Thursday, September 01, 2005

Week 02, Gorgias and Plato

Gorgias Notes

Sophism: you can have enough respect for a thing (truth) not to believe in it. Sophists are offering pragmatic wisdom – we can teach truth and virtue, etc. – but that need not be interpreted as flippant or disregard for the ultimate existence of truth. If everything is a matter of opinion, we are left considering pragmatics. How do we arrive at a way of knowing who wields opinion in a worthy manner? The Sophists think they can proceed, whereas this sort of viewpoint drives Plato bananas. A similar argument has been made recently – Derrida versus the structuralists, who apply social science and science to human phenomena. Their attitude is, well we can go forwards – we don’t need to know the essence of everything before we can act in the world; we can teach “structure” as a principle of intelligibility. But that is to fool yourself, D would say – structure becomes the unquestioned center, and so it’s no different from philosophical Truth, or God, or any other metaphysical enabling device taken as absolute reality. Barbara C’s presentation brings out something interesting about Gorgias – he says people have wielded a version of truth that has damaged a good woman’s reputation; Helen got run down (to borrow from Allen Ginsberg) by “the drunken taxicabs of absolute reality.” Call an ambulance!

Plato Notes

Republic, Book 2

The Greeks generally considered poetry and music the primary instruments of paideia, or education. See Werner Jaeger’s multivolume Paideia. Plato doesn’t try to do away with poetry as a means of education. Everyone in Greece treated Homer and other poets the way modern Christians treat the Bible – something to be relied on for an apt line or a moral precept, appreciated for its beauties, and so forth. Still, Plato insists upon reforming poetry as a vehicle of education so that its effects may be more controlled. After all, the State will be in charge of education; it won’t be simply a matter of children imbibing stories about Chronos trying to eat his children or Zeus dallying with nymphs. What we want is to shape minds for a lean, if not mean, Utopian State – not the corrupt and luxurious polity that Plato dislikes so much.

We’ll see that in Book 10, Plato looks at poetry more sternly from an ontological standpoint, so he sounds more dismissive of it there – it turns out that poetry isn’t true craft like the craftsmanship in the lean, healthy state; rather, it merely copies copies, generating something like the effects of the Allegory of the Cave’s “shadows on the wall.” It only convinces people that their illusions are truth and have the gods’ sanction.

Well, Plato says that children’s minds are quite impressionable early on – the stories we tell them make an “impression,” most likely a permanent one, too. We will choose apt future guardians – agile-minded, “teachable” children in whose souls we can leave a good imprint that will generate predictable results and a stable society. Everyone will lead an orderly life, do one appropriate job well, and love the good and reason as far as possible given his or her capacities, helped to develop by sound education.

He says that even if scurrilous tales about the gods are true, we philosophers-as-state-planners must restrict such tales to the eyes and ears of the very few who can avoid being corrupted by them. This is censorship, of course – but Plato’s goal is not modern freedom for organic individuals; it is a sound moral collectivity.

So for Plato’s purposes, the Divine Realm must be purged of its rascally particularities – there’s just one “Divine” (though there may be many gods) and from it flows only good. This Divine Realm or “God” will serve as a principle of moral intelligibility and, in the highest realm of Plato’s philosophy, will be closely associated with Reason and the Good. If we were to need a fictional affirmation of this realm’s existence, so be it – the philosophers must draw the guardians on to appreciate the Good. That would be true even if the gods don’t behave as we would like them to – but that isn’t something Plato seems to believe anyhow. Still, the issue of making art triumph over the real and reason and common human sentiment could be raised at this point: exactly what the Nazis did, etc. They turned politics into aesthetics—the state as a work of art, to borrow a phrase from Jacob Burckhardt, so even a fiery loss turns into a work of art, the murder of innocent millions into “purification” of a mythic Herrnrace, and so forth.

