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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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Fruits of the Poisonous Tree: Plato and Alcidamas on the Evils of Writing

Fruits of the Poisonous Tree: Plato and Alcidamas on the Evils of Writing

(p.115) Chapter 5 Fruits of the Poisonous Tree: Plato and Alcidamas on the Evils of Writing
Plato and the Invention of Life

Michael Naas

Fordham University Press

This chapter revisits Jacques Derrida’s 1968 essay “Plato’s Pharmacy” on Plato’s critique of writing in order to ask about the values of life and living presence in Plato and in two rhetoricians/sophists with whom Plato seems to be in dialogue throughout the Phaedrus as well as the Statesman, Isocrates and Alcidamas. It is argued that what is at issue between Alcidamas and Isocrates, on the one hand, and Plato, on the other, is not only the question of speech and writing, and the related questions of memory and repetition, but, once again, the question of life and the value of life. What is waged in the gigantomachia between the rhetoricians or sophists and Plato is a battle over two different values for life, life as force and the power to persuade, on the one hand, and life as truth or as the force of truth, on the other. What we thus see in all three thinkers is at once a fear of the power of the written word and an absolute fascination with it, a fear of this new technology called writing and a fascination with the transformation in the values of life that it at once threatened and promised.

Keywords:   Alcidamas, Jacques Derrida, extemporaneity, Isocrates, kairos, Phaedrus, Plato, rhetoric, Statesman, writing

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