Wily Socrates # 7 — The End (the telos) Is in Sight

Well, my friends – humanists, scientists, poets, theorists, and thinkers of every variety and persuasion! – it is now time to look at the next segment of Plato’s Ion, and we will take it up with Socrates’ second long speech about the “magnet” simile. We’re going to see a big difference this time, in Ion’s reception of the idea of “divine inspiration” (rather than a mental acuity) as the power that fuels the poets’“art.” Why do you think he reacts so differently this time?

Socrates Do you know that the spectator is the last of the rings which, as I am saying, receive the power of the original magnet from one another? The rhapsode like yourself and the actor are intermediate links, and the poet himself is the first of them. Through all these God sways the souls of men in any direction he pleases, causing each link to communicate the power to the next. Thus there is a vast chain of dancers and masters and undermasters of choruses, who are suspended, as if from the stone, at the side of the rings which hang down from the Muse. And every poet has some Muse from whom he is suspended, and by whom he is said to be possessed, which is nearly the same thing; for he is taken hold of. And from these first rings, which are the poets, depend others, some deriving their inspiration from Orpheus, others from Musaeus; but the greater number are possessed and held by Homer. Of whom, Ion, you are one, and are possessed by Homer; and when anyone repeats the words of another poet you go to sleep, and know not what to say; but when anyone recites a strain of Homer you wake up in a minute and your soul leaps within you, and you have plenty to say; for not by art (techne) or knowledge (episteme) about Homer do you say what you say, but by divine inspiration and by possession, just as the Korybantian revelers too have a quick perception of that strain only which is appropriated to the god by whom they are possessed, and have plenty of dances and words for that, but take no heed of any other. And you, Ion, when the name of Homer is mentioned have plenty to say, and have nothing to say of others. You ask, “Why is this?” The answer is that your skill in the praise of Homer comes not from art but from divine inspiration.

Ion That is good, Socrates; and yet I doubt whether you will ever persuade me that I praise Homer only when I am mad and possessed; and if you could hear me speak of him I am sure you would never think this to be the case.

Socrates I should like very much to hear you, but not until you have answered a question which I have to ask….

For myself, I can’t help but wonder whether Ion’s change of heart – you remember that last time he said “your words, Socrates, touch my soul, and I am persuaded that in these works the good poets, under divine inspiration, interpret for us the voice of the gods” – does not come about from the sudden realization that he himself is in danger of being deprived of the ike he so happily plumes himself on possessing. (In addition, Socrates has dropped the rhetorical brilliance and has emphasized the ludicrousness of the metaphor, and the haplessness of the lower “danglers,” this time around.) Let’s continue, though, because Socrates is now going to bring his theory of the formal ike to a powerful consummation.

Socrates I should like very much to hear you, but not until you have answered a question which I have to ask. On what part of Homer do you speak well? – not surely about every part?

Ion There can be no part, Socrates, about which I do not speak well: of that I can assure you. [Note that Ion, however ineffectually, is trying to assert a poetic “wholeness” on every part of which he is equipped to speak well.]

Ion There is no part, Socrates, about which I do not speak well: of that I can assure you.

Socrates Surely not about things in Homer of which you have no knowledge? [Literally, “not on those things, which Homer says, about which you are not knowing?”]

Ion And what is there in Homer of which I have no knowledge?

Socrates Why, does not Homer speak in many passages about arts (technes)? For example, about driving; if I can only remember the lines I will repeat them.

Ion I remember, and will repeat them.

Socrates Tell me then, what Nestor says to Antilochus, his son, where he bids him be careful of the turn at the horse race in honor of Patroclus.

Ion “Bend gently,” he says, “in the polished chariot to the left of them, and urge the horse on the right hand with whip and voice; and slacken the rein. And when you are at the goal, let the left horse draw near, so that the nave of the well-wrought wheel may appear to graze the extremity; but have a care not to touch the stone.”

Socrates Enough. [This “enough” from Socrates is my favorite line in the entire dialogue. So ends Ion’s one and only chance to perform as a rhapsode!] Now, Ion, will the charioteer or the physician be the better judge of the propriety of these lines?