An aside – while the old mythology of the Greeks helped people endure a harsh Cosmos (Homer or Sophocles: “an enduring heart have the gods given men”), Plato would have it serve as a principle of moral and ontological intelligibility: a way of claiming that there is an eternal realm of Beauty and Goodness beyond this mess we find ourselves in. The ancient myths dealt with what Christian theology calls the “problem of evil” by not trying to deal with it: the gods did what they wanted to, and were beyond our petty standards of justice or fairness. But if you claim your god has the status of Jehovah in the Old Testament, you must directly confront the problem of who is responsible for evil. Plato shares the problem with Christianity and several other religions.

Well, this all leads to a general point for the course: a major use of art has long been identified as the shaping of an audience’s morals, to mould individuals from their youth up into a unified collectivity. Generating and reinforcing moral consensus.

Alternately, some moderns would claim that art should reinforce ethical norms already in existence: refer to arguments about, say, Robert Mapplethorpe’s bizarre visual art being shown in galleries receiving money from NEH. Some middle-class people object to tax-funded radical challenges to their beliefs. They probably do not see art as a vehicle for challenging values upon which they see little or no need to reflect, and it offends them if you say that art should “afflict the comfortable,” or that it should “disturb and disintegrate” (Wilde’s phrase) views and practices they hold dear. Even though I am not exactly a political animal in the classroom, I have sometimes seen this attitude in college students in direct response to assigned material: “I don’t like Dostoyevsky or Freud or Marx; they say things I don’t understand and that sound disagreeably radical!” So my question is, “is education for finding out about new things and ideas, or for getting our prior belief systems validated by people with fancy titles?” Of course, this “Culture Wars” struggle has been blunted of late, at least with regard to the arts—I recently saw Dana Gioia, poet and head of the National Endowment for the Arts, talking about how the most alarming matter for America’s cultural health is that around half of the public doesn’t read literature at all. One might as well add in Wildean fashion that large numbers of the rest of them read it rather badly….The point is, this is baseline stuff—no point even talking about art being dangerous is nobody is capable of interacting with it. That in itself is what’s most dangerous. The Culture Wars focus has shifted to the huge struggle over the War on Terror, the Iraq venture, and, at present, a bunch of Vietnam Vets shouting at one another over their experiences three decades ago.

Later “bourgeois” versions of this use-claim would have us all formed into one big consensus-happy public sphere, where right moral sentiment and the normative ways of doing everything prevail. Plato is didactic in his way of handling the value of art as education: it should form us into what we ought to be as members of a collective society, help us find our proper place to serve others in the community. Art isn’t a vehicle for self-development, expression, or free individuality in the modern sense.

Republic, 3

56-57: Moving poetry is especially harmful, contagious. The Guardians might think fears and tears are fine, while all we want from them is blood, sweat, and obedience. John Wayne isn’t supposed to play Macbeth. Plato might agree with Philip Sidney that art should give us “speaking pictures” of virtuous men and women, so that we will want to think and act like them. Plato insists on what has been called the “contagion theory of art”: when we see something, we will want to do it, too. Look at the way he describes the soul as tripartite in Phaedrus 245ff: the soul’s pilot is reason, and it must control the two horses or steeds that pull it towards an object. Modesty and temperance must prevail if there is to be no wreck. This kind of metaphor shows us as powerfully moved by desires of various sorts – and if the lower or sensual desires prevail, we shall be led to immodesty and ruin. Things we see and hear have a strong effect upon us, for better or for worse.

58: The “lie” (pharmakos = at once remedy and poison) is dangerous when uttered by the wrong people, subordinates. Only those whose “craft” is philosophy – who know the good end and the proper way to achieve it while working with the given material – can be allowed to lie. At this point – one shouldn’t take this too far – truth begins to sound like a ruse of statecraft. Order is the first necessity, not truth. Plato isn’t so “unGreek” as to be less than frank on this point. But ultimately, when he comes around to ontological arguments, he returns to the issue of poetry’s truth status, and finds it wanting.

59: Here we see Plato affirming the hierarchy of reason and temperance over pleasure in sensuality or fiction-making. Food, sex, poetry: all are dangerous if handled badly.

