“It will be obvious to anyone who reads these pages with perception that Plato is concerned to state and defend his own position in the matter of authorship. How could his writing of dialogues be of any value compared with the ‘living word’ of the master whom he por-” (Phaedrus, pg 162)
Although I’m not certain of who write this argument, or how it develops after this page, I would like to begin my post for this week’s readings with this broken excerpt from the end of the Phaedrus pages because it made me think of Paul Kameen, a professor of comp instructors (Like Kory), who wrote a book titled “Writing/Teaching”. In it, Kameen proposes, contrary to the traditional way of reading Plato dialogues, that teachers read the dialogues as though Socrates is not a direct mouthpiece for Plato, that there is a gap, some distance between Plato, the author, and Socrates, his principal character in the dialogues. This is more of a literary stance to take towards reading Plato, but a stance that creates an interesting space in which to read not only Socrates much more critically, but also to read Plato’s critics much more critically.
For example, when we adopt Kameen’s lens for reading Plato, what happens to our reading of Ong’s assertion that:
“One weakness in Plato’s position is that he put these misgivings about writing into writing…” ?
Or: “The technology of writing was not merely useful to Plato for broadcasting his critique of writing, but it also had been responsible for bringing the critique into existence.” ?
Or: “Although there was no way for Plato to be explicitly aware of the fact, his philosophically analytic thought, including his analysis of the effects of writing, was possible only because of the effects that writing was having on mental processes.” ?
Or: Plato’s entire epistemology was unwittingly a programmed rejection of the archaic preliterate world of thought and discourse.”?(pages 28-29)
Ong seems quite comfortable in his literate vs. oral snobbery, comfortable enough to assume that, since Plato was barely on this side of the cusp of a literate era, he could not really have been aware of what literacy was doing to his teacher’s, and his own thinking. That, to me, seems equivalent to saying that since cellphones, computers and facebook were all invented within (most of) our lifetimes, that we cannot really be all that aware of the effects that they are having on our consciousness(es). Ong seems to be saying that he and his contemporaries may more fully understand what it was like to be an ancient Greek than did the ancient Greeks themselves. I am not by any means discounting all of what Ong has to say, but I am a bit uncomfortable with his twenty-five-hundred-year-old backseat arrogance.
I wonder what we might (re)imagine Plato to have been saying about Socrates’ stance on writing, if we also imagine that Plato was fully aware of, comfortable with, and excited about the irony of putting his teacher Socrates’ misgivings about writing into writing. What kind of character, and teacher, does Socrates then become to us? I have not yet read the Reid and the Baron articles, but I’d like to hear from anyone who has, what those authors might be able to add to this discussion.