chapter  8
12 Pages

ACT IV: Fathers (and sons), Mother Courage (and her children), and the dog, the cave, and the beef


Ever since the Sophists ran circles around Socrates, Plato and his followers have sought revengeby staging the triumphof reasonover rhetoric. Thepractice persists: Nearly all students of political science cut their theory teeth on the Socratic dialogues, a practice that gives them a good start in the Western tradition of what the French literary critic Jacques Derrida referred to in Of Grammatology as logocentrism, the metaphysical conceit that the spoken word is closer to reality, always prior to and therefore more authentic than the written word.1 But it is in a later work, The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, that, inspired by his discovery in Oxford’s Bodleian Library of a postcard reproduction of a thirteenth-century illustration that shows Socrates at a table writing while Plato directs him from behind, Derrida addressed the distance between the writer, speaker, and reader. He reverses the modernist proclivity for the instructive dialogue in a deconstructive reading of what he calls “[P]lato’s dream: To make Socrates write, and to make him write what he wants, his last command, his will. To make him write what he wants by letting him write what he wants.”2 In effect, Derrida sends the postcard back to the original writer, stamped address unknown, message untraceable, destiny forgotten.