching and perhaps learning writing.
(178) Not surprisingly, giving in to deconstruction's demand to review itself and giving Plato his final say turn out to be the same act. It is an act Derrida frequently calls “solicitation.” . . . In Of Grammatology, Derrida uses solicitation more broadly as the name for deconstructing the theological belief in the existence of meaning outside of and prior to signification.
Threaten Derrida system using same method with which he threatens Plato and Rousseau based systems.
(179) To do so [solicit Western logocentrism and texts], however, I must find the keystone, the place where Derrida's system of reading (and however cagey he may be about that system) remains liable, where its possibility and fragility lie exposed, where they can be threatened and made to tremble. When Derrida threatens Plato, he focuses his attention on the pharmakon; when he threatens Rousseau, he focuses his attention on the supplement; his own writing process remains liable at its beginning point, at its inauguration.
I. In Auguration
Does it matter whether we are familiar with how inauguration appears in the context of Derridas work, the context, or is the output of a program that computes its concordance enough to think with this topic?
(179) The term inauguration appears frequently in Derrida's books, especially those written before 1972.
Quick, compact passage through basic system operations that iterate in his deconstructions.
As he claims to deconstruct the chain of displacements that allows
the West to present itself, Derrida uses the term inaugurate
each of his maneuvers. . . . Thus, speech, the action that institutes
the Western speaker as a meaningful being, at the same instant
deconstitutes the presence of whatever that meaningful being might
(180) Having overturned the speech-writing opposition, Derrida turns to the notion of self-presence, which, he argues, inaugurates metaphysics by serving as the location for the opposition between form and matter.
(180) Having deconstructed presence, he turns to origins and beginnings.
(181) Next, Derrida shows that everything in the West that attempts to escape and precede writing is in fact writing-in-general, which inaugurates not only repetition, signification, and living speech, but also idealization and even death by making them possibilities whose actuality remains forever excluded by the openness of writing.
(182) The most important claim in Derrida's elaborate set of explanations of what inaugurates what and what gets inaugurated how is that his own analysis inaugurates nothing; rather, it inaugurates what he calls the “solicitation” of everything that presents itself as original.
Intellectual dilettantism as necessary as technological per OGorman?
(183) this theory is itself “inaugurated” by a series of oversimplifications. One need do no more than listen to Derrida's idea of the history of Western thought and his reading of Phaedrus to see the stark flimsiness of some of these oversimplifications.
II. How the West Was Augured
Derridean logic hinges on acceptance that writing as pharmakon must remain outside, whereas speech can remain inside the subject, consciousness, core of cognitive, thinking being.
Step one: “Platonism,” Derrida argues, “sets up the whole of
Western metaphysics in its conceptuality” (Dissemination,
p. 76). . . . Even step two most of us will be willing to grant: “The
different between signifier and signified is no doubt the governing
pattern within which Platonism institutes itself and determines its
oppositions to sophistics. . . . The third step, however, begins to
stretch credulity: if writing is not debased and speech valorized,
Derrida contends, logic no longer works. Because Platonic writing is
a pharmakon . . . writing must forever remain outside Should it
penetrate to the inside, it would poison that inside. Speech,
however, can remain inside.
(184) The fourth step completes the theory. Derrida sees Plato's depreciation of writing in Phaedrus and the “Seventh Letter” as the inaugural move in the entire history of Western metaphysics, and he sees Rousseau and Saussure as the key thinkers who confirm that move when they, too, depreciate writing.
Reliance on Plato, Rousseau and Saussure for much of deconstruction theory.
frequently in Derrida's various deconstructions.
(186) Derrida himself gives precious little “evidence” apart from the Plato-Saussure-Rousseau triad, plus occasional brief notes from the works of Levi-Strauss and Freud and a chapter from Curtius.
Reverse apparent exclusion of writing by Plato in Phaedrus that nonetheless institutes writing as a necessary means of thinking by so thoroughly intermediating by weaving and splicing programming and thinking for the posthuman cyborg cybersage as to avoid future Derridas.
(187) For Phaedrus, Derrida would have us believe, is the single most important text ever written because it contains the exclusion of writing, the exclusion that inaugurates the West and tends its intellectual life.
III. How the West Was Unaugured
Derrida reads Phaedrus like Saussure, not considering possibility that Plato may be toying with play of meaning himself, as Derrida does.
The possibility that Plato may
playing, may in fact be toying with the play of meaning himself,
never seems to cross Derrida's mind. Derrida reads Phaedrus
the same way he reads Saussure.
(188) After he reads Phaedrus and The Course in General Linguistics as the univocal voice of the condemnation of writing, Derrida reads Rousseau into the triad.
(189) Derrida's close reading of Phaedrus itself in Dissemination is even more disappointing than the oversimplified history of meaning he offers in Of Grammatology.
(193) Surely Socrates' description of the soul makes clear the impossibility of any human being's having the power whether in speaking or writing, simply to present meaning.
(193) By showing that truth exists only in its absence, that metaphors operate both by representing inexactly and by playing infinitely, in short, by showing the problems that language creates, Derrida hasn't deconstructed Phaedrus.
Electronic writing can be different by surprising authors and readers alike, poiesis as theory, iterations of unknown knows emerging to recontemplate what we learn we did not know (so McGann has an important role in my conception of ethical comportment with technology).
Derrida clearly knows what his text is going to say. He expects no
surprises (thought, no doubt, he expects us to be surprised) as he
presents the controlled meaning that is everywhere present and under
control in his own essay.
(195) On two occasions later in chapter 4 [of Dissemination], Derrida's self-assured confidence in his own text's ability to escape the sort of disintegration it reveals in other texts appears again.