Ion The charioteer, clearly,

Socrates And will the reason be that this is his art or will there be any other reason?

Ion No, that will be the reason.

Socrates And every art is appointed by God to have knowledge of a certain work [ergon]; for that which we know by the art of the pilot we shall not succeed in knowing also by the art of medicine?

Ion Certainly not.

Socrates And this is true of all the arts – that which we know with one art we shall not know with the other…?

Here is the climax of the theory of the ike: “and every art is appointed by God to have knowledge of a certain work,” for that which we know (how to do) by one art we will not know (how(to do) by another. Here is a different translator, spelling out the elliptical Greek here, by writing that to every art “is apportioned a power of knowing” that is peculiar to itself. So we are talking about the way in which we know a genuine ike because it confers a power for doing – “a certain ergon” – upon the one who possesses it.

This is where I think we can really see that to translate the Greek “episteme” fundamentally as “knowledge” is very misleading, given our modern connotation of knowledge as consisting of discrete and concrete little pieces of “fact” (sort of like what we memorize for the SATs). An episteme or a techne – any Greek ike – is fundamentally a skill, or a power to act. It confers the ability to do a certain kind of work with arête or formal excellence. And whatever that work may be – piloting a boat, driving a chariot, practicing medicine, or doing geometry – it is a power of knowing. It is a mode of human thought, or “a way of knowing.” And it comes into play and is visible to our eyes, whenever the activities associated with a formal kind of thing are called upon.

[Theoretical aside from jlb: This is why I think the saddest thing, and one of the most alienating aspects, of education in the modern centuries has the narrowing of human thought to ratiocination. This is a powerfully elitist move, and it has disenfranchised most human beings from the life of thought. They still practice their ways of knowing, of course; they simply get no credit for doing so. See Ruth Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom. I would go so far as to say that the steadily building resentment of the non-elite has done much to produce the cultural phenomenon of the “red states” versus the “blue.”]

Now it would seem, wouldn’t it, that we have just seen Ion perform his “art” with our very own eyes? He has fluently recited from memory a few lines from the Iliad – in an abruptly truncated performance, as we have noticed. But he is given no opportunity to display the rest of his “power of knowing,” if indeed he has such power.

Socrates steps right in and shows Ion how he ought to “interpret” the lines he has just performed – from the point of view of dialectical (“philosophical” or “rational”) inquiry into the arts and sciences. Socrates want Ion to identify the subject-matter in question in the lines, and then to name the kind of expert who would know “the propriety” of these lines best. Does anyone else besides me think this is really, really, entertaining and funny?

To prepon, the question of propriety, fittingness, or the appropriate, belonged to ike of course, along with orthtotike, because for the Greeks it was a question intrinsic to knowing how to do any kind of action well. (See how much Greek you’ve learned? And with acquisition of any language comes the “power of knowing,” the power of thinking, that is conferred by that language.)

Never forget that for the classical Greek mind, the meaning of logos or ratio (ratio is the Latin translation of logos and gives us “rationality”) was always — first of all — formal elegance, proportionality, and balance between parts, before it became the term used “technically,” in connection with the new philosophical way of life, the practice of the newly rigorous kinds of purposeful thinking and speaking maintained in the disciplines.

Ion will acquiesce without a qualm in these reductive “disciplinary” or “philosophical” interpretations of each successive poetic passage, in our next segment. Entirely gone will be Ion’s brief flicker of a notion of some kind of a poetic wholeness, of which he is master, so that he can claim in this respect to speak equally well on all passages of a Homeric poem.

[Theoretical aside from jlb: If philosophy is a way of using language more rigorously and more according to the logos — or “logically,” then is poetry inherently anti-philosophical? Is rigorous dialectical thinking limited to the transparent or expository or “pointing” way of using of language? This is the origin of the age-old quarrel between poetry and philosophy that still bedevils our academy in the current wars between cultural studies and the hard sciences. Does language secure itself and its truth in the concrete empirical things to which it points, or does it create and construct its own fictional “worlds”? This is quite a contretemps. And Plato placed it at the very heart of the Western philosophical project. And he did so — in this dialogue! So do you think that literary theory is not crucial to Western thought?]

