Penelope’s Night Work: Negative Thinking in Greek Philosophy
The repression of the works of Greek skeptical and critical thinkers-who, as one modern author noted, “have been fallaciously criticized or simply ignored more than any other major group of thinkers in the history of western thought”2-has led to skewed per ceptions of the general shape of that history. Nietzsche, for example,
denounced the Greek philosophers for equating truth with logic and failing to consider that their logic might be merely another rhetoric,
that is, another mode of persuasion. In fact, this criticism only applies to Plato’s “gods.” Similarly, Derrida’s reading of Nietzsche himself as “the first knowingly to unwrite or deconstruct the history of meta physics”3 ignores the fact that the history of metaphysics was being unwritten as it was being written, by Gorgias, Antisthenes, Diogenes, Sextus Empiricus, and many others. These thinkers, rather like the Derridean deconstructors today, sought out and brought to light the aporiai or impasses of thought; they focused on the blind spots and repressed contradictions of texts, and, by rhetorical subversion of
logic, treated it as just another rhetoric. A certain amount of what
critical and phenomenological thinkers have accomplished in this century had already been accomplished in this neglected, and even hidden, branch of our own tradition.