61-62: This section resembles the Symposium in its advocacy of education as a leading out of youth from the senses towards the adult’s fuller appreciation of Reason’s beauty and Goodness. For political purposes, Plato recognizes that humans are passionate creatures, that they have appetites and bodies as well as the capacity to reason their way to an apprehension of truth. That practical concern leads him not to dismiss poetry from consideration as he builds his word-State, but rather to reform its role in traditional paideia. He says that we must smooth the way from childhood to rational adulthood and citizenship, keeping away from children anything that might impede their progress towards love of the good and right. So we need to attune young minds to harmony in language, music, dance, everything. True craftsmen must surround children with a virtual Sesame Street environment of beautiful objects and harmonious sounds and actions, putting them in a region of health and beauty so complete that when the become adults, they will greet Reason’s beauty as an old friend, without, perhaps, even realizing how it came to be so familiar. We move almost imperceptibly from Big Bird to Big Brother: the Good. Plato is a spiritual reformer in education, as Jaeger might say. The point is to move children from belief to knowledge, from the unexamined life to the examined life, insofar as that’s necessary for future guardians.

Cultural education – as Marcus Aurelius will say, we should come not even to “think in inmost thought” what would offend our fellows. The goal here is temperance and self-restraint in all things. Interesting, though, that for all his reputation as a stern banisher of poetry on ontological grounds, Plato seems rather passionate about Reason. Or at least he sees that in practical or pedagogical terms, our early passionate, unreasoning attachment to beauty and harmony is vital to our subsequent development into mature citizens. Ion isn’t a proper craftsmen, but someone working under a philosopher-king could generate quite an effect in the Republic’s children. The teacher must accept out initial dependence on the senses, on ordinary pleasures, and use it as an instrument for our moral and philosophical advancement. It seems we must transcend the senses by first being educated with their aid. Pleasure in material objects will be replaced by pleasure in non-material goodness. Education is vital, and must be reformed: Plato sees “human nature” in a realistic way, but isn’t satisfied with us au naturel. He’s no individualist, but he shows the humanist’s dissatisfaction with what is founded merely upon nature or even “human nature” as if. We seem to be perfectible. Plato’s doctrine, at least in Book 3, is an early version of what Schiller will later call “The Aesthetic Education of Man.” Education includes art, and so art is vital to the task of civilization. But of course Plato will not add “individualism” or “freedom of the individual” or “freedom and variety of situations” to his list of necessaries, as von Humboldt or Schiller and his fellow romantic philosophers would. Still, art is a formative and shaping power, and is integral to being “civilized.” Even in Homer, there is a negotiation between the wild and the civilized.

Republic, Book 7

Partly about teacher’s command of truth, of forms vs. sham. Education is an acclimation to “beholding” the Intelligible realm. The allegory of the cave’s simple point is that this world of sensible things is a prison. The uneducated adults are in chains, looking only straight ahead. These adults, the ordinary citizens of a democratic commonwealth like Athens, in whom Plato has little trust, become hostile and threaten to murder the returned Promethean bringer of light. The parallel to Socrates is obvious – he had been executed in 399 B.C., a quarter-century before Plato wrote Republic.

So Plato offers us an allegory about the power of philosophy and the risks that truth runs when it makes itself available to the profoundly ignorant. Plato suggests that the world runs on lies, sham appearances, and it’s no easy matter to disabuse people of their illusions – built as they are upon sensory experience and a need for stability. Plato’s problem with art is that it doesn’t even try to disabuse people of their illusions; only philosophy and “cultural education” crafted by philosophers can disabuse us without bringing the house down on our heads.

One could say that Plato’s sentiment here is genuinely Greek – we must be able to bear the weight of vision, of knowledge. Aeschylus says that the gods have given us enduring hearts. If you strip away people’s illusions too quickly and you blind them with Truth, they will hate you. Our prisoners have built a whole system of reward and punishment, an integral society, out of illusions. See Nietzsche’s “Truth and Falsity” essay on this power of abstraction-making to stabilize the world. See page 67; if our Truth-seer is so uninterested in coming back to the Cave, doesn’t his reluctance undermine Plato’s attempt to build an ideal Republic? In other words, doesn’t The Republic end on a note of alienation between philosophy and life – one that art has taken on as a mantle, as in Symbolism and romanticism at its most “satanic”?