So, we must ask, who here has a power of knowing-how-to-do the “work” of rhapsodike? Not Ion. Socrates, on the other hand, will take over from here on out, in performing the passages of Homer from memory, and these passages will grow longer and longer and longer as the dialogue draws near its end. Socrates will even take over Ion’s own part in the conversation, performing both Ion’s role and his own in front of Ion, who becomes the audience at Socrates’ performances.

Who, then, understands what he is doing, here? Who wins the ironical contest of rhapsodes, which is the dialogue called Ion?

And yet, Socrates’ practice of Homeric “interpretation” is very strange indeed. He simply, flat-footedly, interprets each epic passage as though it were an expository description of some subject-matter always belonging to some other art, and serving no telos within the narrative beyond that. This is a reductionism of the most extreme kind. It denies to the poet the power of using language in a manner different from that of the new dialectician – in spite of the fact that every Greek on the Street knew perfectly well that poietike is a “productive art,” and that what the poiet (“maker”) makes is precisely a poiema, an elegant “made-thing,” which is also called a poiei-sis, or the making that results from an active and purposeful process of making that kind of thing. (Click here for more on these Greek words.)

But Ion never resists Socrates’ imposition of his own distinctly strange practice of “rhapsodike” upon its own practitioner. The argumentation of the dialogue is over. The rest of it will be composed of Socrates’ increasingly extreme and quite hilarious high jinx as he takes over the role of rhapsode from Ion, reciting from memory passages of Homer that grow increasingly lengthy, and then discoursing about the subject matters of each passage and pointing to the ikes that would rightfully “speak well” of them. It’s almost, in a way, a near parody of the new project of the liberal arts and sciences that Plato is contemplating.  This will lead us into the funniest denoument in all of the Socratic dialogues, and then Ion will go (innocently?) on his way. (But the laughter of the gods may be ringing in our ears….)

And yet, based simply on the Greek words themselves if nothing else, it is perfectly apparent, isn’t it, that a poet possesses the power of knowing how to do a certain work, and that the poet’s ergon is the making of poems, and that this is done out of language. Furthermore, this is precisely what Plato’s greatest student Aristotle will say about the art of poetry in his famous treatise, the Poetics. Aristotle will also say that poietike is not to be judged by the standards of politike (the ike directed toward the public good), because the art of poetry is a different art and therefore it has a different telos. This is an application of Socrates’ theory of the ike to poietike at last! (And poietike will have a different orthotike, and a different to prepon or fittingness. Nonetheless, Aristotle argues that an excellent poiesis can serve an important, formative, civic function,  as we’ve seen, by exercising, purging, and restoring balance in the emotional life of citizens.)

So we have a very strange sight going on before us here in Ion. It’s a compellingly important aporia. A “sticking point” or “impasse” – the kind of “wonder”-producing stumbling block or contradiction or anomaly that Aristotle says in the Metaphysics is the place where philosophy always truly begins. (Think of those few small anomalies in the later 19th century, in black body radiation and in electro-magnetism, that no one suspected would give rise, through wonder-ing, to the philosophical brilliance of Einstein’s dialectical reconstruction of the Newtonian physical universe. “It seemed to me” that the thoery of electro-magnetism “ought to be symmetrical,” he explained! You see how this is the very same Western thought, however we try to get away from it….)

So we see before us Socrates practicing the new lucidity (it belongs to Plato surely) of the philosophical way of life, theorized as a pursuit of formal knowing through the ikes, with a view toward the good (practice of) life and the civic good of the polis. Socrates has set forth an account (a logos) of all the formal features that might identify a genuine ike, as opposed to mere sham and pretense, according to a certain trajectory of thought, and it has much to commend it. He has done all of this in language, and it is a strikingly new kind of rational or proportionate or reasonable employment of language. It is a careful talking–back-and-forth that works its way deeper into the formal structure of that which is to be known. It is dialectic. It is the new language of thought and inquiry that will be practiced from now on in the West, all through Roman and medieval Christian philosophy and theology and by among the Renaissance Christian humanists as well.


