Monday, February 15, 1999 05:21:36
Response to the Ion
Earl Jackson, Jr.
In 523C of the Ion, Socrates states “ . . . it is plain to everyone
not from art and knowledge comes your power to speak of Homer.“ this
statement is confusing as it elides art and knowledge, (rational
knowledge) two areas of discourse seen in the modern period as
antithetical. to a modern reader, this statement makes very little sense,
taken out of its historical context. However, art in the Periclean age
was seen not as antithetical to knowledge, but belonging to its realm.
Where art today, as can be seen in the „action paintings“ and the German
expressionist movements, is regared as expressive of emotion and as
coming from „inspiration“ and an artist’s „passion,“ in the Periclean
Period it was regarded as highly intellectual, a balanced marriage of
knowledge and human emotion.
Poetry, on the other hand, Socrates regards with an attitude
similar to that of modern discourse about painting, from those textbook
promotors of the „genius school“ of art appreciation. Socrates argues
that poetry comes from divine inspiration, and is separate from art–even
antithetical to it, at least in its mode of production. When Ion states
that he is an expert only on Homer and not on the other poets, Socrates
uses this opportunity to cross-examine the statement, and to demonstrate
that therefore Ion must be inspired. If he were simply knowledgeable
therefore like the artist) he would be able to appreciate the works
all poets, rather than just one, with an even and critical eye.
The conclusion that Socrates draws is that Ion’s „speaking
well on Homer“ is not an art (533d). After demonstrating this, Socrates
hypothesizes a structure of inspiration which is similar to that of
magnet charging successive steel rings with attractive power. he brings
Ion to admit that as a rhapsode he is an „interpreter of interpreter“
(535a), and compares the task of a rhapsodist to that of an actor (536a).
An important point about the discourse of the Ion in relation to our
modern discourse inside the space of the seminar, is that there is no
mention in the Ion of philosophy, or of its being superior to poetry.
Socrates does not demonstrate or allude whatsoever to his own superior
ability to interpret poetry, he simply dismantles the idea that the
is an artist, and through argument causes Ion to admit that he is not
knowledgeable, but divinely inspired. It seems to me that in the past
weeks, as we have gotten further away from the primary reading of the
text early in the term, we have forgotten that this argument does not
take place, and have, as aneffect of our own discourse, added it to
material of Plato’s text. If anyone is posited by Socrates as being
superior to the rhapsode in the interpretation of Homer’s poem, it is
those disparate people who have mastered the arts, crafts and trades
which are present everwhere in Homer’s text, and the last part of the
dialogue is almost wholly devoted (539-542) in demonstrating how only
these individual artists would have the knowledge which Ion has proposed
that he possesses. As usual, in this dialogue, Socrates make few concrete
statements, and deconstructs another’s argument rather than constructing
one of his own. Interestingly, however, we seminarians seem to have
constructing an argument for him of the superiority of literary
interpretation over poetry, and have managed to inject this modern
argument into our ideas of the original text, solidifying what we
percieve to be the argument of Socrates, and inventing for him a more
solid and modern method of discourse. We have done in class precisely
what he would never do, and then attributed it to him.
A final note–maybe it seems strange to bring up our discussion of Ion
my response to the Ion, but I could not help but observe some rathe
disturbing tendencies–in myself as well as others, toward expansion
the arguments in these dialogues, which seems to me to be a reductive
particularly modern way of going about things. Since I assume that a
primary goal of this course is to grapple with our own tendencies toward
viewing ancient text in modern context, I thought that this
self-reflexive example might be a good place to start the debate.
Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with any direct quotes to support
argument about what has been occuring in seminar–I can only offer my
fluid–and certainly flawed–perceptions of our continuing conversation.