Erik Graff's Reviews > Plato and Postmodernism

Plato and Postmodernism by Steven Shankman
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Nov 22, 13

it was ok
bookshelves: philosophy
Recommended to Erik by: Ares Press
Recommended for: philosophy teachers
Read in November, 1995 — I own a copy , read count: 1

Representing papers from a symposium held at the University of Oregon in late 1991, Plato and Postmodernism may be recommended, with reservations, to "post-modern" critics and philosophers of language interested in the appropriation of Socrates/Plato to their agenda. The issue at hand is the distinction between Platonism and Plato, between metaphysics and inconclusive, albeit artful, argument. The nine essayists here agree there is something still of note in ancient Greek philosophy and attempt to adopt Plato as one of their own.

I admit to a certain skepticism here, finding some things of note myself in the old Socrates versus Plato distinction whereby Plato may be allowed a role as somewhat more than a mere critical "gadfly," as, in fact, the founder of a school of positive doctrine, the teacher of Aristotle and the political advisor of Syracuse. But there is no denying Socrates' eristic role and in these essays that is highlighted.

The essays are various in quality. Particularly recommended is L. Orsini's "An Act of Imaginative Oblivion" which, taking on the most obscure text of this secular canon, explains Parmenides simply and plausibly. Also noteworthy are the discussions of gender issues expressed by several contributors, especially as regards the loaded imagery of Timaeus, the most important text, historically, in conveying the metaphysical first impression of Platonism to the Christian West. There is also a lot of sheer fooling about, especially in D. Kadir's "On the ars combinatoria of Plato's Cratylus and Its Latest Peripeties"--an essay reminiscent of the notorious fusion of Heideggar and Marxism in "Lenin on Geology".

The best of the lot, however, is D. H. Thomson's piece. Ostensibly about Cratylus, it actually works on the broadest canvas, intelligently outlining the confrontation within the context of the broader history of western philosophy. Consequently, it should be read first. Perhaps it might also be profitably reviewed last as well. With the possible exception of the two explicitly feminist essays concluding the collection, this alone does more than cleverly enlisting Plato in the deconstruction of Platonism. Instead, he reminds us of what should be obvious. What is the point of this historical "stage of such thoroughgoing and valuable deconstruction" if not to achieve a clearer, sounder vision of "the true, the just, the good"? Amen to that.
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