Republic 10

67. Now all imitative poetry must go; this is a shock since it was formerly all right to present carefully crafted images of virtue.

68-70. Because Plato is in full onto-throttle: there is the Idea of “Bed” (its form or pattern, design), the material object made by the joiner, and the bed represented by the painter, who merely imitates the joiner’s bed. So the painter makes a copy of a copy.

74-76. The painter or imitative poet satisfies the ignorant multitude, who want nothing but copies in any case. He’s a democratizer in the realm of pleasure. He confirms and even multiplies ordinary people’s confusions and contradictions in the sensory realm, where they are content to remain.

76-77. Poetry counteracts reason and public necessity. Notice the panopticon tendency in Plato: the self, as far as he is concerned, should remain a public construct. Similar to Freud’s “superego.”

77-78. Poetry appeals to the lowest element of our nature, to the petulant side that gives reason so much trouble, and not to the “intelligent and calm” side. It stirs up the many, creating amongst them a bond of their lowest passions. Note that on 78 top, Plato directly links imitative poetry and demagogic ruffians’ control of politics.

78. Worst of all, poetry not only miseducates the young, it corrupts even the good.

79-80. Plato’s Socrates will admit only “hymns to the gods” and “eulogies of virtuous men” – supposedly non-representational poetry that is not made solely for the pleasure of hearers.

Phaedrus

Is writing a remedy or a poison? The Greek word is pharmakos, which means both. Also, supplementarity comes into play – either this term indicates the supplying of a lack, or an addition to something already whole. Well, D says it means both in philosophical writing.

Socrates says that Thamus sees writing as sanctioning forgetting. That’s vital since for Plato learning is anamnesis, an unforgetting of what the timeless soul always knew, or has long known.

Speech, here, is closer to truth, to our own consciousness, which has the capacity to apprehend truth. Speech maintains its relationship to inner consciousness and intentionality. It is contrasted with the dangerous disseminative power of the written word, which is much more obviously a public code, a set of signs that function in the absence of the writer’s consciousness. A concrete example would be to write a word like “dog” or “umbrella” on the blackboard – how could the word be interpreted unless you don’t have to depend on direct access to the mind of the author? In the case of writing, meaning multiplies promiscuously with no firm standard of reduction to stability.

Plato says elsewhere that politicians always want to write; he connects writing with democracy, the promiscuous dissemination of power amongst the unworthy.

Derrida’s view: this privileging of speech, with its supposed link to the absolute truth, is the trick of philosophy for millennia. In the service of unitary meaning and theology-like stability, philosophical discourse effaces itself as writing, trying to come at us as pure speech conveying systemic truth. But the same thing is true of speech as well: it can only mean something if we do not rely on direct access to the speaker’s supposed intentions. Speech is a public code, too, subject to the same indeterminacy and unfinality as is writing. The opposition between speech and writing is false; they are both similarly diffuse, sliding, drifting, and cannot give us final meaning or link to Truth. Rather, they work by potentially endless deferral and difference. That we believe we manipulate speech as code does not do away with its similarity to writing. I can’t explain my intentions for every sentence I utter – that would in effect privatize my speech in a deferred manner; neither can my gestures take me outside this process of signification since gestures are themselves signs that must be interpreted.

Our view of speech posits a unitary “consciousness” that then links back to and validates speech as true (cf. Derrida on Husserl’s phenomenology). We speak, referring our words back to consciousness for validation or authentication. But consciousness itself is probably an effect of speech. Intentionality is an ex post facto construction. If this Nietzsche-like point is valid, perhaps we can test it simply by listening to our own internal dialogue: I don’t believe in intentionality, at least not in the most direct sense: ask “where do my words come from?” and you will be able to perceive that in your own inner dialogue, they don’t seem to come from anywhere or to be commanded in some a priori manner by consciousness. Again, consciousness is an effect, not a cause.