But there is a problem here. Surely Socrates has a “power of knowing,” conferred on him by the art of dialectical analysis, but he has chosen to enact and put-to-work his dialectical art in relation to the distinctly odd case of poietike. Is there an art of poetry? Is poetry a mode of thought that equips one with a lucid understanding of a formal kind of thing and confers the power of knowing how to do well all the actions associated with it? Granted, Ion cannot make poems, but can he interpret them, and can he explicate the poet’s activities of making, according to the Form-al nature of the epic?

Apparently not. Ion never brings up anything like this. But then, he is never allowed to, either. Socrates insists on challenging and then routing poetry out of the arena of thought, by treating it as though it uses language in exactly the same expository or diegetical manner in which other disciplines use language.

But those other disciplines are not concerned with kinds of things that are made out of language. They use language instrumentally, to discuss and formalize and communicate the results of their disciplinary thinking and knowing. There are precisely two arts that do not use language in the standard dialectical manner: rhetoric and poetry. And Plato notoriously has problems with both of them. (It is commonly thought that Plato resented any rival to the dialectic he pursued so earnestly, and that he thought that non-dialectical language was false or pseudo-language, that it could never be “true.” This is of course how the British scientific rationalists read Plato, and why Nietzsche at times furiously  reviled what Socrates and Plato had come to represent.)

However, in the Republic, every other argument against poetry in Ion is developed further, except this one. This one, which adroitly sidesteps the whole issue of the poem as  one whole kind of thing, and instead reduces language to its ostensible or “pointing” function – this argument or approach is altogether dropped. Instead, Plato’s Socrates there affords us a fine technical analysis of the non-expository or “mimetic” use of language. In fact, it is this analysis (Rep 3) that will provide the technical apparatus Aristotle will use in his own treatise to validate calling poetic “making” a high mode of thought, one that is “philosophical” in its own right.

So what is going on here? Well might you ask!

Right now, it seems to me, we are reading Ion on its own ostensible or “pointing” level, as though its words are transparent and refer us directly to the things they are talking about; as though this dialogue is itself a piece of extended dialectical “talking about.” And it is.

But language can also be something that is fashioned into building blocks and then into a built-thing, and this seems to be forgotten in the Ionian dialectic. (Whited out, erased.)

There is also a lot of playing around going on here with the art of rhetoric,  and this will be seen best in the next segment of Ion, which I like to call “the contest of rhapsodes.” (It’s an entirely one-sided contest, after which Socrates will also assume the role of the judge of rhapsodes, at the very end of the dialogue.) In fact, at the end of our next segment, Ion will make his one solitary stab-in-the-dark of a theoretical assertion about the art of poetry, and it will actually concern the art of rhetoric, not poetry at all. But heck, that’s close enough, especially for Ion! Rhetoric, after all, is essential to the poet in practicing the poet’s own art. If, that is, poetry has its own art….

So next time, we’ll look at the rhetorical structuring that is going on in the language of the Ion – and that becomes especially manifest in the next segment – in addition to the Ion’s ostensible dialectical argumentation. And so we’ll finish up everything next time, except for the amusing conclusion.

Then we will have acheived our telos, we will have had our story told, the story that is Ion, and the fun can really begin! Then I can explain poststructuralism, when we can begin to look at the Ion as itself an elegant structure of poietike. And that’s where the Platonic fireworks will really begin, where we will be in a position to see the always-already of “deconstruction,” if you will, and where the question of “what Plato means” and the depth of Plato’s analysis of the problem of truth, can really emerge for our dialectical engagement.


19 Responses to “Wily Socrates # 7 — The End (the telos) Is in Sight”

  1. DWM Says:

    why do you tease me fireworks. I’m ready for them. Bring it on!

  2. Janet Says:

    Okay DWM, I’ll tell you why. It’s because I don’t think we CAN get to the fireworks of poststructuralism “from” where we are in the post-analytical thought-world of North America (and Great Britain). The culture wars derive from the fact that Anglo-American rationalist empiricism (even though it’s in ruins for those who practice it — a failed project — it’s still in our heads) can’t get us past the divide between the “hard” sciences and the “soft” cultural studies, as we MUST still view them. (This gives rise to the extreme relativist positions some social constructionists take over here. Richard Rorty’s pragmatism and Stanley Fish’s relativism won’t cut it. They can’t guide us through to the other side.)

