Historical Rhetorics/Plato's Relationship to Rhetoric/Memory, Myth, and Rhetoric in Plato's "Phadreus"

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Frentz, Thomas S. "Memory, Myth, and Rhetoric in Plato's Phadreus. RSQ 36.3 (Summer 2006): 243-262.

Frenz, working from the tension existing between two opposing interpretations of Phaedrus (Griswold’s “pro-Platonic” reading and Derrida’s “anti-Platonic reading”), views Phaedrus as “a text bent on recovering a lost form of spiritual knowledge in the soul” (246) and examines the presence of an “interior sense of memory and myth” in the text (244), leading the author to conclude that Plato’s dialectic form of rhetoric functions as a “living myth” that enables both the participants (Socrates and Phaedrus) and the readers to heighten consciousness and gain self-awareness (245).

Griswold’s interpretation of Phaedrus focuses on the presence of hypomnesis and anamnesis throughout the text: the danger of hypomnesis is revealed in the early moments of the dialogue, when Phaedrus intends to memorize the written version of Lysias’s speech (his memorization here is focused on passive regurgitation, rather than a critical examination of the truth behind Lysias’s words) while the benefits of anamnesis as a path to self-knowledge are highlighted in Socrates’s allegory of the charioteer and two horses (one comes to know oneself as a result of glimpsing particulars that are reminiscent of the true forms) (246-249).

Derrida’s interpretation of the text is hinged on his belief that meaning is based on différance as well as on the belief that Plato views “Being as self-presence through speech” (258): focusing on the Thamus/Theuth myth in the latter portion of the dialogue, Derrida points to the irony in Socrates’s statement that “good” speech is “written in the soul” (Phaedrus, 278), arguing that this statement implies that writing already inhabits speech, thus implying that hypomnesis inhabits anamnesis, imploding the opposition within both sets of terms (253-256).

Frenz works outward from the interpretations of Derrida and Griswold, arguing that meaning in language is a result of both differences and similarities (evident in Socrates’s explanation of the soul as resembling a charioteer) and that Phaedrus does not represent self-knowledge as emerging from the “living speech” of an individual, but rather from the relationships between characters, evident in the dialogic form of the text. Frenz then expands Griswold’s focus on memory within the individual myths present in the text to argue that the text itself can be read as a “living myth” (containing the three stages of a typical hero myth: departure, initiation, and return) that “offers a dynamic model of how self-understanding within the myth might unfold for the reader outside of it” (259).