The point is not to condemn “meaning” and “consciousness” as useless illusions, but rather to suggest that illusions are not without consequence even if they are necessary. It’s possible to build systems in philosophy or politics. And it’s dangerous either to leave them in place or to tear them down, especially since you must work with the components of what is in process of being torn down.

So what has all this to do with literature and literary criticism? It offers us insight into certain kinds of literature and methods of interpretation. For instance, take romantic poetry, which tends to efface its status as written word in favor of lyric utterance. With the romantics, this isn’t just a polite convention as perhaps it is for, say, Sidney or Wyatt; the romantic symbol or poetic word is supposed to work its magic upon our spirits, carrying alive into the heart the poet’s passions and expressive truths. The therapeutic power of poetry depends in part on their model of consciousness and speech. Words, as in Christian theology, are the bearers of spirit and culture, or at least point us in that direction. They create our humanity in its deepest sense, and have a vital bond with the natural world. Imagination and symbol are beyond ordinary language.

Anybody who claims privilege for a certain kind of consciousness – unified, a sanctuary for truth whether its ultimate source is inside the mind or external to it – must efface the operations of writing, or the link and the spell will be broken.

Any act of criticism would separate itself into a unified consciousness or perspective, maintaining a certain distance from the object it creates in the process of positing itself. So it must reduce the operations of textuality, must disclaim participation in or contact with the process of signification that is the text. But surely the relationship is less straightforward than that. (An easy way of putting this, for initial reference, is that “criticism constitutes its preferred object.”) Criticism that ignores the effects of writing ends up repeating or otherwise affirming the ideology and illusions – the project – of the texts it studies.

If you go to the text trying to reconstruct the project of the movement, the poem, the author, etc., you must know that you are part of that project, that you are involved in positing a “there” where there’s no fully prior “there.” Carry this insight about effects of the code further back, and you see that the author, text, movement, did not have a lock on its own “intentions,” no matter what explicit declarations it makes. Intention is a unity-making post hoc construction.

Book VII

[Note for Phaedrus: writing is a bit like the particular Gods – can’t trust them, unstable.]

Post-It Notes For The Republic (there are no marginal notes in the Norton theory anthology)

Book 2

Here we find Plato’s pragmatic emphasis – art can shape morals and maintain social control. The Greek tradition of education is based upon music and poetry. Refer to Werner Jaeger’s Paideia. Tradition is so powerful that at least in the second book, Plato will not simply dismiss the tradition but rather adapts it to his purposes. The state must supervise education, controlling its effects and raising and maintaining generations of uncorrupted citizens. Mention the opposition Plato makes between the corrupt state and the lean state in which genuine craftsmanship prevails, and everyone performs a single function. His ideal state resembles Sparta.

49. “The most important stage of any enterprise is the beginning….” Education is vital because young minds are impressionable, and quickly take a set. That sounds much like our concept that early learning is the most important kind – Plato might rather approve of Sesame Street and head start. He wants a stable, honest citizenry.

50. “Even if these stories are true, they ought not to be told so casually to young people and people who lack discrimination; it’s better to keep silent….” Only philosophers may suppress the truth or even lie because they do it for the people’s good. The goal in Plato’s Republic is not freedom for individuals, it is a sound moral collectivity.

51-55. On page 53, Socrates says “any spoken words or composed works will have to conform to the principle that God is not responsible for everything, but only for good.” The divine realm must be purged of rascally portraits of the gods and made to serve as the source of moral and intellectual integrity. This would be necessary even if the gods actually are just as Homer describes them. I would say that the old religion helped the Greeks to endure, but Plato rationalizes religion.

Book 3

56-57. “We will implore Homer and the rest of the poets not to get cross if we strike these and all similar lines from their works.” The guardians must maintain self-discipline; John Wayne cannot be Macbeth. Plato favors blood and sweat, but not tears. Of course, the old Greeks would say restraining tears is downright un-Greek, and Nietzsche would say the same thing, I presume. Even the best and most moving poetry is harmful in Plato’s view – at this point, Plato seems to recommend what Sir Philip Sidney calls “feigning notable images of virtue.” Mention the so-called contagion theory of art, which implies that the spectators will see something on stage or on the page and then will want to act it out. What we see and hear as strong effects upon us – mention the Phaedrus 245 and following, where Socrates says that the soul is like a chariot, with reason as charioteer. Two horses pull the chariot, one of which is calm and intelligent, while the other is passionate and wicked. The two horses pull in opposite directions, which is potentially ruinous.

