Jack Coopey takes a look at the text ‘Plato’s Republic’ and what it means for our beliefs regarding literature and writing itself.


 

What then will cascade from its rigid structures, if we permit the destruction of the false dichotomy of philosophy and literature? Or perhaps more crucially, what then is the history of literature, and its consequent nature? Furthermore, what is the nature of writing itself in relation to speech, and the supposed ”real” phenomena that it refers and signifies?

Within in this paradigm of thought, I shall comment upon Maurice Blanchot’s The Infinite Conversation as itself a metatextual attempt to dissolve the critical distinction between so called philosophy and literature from a phenomenological perspective. The text I shall utilize for analysis is Plato’s Republic. From the works of Jacques Derrida and Maurice Merleau-Ponty who also sought to analyse the fundamental presuppositions behind questions of language, Blanchot begins his text by analysing how meaning is constructed with dialogue with the Autrui or the Other, the work of Edmund Husserl which has been a prevalent trope in Continental philosophy, and the analysis of language also. Blanchot argues that the ”speech of writing” is not only non-dialectical, or causal, but something beyond both in terms of how interruption in a conversation creates a distance between the two interlocutors, but does not allow them too close to become solipsistic, and permits speech. Such that, when people have a conversation, there must be apotheosis, a gap, a space of silence in order to not only generate an exchange, but meaning itself.

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Putting this analysis of Husserl’s Other and comparing it to Plato’s Republic, to what extent are such figures as Glaucon designated as the recipient of Socrates’ monologues? Perhaps to the fullest extent, aside from committing the authorial fallacy, as we know that Plato aspired to become a playwright or an author, rather than a philosopher, the lower form of Greek art. Although the concept of the Other has become a household name in postcolonial theory and other forms of literary theory, the extent to which Blanchot’s innovative usage demonstrates we still require a working definition between Heidegger’s ontological care for the Other, and Levinas’ pre-ontological, ethical concern as the fundamental question of philosophy itself. Derrida’s hearing-oneself-speak practice would be the pre-cogito which Husserl talks of incessantly in his works. This proves an interesting phenomenological example, when discussing a supposed ”self” and ”I” in language, and thus in literary terms, what the other ”I” would mean. In Republic, we can recall questions such as: What is the good? What is justice? What is the soul? All of which not only presupposes the ethical question of Otherness itself, but also presupposes perhaps naively, that the other is merely another ”I”, not something negatively presupposed as Blanchot reminds.

Blanchot’s text itself is split up into three consecutive part.  The second tackles the ”limit-experience”, or the experience of reality itself and what that constitutes in terms of language, and thus literature. The third part of his text explores constructing language as inherently a ”poetic fragment”, to which the realism of prose, or the surrealism of poetry can never attain its signified meaning. It is always spaced from its original posit. In relation to Republic, we can see this poetic, metaphorical nature of language itself within the example of Plato’s Noble Lie, a thing that binds the polis together but cannot be understood without its law. Furthermore, classical philosophy itself proclaims that Plato’s Republic is a philosophical text, yet as a dialogue it is a piece of literature. Thus even at its definition and centre, the philosophy and literature distinction is itself a aporia, a paradox.

In conclusion, despite Blanchot’s non-originality in terms of content, he analyses the limits of language in the constitution of literature, and our seemingly arbitrary distinctions between poetry and prose. When considering such texts as Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell, our conceptions of meter or rhyme to which poetry adheres collapse, and the prose thus does not conform either in its definition of being a narrative-based writing convention. Furthermore, building on these preliminary remarks in this article, I continue to ask to what extent can we extend these deconstructive elements outside of literary theory? To what extent is anthropology an inflection of art history? Or how much is chemistry linked to the poetic form? Perhaps as Blanchot thinks, we do not require a new dialectic, nor a new form of causation, but a new materialistic idealism that is required to re-think our beliefs regarding language.

 

Jack Coopey