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2 A Platonic View of Rhetorical Invention But how beautiful and legitimate the vivid and emphatic I of Socrates sounds! It is the I of infinite conversation, and the air of conversation is present on all its ways, even before his judges, even in the final hour in prison. This I lived in that relation to man which is embodied in conversation . It believed in the actuality of men and went out toward them. Thus it stood together with them in actuality and is never severed from it. Even solitude cannot spell forsakenness, and when the human world falls silent for him, he hears his daimonion say you. -Martin Buber, I and Thou MARTIN BUBER, IN I AND THOU, SPEAKS OF SOCRATES AS ONE who even in solitude embodies an awareness of the other, of Thou; his "I" is an "I of infinite conversation." 1 When the topic of rhetorical invention appears in contemporary composition theory, we are apt to hear much more about the I than about the Thou. Perhaps this disparity has arisen in part because we inherit from the Greeks a paradoxical view of rhetorical invention. On the one hand, we inherit a view that invention occurs through an inner dialogue with an internalized other; it is an "infinite conversation " similar to what Buber describes as taking place between Socrates' I and his daimonion. Such an interchange is essential to A Platonic View 11 Socratic thought, which comes to us by way of Plato. On the other hand, we find also in Plato a contrasting view of the individual as alone in the search for truth. Invention is seen as a private, asocial act of recollection aimed at uncovering the ultimate truth; invention , in this case, does not require others. "At the outset," says Lawrence Rosenfield, "Plato denied what was for Sophism the very foundation of man's humanness, his impulse to associate with his fellows within the social institution of the polis. He claimed that social intercourse necessarily destroys the philosophic act. Hence, solitude became a precondition for thought as he would have it understood." 2 Western thought has emphasized the latter view of rhetorical invention founded on a belief that truth is accessible by purely individual efforts. More particularly, composition theory and pedagogy in nineteenth and twentieth century America have been founded on a Platonic view of invention, one which assumes that the individual possesses innate knowledge or mental structures that are the chief source ofinvention. Invention, according to this view, occurs largely through introspective self~examination. Plato maintains that virtues (truth, justice, love) do not exist in the material world, but only in the mind in the shape of ideal forms: perfect prototypes for the natural world, forming an ideal pattern-world of a true, transcendent Reality. Before coming to earth, Plato tells us in the Phaedrus, the soul-"Reason's pilot"-visits this realm of ideal forms. Some souls see a great deal of Reality; others see less. But before leaving, all souls drink of the waters of Lethe, which make them forget the truth they have seen. \Vhen these souls are born in us on earth, we try to remember and express what is innate. Those who drank a great deal cannot rec~ ollect much at all; others remember more. Some truths are recovered gradually, developing like \\rings unfolding or plants growing from seeds. Whatever reality we attribute to phenomena in the natural world derives from their sharing to some limited extent in the Reality of ideal forms. Things of the natural world serve as reminders of that realm. The process of reasoning, Socrates tells Phaedrus, is "a remembering of what our soul once saw as it made its journey with a god, looking down upon what we now assert to be real and gazing upwards at what is Reality itself." 3 Thus, individuals come to know not by creating something new but by recollecting. 12 Invention as a Social Act Invention that proceeds from this perspective is a private activity carried out through introspection and directed by an innate mechanism . This view assumes that an individual possesses knowledge or the structure or mechanism to generate it and that the goal of invention is to express these innate materials, projecting them onto the outside world. Invention is the unfolding of the individual's ideas, feelings, personality, patterns, or voice, all ofwhich are seen as existing independently of others. Standards for judging what is invented do not exist objectively in the external world...


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