58-59. “Clearly lying should be entrusted to doctors, and laymen should have nothing to do with it.” Lies must be strictly controlled. Only philosophers and statesmen who know the ends may employ untruth. When Plato comes down to earthly statecraft, truth seems like a ruse of power. With him, order comes first. Later on, in Book 10, Plato will reassert the primacy of truth.

On page 59, Socrates says, “and aren’t the most important aspects of self-discipline, at least for the general rank and file, obedience to those in authority and establishing one’s authority over the pleasures of drink, sex, and food?” Reason and temperance outrank sensual pleasure and fiction-making.

61-62. As in the Symposium, we are educated towards the adult’s love of the good for its own sake by means of experience with the pleasure given by sensual and material things. In practical terms, Plato sees humans as passionate creatures, with appetites and bodies as well as intelligence. So the goal in educating children is to smooth their progress from the material to the nonmaterial kind of good, from belief towards knowledge, from the unexamined life towards the examined life.

How to do that? A craftsman must be guided by the Philosopher-King to surround children (young guardians who will be chosen carefully) with a Sesame-Street-like environment. It will be a region of health and beauty, attuning minds to harmony and proportion in all things. Children will move insensibly from Big Bird to Big Brother – the Good. They will come to greet reason as an old friend.

If we did not see Book 10 coming, we could almost take Book 3 as an early version of “the aesthetic education of man.” This early version wants to lead us beyond the senses by putting us in playful contact with beautiful things. Play is important to Socrates – the teacher begins by working with us as we are, and we are as yet dependent upon the senses. Early pleasure must be of this sort, and it must draw us onward and improve us, constituting the beginning of cultural education. This teacher is not satisfied with humanity as it is (au naturel), but does not deny that we must start at a very fundamental level. Later philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, and Schiller will say that art is very important to the task of civilization. Plato is not interested in the individual, in freedom, and so forth. He is not a romantic philosopher. Still, he redefines Greek education as controlled science in the service of the state. End of notes.

Phaedrus

Socrates says that Thamus sees writing as sanctioning forgetting. That’s vital since for Plato learning is anamnesis, an unforgetting of what the timeless soul always knew, or has long known.

Speech, here, is closer to truth, to our own consciousness, which has the capacity to apprehend truth. Speech maintains its relationship to inner consciousness and intentionality. It is contrasted with the dangerous disseminative power of the written word, which is much more obviously a public code, a set of signs that function in the absence of the writer’s consciousness. A concrete example would be to write a word like “dog” or “umbrella” on the blackboard – how could the word be interpreted unless you don’t have to depend on direct access to the mind of the author? In the case of writing, meaning multiplies promiscuously with no firm standard of reduction to stability.

Plato says elsewhere that politicians always want to write; he connects writing with democracy, the promiscuous dissemination of power amongst the unworthy.

Derrida’s view: this privileging of speech, with its supposed link to the absolute truth, is the trick of philosophy for millennia. In the service of unitary meaning and theology-like stability, philosophical discourse effaces itself as writing, trying to come at us as pure speech conveying systemic truth. But the same thing is true of speech as well: it can only mean something if we do not rely on direct access to the speaker’s supposed intentions. Speech is a public code, too, subject to the same indeterminacy and unfinality as is writing. The opposition between speech and writing is false; they are both similarly diffuse, sliding, drifting, and cannot give us final meaning or link to Truth. Rather, they work by potentially endless deferral and difference. That we believe we manipulate speech as code does not do away with its similarity to writing. I can’t explain my intentions for every sentence I utter – that would in effect privatize my speech in a deferred manner; neither can my gestures take me outside this process of signification since gestures are themselves signs that must be interpreted.