    So I’m trying to use the classical Greek approach and vocabulary to build a new heuristic framework within which Continental thought might be apprehended in its rigor, by both sides of our divide, because I believe the importance of the Saussurean revolution is precisely that it moves us right through the impasse of “empirical reality” versus “it’s all in your head” dualism we’re stuck in over here!!! You are a perfect example, yourself!

    Now I happen to know that you, DWM, don’t need the “bridge” to poststructuralism and Continental thought. Okay. You already think more holistically, metaphorically, and out-from-lived-experience than in the algorithmic fashion of scientific rationalism. Artists and musicians and other “formalists” do this intutitively and because of their disciplines, I think.

    But — you have a hang-up about the hard sciences! (Ah ha! Got your there!) So you’re still impaled upon the horns of this dilemma and ravaged by this home-grown dualism of ours in the English-speaking world. Because science is so beautiful and so compelling and so efficacious as a way of knowing….

    So I think you have to take these “baby steps” with me in our first reading through of *Ion*, before you can “hear” my defense of a poststructuralism that still embraces the certainty of engagement with reality on every level, including that of the natural world.

    Your comment is very helpful in helping me see the difficulties of putting such a program across!

    So while I’m on the subject…. The first reading of Ion uses language in its ostensive function of “pointing” to “things.” Bertrand Russell and most scientists today think of this “empirical” grounding of their formulas or words as the royal road to “reality.” We have to take this “level” seriously, because this is an engagement of reality. It’s just that in the very same location, we’re negotiating other structures that impend against our ostensive signifiers. And we ourselves are locations where all these signifying systems interact. I don’t want to speak to scientists or to cultural/Continental thinkers. I want to speak to that place inside us where these two are separated by an impassible chasm, by the meaning-structures we have in place. Don’t we have to have a new language and vocabulary to do that?

    My readings of Plato aren’t the ones you’ll find in the scholarship of either our own Anglo-Analytic classical philosophy or of Continental readings of Plato such as Derrida”s. (They’re closer to the German Greek scholarship of Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger.)

  3. Janet Says:

    In other words, I’m not stating the obvious! I just make it seem that way by being so lucid. (ha!)

  4. DWM Says:

    I don’t have a hang up – as you put it – I’m just had my share and now I’m ready for desert! While we’re on the topic of Anglo-Analytics, might I recommend you spend some time with a quality AA, namely Nick Wolterstorff, and especially his two books Art in Action and Divine Discourse. Without going into it, I suggest he has a fantastic grasp of this bridge, while choosing to work in a fairly realist mode, circumventing a lot of the Kantian baggage his peers have. More on that later, maybe…

  5. Janet Says:

    DWM, I think he’s admirable, but he still ends up in the disconcerting twilight hinterland of foundationless foundationalism, and knows it. Realism, however critical and liberated, just won’t get us there — inho of course!

  6. DWM Says:

    Get us where?

    And, what will?

    I would disagree though, about the foundationless foundationalism, although I’m not even sure what that looks like! :) His Art in Action works more with the social practices that works of art participate in. That _seems_ to be in a completely different arena than the Plantigas and Alstons of the world reside in. Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, though…. But I doubt it, in my NSHO !!


  7. DWM Says:

    Maybe one more helpful clarification on WOlterstorff is that he, like RIcoeur, affirms the preverbal aspect of art (whatever that may be). As such, aesthetics and the philosophy of art, both Analytic and Continental, turned toward art criticism and merely talked art to death. But that talk wasn’t really about the art itself, but just talk about art criticism. Wolt. emphasis on examining the “reality” – what a loaded term – is more about looking at the social practices that engender the work of art.
    On the similarities of Analytic and Cont. I found this quote enlightening:
    “Where Continental and analytic philosophers disagree is not the priority of the aesthetic but on the benefit to be gained from our contemplative engagement with the aesthetic dimension of works of art. Even that disagreement should be seen within context, however. On this point there has always been disagreement within he aestheticist tradition; it is, I would say, the principal point of dispute among those who share the aestheticist ideology.” Wolterstorff’s position, on the other hand, is, as my grad advisor chuckled after reading my thesis, more akin to the speech-act theory.
    Hope that’s helpful for understanding how I’m coming at Wolterstorff.

