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Plato and the Invention of Life$
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Michael Naas

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780823279678

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823279678.001.0001

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Life and Spontaneity

Life and Spontaneity

(p.42) Chapter 2 Life and Spontaneity
Plato and the Invention of Life

Michael Naas

Fordham University Press

Chapter 2 focuses on the myth of the two ages and the pivotal role played by the adjective automatos in the Stranger’s telling of that myth (267c–274d). It is argued that Plato’s use of the term automatos to describe both the way in which the fruits of earth come up “of their own accord,” “freely,” or “spontaneously” during the Age of Kronos and the way the universe or cosmos, itself a living being, moves during the Age of Zeus, reveals a tension at the very heart of Plato’s conception of life. By comparing Plato’s use of this term automatos in the Statesman to other uses in the dialogues (in Theaetetus, Sophist, Protagoras, and elsewhere), it is shown that automatos must be understood as something like—to use Derrida’s vocabulary—an undecidable, akin to the pharmakon of Phaedrus, that is, a fundamentally ambivalent notion around which a whole series of opposing terms (activity/passivity, inside/outside, natural movement/mechanical causality) revolves. The chapter concludes by suggesting that this use of automatos, in conjunction with a somewhat unexpected use of the term mimesis in the same myth, might indicate an unacknowledged Heraclitean influence on the Statesman and might help explain Plato’s multiple references to Heraclitus in related dialogues (such as Sophist, Theaetetus, and Cratylus). This allows us then to ask whether a (perhaps Heraclitean) notion of mimesis—another way of describing what is called here Plato’s political anamnesis—is not what links the Age of Zeus to the Age of Kronos, and, perhaps, human life in the Age of Zeus to the life itself in the Age of Kronos.

Keywords:   automatos, Jacques Derrida, Heraclitus, mimesis, Plato, spontaneity, Statesman

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