Our view of speech posits a unitary “consciousness” that then links back to and validates speech as true (cf. Derrida on Husserl’s phenomenology). We speak, referring our words back to consciousness for validation or authentication. But consciousness itself is probably an effect of speech. Intentionality is an ex post facto construction. If this Nietzsche-like point is valid, perhaps we can test it simply by listening to our own internal dialogue: I don’t believe in intentionality, at least not in the most direct sense: ask “where do my words come from?” and you will be able to perceive that in your own inner dialogue, they don’t seem to come from anywhere or to be commanded in some a priori manner by consciousness. Again, consciousness is an effect, not a cause.

The point is not to condemn “meaning” and “consciousness” as useless illusions, but rather to suggest that illusions are not without consequence even if they are necessary. It’s possible to build systems in philosophy or politics. And it’s dangerous either to leave them in place or to tear them down, especially since you must work with the components of what is in process of being torn down.

So what has all this to do with literature and literary criticism? It offers us insight into certain kinds of literature and methods of interpretation. For instance, take romantic poetry, which tends to efface its status as written word in favor of lyric utterance. With the romantics, this isn’t just a polite convention as perhaps it is for, say, Sidney or Wyatt; the romantic symbol or poetic word is supposed to work its magic upon our spirits, carrying alive into the heart the poet’s passions and expressive truths. The therapeutic power of poetry depends in part on their model of consciousness and speech. Words, as in Christian theology, are the bearers of spirit and culture, or at least point us in that direction. They create our humanity in its deepest sense, and have a vital bond with the natural world. Imagination and symbol are beyond ordinary language. It is so much easier to build up a conception of “romanticism” if you can ignore that fact that what we are dealing with here is the written word. To go this route facilitates such constructions of literary periods and helps us enframe the words of long-dead authors, but the clarity we attain is rather facile, and we risk simply repeating—without even the high degree of awareness as the original “romantics” themselves had about the difficulties of writing—of “their” ideology. So who is the romantic here—Shelley, or me, if I insist on such formulations about organicism, expression, and so forth?

Anybody who claims privilege for a certain kind of consciousness – unified, a sanctuary for truth whether its ultimate source is inside the mind or external to it – must efface the operations of writing, or the link and the spell will be broken.

Any act of criticism would separate itself into a unified consciousness or perspective, maintaining a certain distance from the object it creates in the process of positing itself. So it must reduce the operations of textuality, must disclaim participation in or contact with the process of signification that is the text. But surely the relationship is less straightforward than that. (An easy way of putting this, for initial reference, is that “criticism constitutes its preferred object.”) Criticism that ignores the effects of writing ends up repeating or otherwise affirming the ideology and illusions – the project – of the texts it studies.

If you go to the text trying to reconstruct the project of the movement, the poem, the author, etc., you must know that you are part of that project, that you are involved in positing a “there” where there’s no fully prior “there.” Carry this insight about effects of the code further back, and you see that the author, text, movement, did not have a lock on its own “intentions,” no matter what explicit declarations it makes. Intention is a unity-making post hoc construction.

Is writing a remedy or a poison? The Greek word is pharmakos, which means both. Also, supplementarity comes into play – either this term indicates the supplying of a lack, or an addition to something already whole. Well, D says it means both in philosophical writing. I think the idea is that in metaphysical systems generally, “Truth” is a matter of consciousness hearing itself—we have a kind of “inner voice.” Consciousness must be grasped as present to itself. If that’s the way we access deep truth, then something like writing is parasitical and threatening—it is manifestly out of control, accessible to misinterpretation to anybody. It’s as if Plato dislikes the promiscuity of writing, the same way he distrusts the shifty Homeric gods and the shifty poets and the demagogues who encourage ordinary folk to get out of line. Writing would be a non-identical supplement that threatens to displace the so-called original operations of consciousness generating and validating meaning. The unholy thing here is that what writing does isn’t so much displace speech as expose its similarity to writing. Consciousness is just as slippery and subject to drift as writing; consciousness is writing.

Edition: The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN 0393974294.

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