  8. Janet Says:

    No, I really admire Wolterstorff, Dan. Thanks for the recommendations and comments. Maybe he’s breaking through. But I just don’t see how we let go of old-style objectivism without ending up in relativism or pragmatism on this side of the Atlantic. (It’s reading Barbara Herrnstein Smith on social constructionism and constructivism — discussed in a past post — that finally convinced me it just isn’t happening, as well as reading courageous people like Rorty and Wolterstorff earlier.)

    I think there just has to be a better epistemological intervention for our era than realism, one that can negotiate its way convincingly through the narrow passage between Scylla and Charybdis (objectivism and relativism) and come out on the other side, with science and cultural studies and theology all equally validated (and limited) as ways of knowing. This is going to take a sea change, of course, in relation to language, truth, and the natural world. (You see, I don’t content myself with any LITTLE problems, do I?)

    You’re working on art and aesthetics! Hurray. And my best to little Henry.

  9. DWM Says:

    I see what you’re driving at, although for one like Wolterstorff who I think is trying to live on both sides of the atlantic by reading Ricoeur and Barth, for example, as well as engaging Aesthetic and Philosophical Theology throughout his careeer, I think a nuanced critical realism seems to be getting the job done.

    On the other hand, he isn’t – and most philosophers and theologians aren’t – engaging social constructionism and contructivism, so there may be an impasse in our conversation, unless you can answer the question: What will get it done?

  10. Janet Says:

    Well my dear DWM! I think the way is through Saussure and poststructuralism, considered as epistemology and ontology. But “our” side of the great divide already has the advantages of that for our own work, but we don’t SEE it as an intervention that also rescues the sciences from scientism and from social constructionism.

    But in order for me to show this for both sides, I keep thinking I need to give us a whole new vocabulary, which I’m trying to do by returning to Plato and Aristotle’s working theory of the ike, the liberal arts and sciences, in my first-level read-through of Ion….

    Now I want to ask you this, because you can take it! Didn’t I say this back in my comment above of August 8 at 9:14 am? Now I’m teasing you, but I’m also kinda baffled, because you aren’t the only one I can’t get to see what I’m doing and why!!! Or should I attribute it to little Henry!?

    PS Yes, Wolsterstorff is really good and this appraoch works, again, for our side of the divide.

    So, the problem with critical realism is that it bears within it the fact that it developed out of an epistomology — Cartesian — in which the individal mind’s engagement with reality isn’t mediated in the dense way that the collective world and its meaning-systems mediate it. Once we add this in, the “real” part of realism is compromised and modified even for realists. I think we have to go back to the paradigm of the phoneme, frankly, and I will do that in other posts, but with Plato and the Ion I am going back to a pre-Cartesian view of knowing, an originary vision of the liberal arts, that avoids getting into that set of problems in the first place, and restores a lot of assumptions we lost that we cannot retrieve from the current standpoint. I.E. we can’t get there from here…. Does this make any sense? Does my 9:14 am comment make any sense? Hey, thanks for hanging in here. It’s very helpful to me.

  11. Janet Says:

    I suppose a project such as I’ve outlined requires the appropriate format of a book, not blog posts.

    It’s just that I wanted the dialogic interactions. And, on the bright side, I certainly have gotten enough of them to inform the book…. Thanks to my wonderful interlocutors. (And Rick, and the quantum mechanics — 60 pages of it — were essential, so thanks, you “science guys”!)

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  14. the poet Says:

    Janet, all the while I read Wily Socrates #7 I was thinking, Janet HAS to read Anne Carson, and now that I’ve read this letter thread, I’m even more certain. I’ll bring you one of her books next time I see you. She’s a classicist (maybe you know her?) and a poet, a nice bridge of her own sort between various disciplines.