Hartman argues Derridean text performs totalization through overdetermination by militant territorialization.
Thus, Derrida's text, which he compares to a military campaign
through Plato's territory (p. 96), claims throughout to manifest what
Hartman calls totalization,
the ability of the meaning a text carries to be everywhere present
and under control in every part of the text.
(197) Derrida both discovers authorial intention and shows how no system in which authorial intention can occur exists. He can show us what is not there by showing us how what is not there cannot be there.
IV. Consequences, Or Truth?
Plato as sophisticated as Derrida: can a different trajectory by taken by incorporating a Kittler critique of Plato?
Plato was a writer every bit as (p)sophisticated as Derrida. He
understood both the forever-playing nature of the search for meaning
danger that writing presents in its ability to seem to end that
(199) He states his triumph over both by claiming to have shown that there is no difference between grammar and ontology.
(199-200) Having shown the richness of the play of meaning in Phaedrus, Derrida somehow jumps to the conclusion that he has deconstructed it, leaving Plato baffled as his own text escapes him. . . . is it possible that someone can come along in the twentieth century after two and a half millennia of constant reinterpretation of the Platonic canon and think he has discovered something when he claims to show that Plato's texts do not vanish in the presence of truth and that truth itself is what humans by definition cannot know?
Derrida reduces to example of dialectic, but caught at point of proving that is all humans may accomplish.
Derrida's most persistent claim in all his texts, and especially in
those written before 1974, is that no origin exists. If one tries to
work backwards from language to the meaning that language means, what
one finds is language. But Derrida catches himself in his own trap
with his own word. When he argues, as he does in almost every text
before 1974, that Plato “inaugurates” the West, and that Phaedrus
the gesture by which this inauguration occurs, in fact Derrida sets
his own discourse up on an origin: the origin of Plato. . . .
Derrida, in contrast, really
the truth, and the truth is
recursive, repetitious, never finished, never present; in short, an
eternal differance. Hasn't
Derrida in fact merely described the operation of Phaedrus,
the operation of dialectic in general, and then claimed to have
(200-201) The difference between the scrutiny inaugurated by Plato's Socrates and that inaugurated by Derrida is that Derrida removed the metaphors right, beautiful, and good, and then defined the truth of the truth as impossibility. Since belief activates both these moments of repetition, the question that remains is which version to choose: Truth as possibility, or its Other. Surely the difference between Plato and Derrida is that Plato demands that we decide what to do now that we know we are human; Derrida, on the other hand, demands that we continue infinitely to prove that we are human.
Neel goal is to rescue composition studies from dual curse of Plato and Derrida.
My purpose in working through the long struggle that precedes this
chapter has been to clear a space in which composition studies
finally can be liberated from philosophy. Plato lays a curse on
rhetoric and writing by requiring the rhetor to know the truth before
attempting persuasion and by claiming that truth, by definition,
cannot occur in writing. Derrida lays a curse on the entire tradition
in Western metaphysics since
by showing that philosophy never for one moment escapes writing or
(206) In this history, the sophists are absolutely necessary; they must be defeated and then remain forever available in that defeat. Their silent, marginalized defeat keeps the Platonic quest in motion.
(206) But what would happen if one were to attempt to articulate some principles of the sophistry worked out by Protagoras and Gorgias, that is, the principles of sophistry instead of those of psophistry?
Articulates six positive principles of sophistry similar to poststructural tenets that are useful for composition studies whose contemplation are excluded by Platonic defeat of sophists focusing on dealing with probabilities, power of rhetoric and speaking to transcend limits, that believing language at some point is critical to subject formation, and strange way arguments can be pursued; somehow he arrives at their relation to democratic society, which must therefore also be related to composition studies since we are all writers and readers.
(207) No, these principles don't seem so radical after all, especially in the wake of poststructural analysis. Once they are extricated from philosophical condemnation, they merely describe the foundation for any democratic society.
Valuation of cacophonous plurality of other voices, like symposia virtual realities and other visually oriented new media advances, for strong discourse, which is no doubt the goal of composition studies: must teach how to remain constantly aware of process of differance.
Strong discourse can exist, therefore, only in a cacophonous
plurality of other voices,
many of which are also strong. Only weak discourse seeks to silence
(209) Of course the only truth available in strong discourse is that made my humans, and this “made” truth is critical truth, not closed truth. . . . Strong discourse, in short, encompasses Plato's dialectic by putting all received notions in question and then seeking constantly for a better truth; at the same time, it encompasses Derrida's deconstruction by remaining constantly aware of the process of differance through which apparent or probable truth becomes manifest.
Unthought ancient Greek philosophy in Protogoras and Gorgias.
(210) In short, the purpose of this book (however infra dig it may be to write a book with so banal a thing as a purpose) is to argue that the teaching of writing should help students learn to seek strong discourse. . . . Our true theoretical source is Derrida's predecessors, those voices that Platonism and the Western quest for Truth have kept silent all these years, the voices of Protagoras and Gorgias. Perhaps more to the point, Derrida remains necessary only as long as someone tries to play the role of philosopher-king, the know-it-all who has seen the True and come to tell use about it.
Suggesting Socrates really did corrupt the youth by steering Isocrates away from rhetoric and writing.
Derrida trap for would-be philosopher kings like ring of Rassillon in Dr Who.
(211) For Isocrates, as well as for his teacher Gorgias and his predecessor Protagoras, rhetoric and writing belong at the center of the curriculum because rhetoric and writing are the ways to make choices in a world of probability. Sophistical rhetoric, therefore, is both a study of how to make choices and a study of how choices form character and make good citizens.
Neel, Jasper. Plato, Derrida, and Writing. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988. Print.