Plato: Socrates and Phaedrus about Writing 37/40

April 5, 2007 at 3:13 am | Posted in Literature, Writing | 11 Comments
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SOCRATES: Yes, because there’s something odd about writing, Phaedrus, which makes it exactly like painting. The offspring of painting stand there as if alive, but if you ask them a question they maintain an aloof silence. It’s the same with written words: you might think they were speaking as if they had some intelligence, but if you want an explanation of any of the things they’re saying and you ask them about it, they just go on and on forever giving the same single piece of information. Once any account has been written down, you find it all over the place, hobnobbing with completely inappropriate people no less than with those who understand it, and completely failing to know who it should and shouldn’t talk to. And faced with rudeness and unfair abuse it always needs its father to come to its assistance, since it is incapable of defending or helping itself.

Plato: Phaedrus. Translated by Robin Waterfield. Oxford University Press 2002, p. 70.

Lent “Daily” Lent – Day 37: Easter is coming soon! Soon I will be stuffing my face with cake, Wiener Schnitzel and Jagertee! Cookies, Brathendl and beer! Espresso with sugar, Gulasch and Blaufränkisch!


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  1. Hello –
    Can you give me a primer on Phaedrus? What does he mean to you?
    I’m sure I can google it, but i’d like your first hand impressions if you don’t mind.


  2. That particular piece matters to me because it’s typical for it criticism of media technologies – here, a fundamental one: writing.

    Many traits of Plato’s discourse about writing anticipate of later discourses about new media technologies – in particular the argument that they are a technique of make-believe, and that they represent a debasement of knowledge.

  3. Hey Jana
    I didnt know you were interested in Plato and Socrates..if there is one ancient philosopher who has fired my imagination, it’s Socrates. Unfortunately, I havent been able to read much about him and his philosophy in an organized earlier attempts to read him didnt go well as I got entangled in some abstract stuff..But Iam sure there are books or translations about him which are more readable.. Do you know of any good source?
    Although Iam more focussed into reading History nowadays and will move to Philosophy little bit later though sometimes they are inseparable from each other.Btw, an American friend of mine ( Never mind that he is 76 years old recommended Study of History by Arnold’s the most comprehensive source for human history till 20th in Amazon seems pretty positive..Iam seriously thinking of buying it..
    I recently read an article on how Germans perceive Americans.. here is the link..
    Let me know what you think of,1518,474636,00.html
    Take it easy!

  4. I am afraid I don’t 😦 I wish I were a Socrates buff myself.

    And yes, I would subscribe to that. I wouldn’t go as far as believing as that the US are more dangerous than Iran, simply because Iran’s actions are completely unfathomable. Actually they’re not. The scary thing about Iran is that Ahmadinejad means what he says. But yes, I also believe the the Bush administration is dangerous, and evil. And it scares me to the bone that also GWB means what he says. And maybe the US does scare me more because they have more power and weapon at their ahdn. I guess I am just a typical German:-)

    Thanks for sharing this link, that’s the coincidentally the English online edition of the magazine (the only one i have ever subscribed to in print) that I read every week;-)

  5. Although I also have to say that they never write as Germany critical in their German edition. Must have something to do with the German zest for chastening themselves.

  6. hi again!
    I was thinking about the original posting…and the debasement of knowledge. What I find interesting in painting and writing is that fundamentally what it is, is the capturing of physical movements. The physical movements of the author or painter. And with these physical movements that are recorded in time, the author or painter attempts to transfer knowledge and or feeling.

    The authors puts the pen down to paper and makes a mark, lifts the pen up and some precise moment, marks again, so on and so on. But these marks taken together form words, which form sentences, paragraphs. They are simply words…and they go on giving the same piece of information over and over again.

    But what’s interesting, to me, anyhow, is the *meaning* that I place on those words. And my meaning might be completely different than your meaning or even the authors meaning.
    I suppose that is what is meant by the *debasement of knowledge*. I would think it more as knowledge just shifted slightly. Knowledge translation that is slightly askew.

    Any how I’m in the middle of a book titled ‘zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance’ by robert pirsig. In it he references himself as *phaedrus* and I’m not really certain what he’s trying to say by doing that. I’m sure I’ll figure it out sooner or later, but I need to read the entire thing before I read some else’s comments on the book. I don’t want any thought contamintation before I finish. 🙂


  7. Yes, you are talking like a typical German now
    If US for you means Bush and his power, then yes, Iam with you. But, I think Americans in general are much better and rational. Germany criticizes US quite often and Iam sure they dont like it..Americans dont like anybody criticizing them..
    Some people think that one of the major reasons that Babel, a cross cultural extravaganza and one of the finest movies made last year, didnt win Oscars was because in a way, it was critical of US and the way it has reacted after 9/11. I dont know if you watched the movie, but if had, you will know what I mean.
    Have a nice weekend!

  8. I hate Bush… though I have nothing against Americans per se…

    Was watching the movie Hitler yesterday… It struck me in a BIG way… As a German, whats ur view on him Jana?

  9. My view on Hitler or on the movie (btw, which movie? The downfall by Hirschbiegel?

    It’s interesting to be asked this question – I never wondered what my view on Hitler was – straightforward disgust was the only possible answer. Difficult to express my view in a few words though – my biggest anxiety regarding Hitler is that he showed how corruptible and open to influence mankind is… and as a German, because of what happened in Germany 70 years ago, I feel obliged to never let such an atrocity happen again. I suppose that explains to a certain degree why so many Germans detest the Bush administration.

  10. Omg okay so Plato is this Greek Philosopher correct?

  11. That’s be the one.

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