  15. the poet Says:

    and here is my totally naive and (perhaps) irritating question for the teacher. does socrates kick the poets out of the republic *seriously* or is he being the devil’s advocate? i have a friend (okay, my husband) who used to bring up socrates on the poets all-the-time until i threw a fit and said never to say it again (i *am* after all, the poet!)

    i also wondered about the passage late in #7: “Plato’s Scocrates there affords us a fine technical analysis of the non-expository or ‘mimetic’ use of language. In fact, it is this analysis …that will provide the technical apparatus Aristotle will use in his own treatise to validate calling poetic ‘making’ a high mode of thought, one that is ‘philosophical’ in its own right.” So, teacher, does Aristotle get away with calling poetry “philosophical,” given Socrates’ philosophical refusal of poetry? If you respond to this post, I think this is the one point where I can most use more light.

    And if your response is, “Can you push that question a little farther?” I think this is where I would go. I don’t know a lot about soccer (for instance), but when there’s a gorgeous play, I know that it’s gorgeous, despite my ignorance. And doesn’t it seem that we can know so little about — about anything — but a brilliant poem on the topic will elucidate the topic, in addition to being a great poem. One gets a sense, listening to a great teacher (similarly) of authenticity.

    i’m feeling a little inadequate to make further comments, though one thought i’ve had has been on a soccer essay i recently read –on mastery–and the theory that it takes 10 years to master a complex or higher skill, such as soccer. hmm, the soccer ike?

  16. Janet Says:

    [much of this reply went into the 8-12-07 post called “Lets Play Soccer!”]
    Yes, I agree, the soccer ike! And one who is a master of that ike has a “power of knowing” how to “do a certain work (ergon)”! This is what truth is, by the way, being changed in this way by the reality of something. But you never grasp the whole of the subject-matter or grasp it from the ultimately “right” analysis, really. You just keep working your way deepr into it with practice and formalizations and the dialectic between them and coaching and discussion and practical application and constant testing on the field and so on….

    So the idea of truth as “a correct idea” that exactly corresponds to “the simple physical facts” simply isn’t very helpful, or is very subsidiary to what truth-seeking is about…. Yes, scientific formulas and theories do correspond with the physical realities! But not in the manner of simple idea or formula to simply factual state of affairs. It’s so much more complex and so much less “nailed down” than that.

    Both the evolution of our hypotheses and formulai, and the physcial state itself, are bigger and more dynamic and more mysterious and we know e have to be more creative and open to the future than that was commonly understood in the older scientistic outlook…. (Okay, that’s another weblog conversation, and Michael Polanyi puts it best.)

    It’s weird that science and scientific rationalism sought a “thing-language” with a mechanistic algorithmic reasoning, to ground empirical truth solidly, and now scientists aren’t doing that at all and they know it’s not what they do. (Same with mathematicicians. I’m working on a piece on this shift.)

    Bethany , the question you raise about “what Plato really thinks on the poets” (and the question of “if Aristotle gets away with his resounding defense of poietike”)) is what my entire reading-through of Ion is for!! I am doing all of this to put us in a position to analyze the question with some degree of cogency and rigor!

    And I happen to think it is about the most fascinating question in the world. It bears on matters ranging from science vs cultural studies to the Logos as the second person of the Trinity and what “the Word” can mean.

    So are you asking me, like the scientists asked me, why I “can’t just say it”? I can’t just say it because the “answer” is precisely something that cannot be “said.” It has to be done and experienced. I’m trying to offer an apprenticeship, so to speak, so that I can eventually invest you with a power of knowing and a way of doing a certain kind of work that is “poststructuralism” as I read it and that has a great deal in common with classical Greek insights into the arts and sciences, into the structure and nature of human coming-to-know.”

    It’s like someone were asked to “just say” how to ride a bicycle (Polanyi’s analogy), when first you have to be given a bicycle (a new system of vocabulary and concepts, a new or different sense of what a person is and what knowing is, a new power of knowing) and then I can run along beside you while you try it out until you get the hang of it yourself! And then. on the question of the poets, you will be able to “dwell” in the space that Plato opens in order to situate this problem and understand why it has never been put to rest for Western thought and culture.

