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David L. Roochnik PLATO'S CRITIQUE OF POSTMODERNISM TO begin, die title is absurd. How can Plato criticize a movement whose birth was only yesterday?1 To assert that he can seems perverse. Further, and perhaps worse: even if we dispense widi our ordinary sense of historical time and allow Plato to comment on postmodernism , who would care? After all, he is the ultimate father-figure, the pure logocentrist and purveyor of a metaphysics of presence. Ofcourse he criticizes postmodernism. To assert that he does so is trivially true and hardly worth comment.2 In what follows I address both diese objections. I argue, first, that one aspect of Plato's extraordinary genius is his ability to foresee, even to invent , new genres. A good example is Phaedrus 230b-c. Here, in the "plane tree passage," Socrates engages in what we would now call bucolic poetry, a genre usually credited to Theocritus some hundred years later. Apparently Plato devised, and then rejected, diis form ofpoetry.3 Something similar occurs in the Ion, die subject of this article.4 Here there is good evidence diat Plato comprehends, and dien criticizes, die dioughts diat underlie what we would now call postmodernism.5 I also argue mat diere is good reason to care about Plato's critique of postmodernism. It is not as simple-minded as one might suppose. It will not simply be a matter ofPlato invoking an "objective" world ofinvariable forms to refute such opponents as Nietzsche and Derrida. His treatment is more complex and surprising than diat. Furthermore, the Platonic critique can, I believe, perform a particularly useful service in today's academic community: it can temper the endiusiasm in whose grip many of the professors of postmodernism seem held. It can inject some critical distance between diese professors and dieir credo and so aid us all in coming to terms with diis new and often disturbing mode of diought. Ion is a rhapsode, a song-stitcher, able to recite Homeric poetry to a 282 David L. Roochnik283 captivated audience. He is a performer in whose eyes, and in diose ofhis listeners, appear tears when he sings of woeful Andromache, whose hair stands on edge when he recites the batde of Hektor and Achilles (535b-c). But Ion is more than a singer. He is, according to Socrates, a hermeneus, an interpreter of the "diought" (dianoia) of Homer as well. He "understands" die diought of, and "comprehends" diat which is said and meant by, die poet.6 As such, indeed only as such, can he be said to speak finely (kolas, 530c8) about Homer. In sum, Ion claims to possess a technë(530b6, b7, c8), a determinate knowledge or expertise about his subject, which he should be able to explain.7 Let me reiterate: the above is according to Socrates. In typical fashion Socrates has taken control of this conversation. It is he, not Ion, who first uses the word "techne" to describe Ion's capacities (530c6). It is he, not Ion, who insists upon using the highly intellectualized terms just cited above to characterize die rhapsode. Ion, it is true, agrees to Socrates' characterization. He says, "you speak truthfully, Socrates" (530c7). But Ion is not a good judge ofwhat is true.8 He admits he is easily seduced by diose who sound audioritative and, in general, seems to conform to the stereotype that ranks the rhapsodes as die most foolish of people.9 In odier words, Plato makes it clear that Socrates manipulates Ion. He pushes Ion into a highly intellectualized characterization of himself, one whose criteria Ion will not come close to meeting.10 By doing this, and by making Ion's lack of perspicaciousness clear, Plato invites the reader to ask: has Socrates accurately characterized die rhapsode? Perhaps the real, substantive, claim or gift ofdie rhapsode may be somediing quite different from Socrates' insinuation that he possesses a technë. We shall return to this issue shortly. The Ion is structured into diree parts.11 The first and die tiiird are refutations in which Socrates demonstrates diat Ion has no legitimate claim to a technë. The basic argument of die first elenchus (531a-533b) is this: Ifperson X...


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