    So please, please hang in here ! And I can’t/won’t be hurried! You have to do the work on Ion and the Greek vocabulary first — and please ask all the questions you folks want! And I’ll try to make it clear that when I discuss the Greek vocabulary, scholars would agree, but the way I put it all together is my own, though based on a number of Greco-European ways of thinking (rather than on Anglo-American logic and analysis, which begins with the standard isolation of “word,” “idea,” and “object” referred to, to which syntactical relationship corresponding to factual relationship was superadded, in the Russell, Carnap, Quine tradition).

    Aren’t there words, ideas, and objects? When language gets done with us, we have the kinds of minds that can point to all three. We have been endowed with a power of knowing. But how did these “results” come into being so they can be used for human thought and perception? What kind of engagements with reality and formalizing processes result in constituting these entities for us to use? How do those beings who have the language ike engage in coming to know various kinds of reality? And what if language can offer us several different ikes of language use? What indemic, chronic conundrums are bound to result?

    The dialogue Ion is going to turn out to “be” dialectic, rhetoric, and poetic. By “doing” all of these, it’s going to be “about” all these questions and these conflicting “powers of knowing.” Believe me, this stuff is endlessly fascinating, and especially once we finally have our formal apparatus and possess the power to do its certain kind of work, in place. But that means our minds have to be given a new ike for thought. And it’s an ike that works between and in the intersection of other ikes! (And this is one reason every text is constituted by a force that that inevitably deconstructs it, though Derrida doesn’t usually come at it this way….)

    So keep doing your drills in dribbling, passing, and shots on goal, okay?


    …fascinating coversation—glad I happened upon it — At this time, concerning my level of education [knowing?], I am only able to barely keep up with this level of conversation [without having to research every other word]…but I will continue to eavesdrop on this wonderful sharing [thanks!]…

    In reference to what has been discussed concerning ‘Logos’ or ‘an answer’ and about how words get in the way: Janet wrote: ” I can’t just say it”…”…the answer is precisely the something that cannot be said…” —“it must be done..experienced…”—On that I am right with you, Janet [ tho I can’t explain it— which proves to me that I am able to grasp your idea on this point!–I would need 10 years of study to catch up on all other points –Saussere, etc???>]…However, I do have a contribution to make in the form of a question: Is anyone familiar with the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius [ 5th or 6th c Christian mystic]? He is/was a master of using words/language [ manufacture of the brain] to lead the ‘mind’ [ back?] into the realm of itself—back to the realm of ‘knowledge’ before and/or beyond language-dependent knowing—into the realm of Logos/God/Word…I just took a quickie course on his writings and I do believe his ideas are relevant to your conversation [somehow?!].

    thanks again…I will stay tuned into these wanderings–Wow!

  18. Janet Says:

    Thanks, Lynn. Welcome. No, I haven’t spent a lot of time with Pseudo-Dionysius, but he was quite influential, of course, and someone was talking about him on one of the weblogs linked to The Land of Unlikeness recently, so poke around there. (Link is under my Blogroll.)

    Actually, you bring up an interesting point though. The mystical relationship to or beyond language is fascinating, but it is not precisely what I refer to when I say “I cannot just “say” it.”

    I’m thinking instead of what happens when you think first about language on the level where it “points” directly to its meanings and is available for dialectic or philosophical work. THEN, you think about how language (even the same language) can be structured into other shapes — specifically rhetorical structures and poetic structures. These also point to meanings but in a different way: on other formal levels.

    With the poetic structure, the mimetic speaking as a whole must be dealt with and related to the real situation. This means the same language can convey two or three very different structures of meaning and we are thrown back and forth and around from one to another as interpreters.

    Sometimes this complex structure of language can enact a situation that is so difficult and so grievous that no simple interpretation or resolution is possible, because the point of the whole communication is to show (not state) how opposed the different motivations could be. And we aren’t meant to respond — “Oh, it’s indeterminacy. Cool!” No, we’re meant to say, “Oh, what hell this would be (for the communicator, for the rest of us) if the motive were this rather than that…and they are so very much alike.”

    At this point, the comment I jsut made probably isn’t very clear but we are just finishing up reading Ion on the dialectic level in its ostensible meanings.

  19. Janet Says:

    Oh, Lynn, it was over at Per Caritatem, where Cynthia has a paper you can read on Dionysius and Marion and the God beyond Being. Here’s the link:

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