Histories of  Meaning
Earl’s Commentary on Jeff Bobis’s response to Plato’s Ion Part II

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From Jeff’s Response

Interestingly enough, when asked the question „What is Literature,“ 
Jacques Derrida responds that such works as the ancient Greek epics of 
the _Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_ are not literary objects at all. This 
comment did not originally make sense to me, but if one can view the 
_Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_ as transcripts of performances, or as 
encyclopedias of life in the 8th Century B.C., the idea of viewing the 
works as subjective items is questioned. If Derrida can say that 
literature is something that transcends life, this conflicts with 
Aristotle’s assertion that art should be mimetic, i.e. an imitation of 



Earl’s Commentary

Quick!!! Run to the library and get a hold of the critical writings of Samuel R. Delany. For example,

Silent Interviews (Wesleyan University Press);

Longer Views (Wesleyan University Press)

You need his theory of genre formation and its politics. „Literature“  in its current usage has only been around since the late eigthteenth- early-nineteenth centuries. If you told Shakespeare his plays were great „literature“ he wouldn’t know what you were talking about.

Read the entry  on „Literature“ in Raymond Williams‘  Keywords.

And read my synopsis of Delany’s theory of genre in chapter Three of Strategies of Deviance.



All of the fields Socrates talks about in the end are referred to as 
„arts,“ which implies that the Greeks did not have the distinction 
between the rationality of „science“ and the proposed irrationality of 
„art“ that we have today. The act of speaking may play a much larger role 
in the formation of fact than is typically accorded to it. If, according 
to Ion, the best speaker on the art of numbers is the person who knows 
the most about it, then there is no real (what is „real?“) difference 
between numbers and literature, only a perceived one.
Here you have a good first impulse. This is the kind of observation to make, the kind of experimental speculations to posit when beginning to form a research topic for your paper. You see the English word „art“  prominent in the translation, and you begin to make a series of inferences based on what that word implies in modern, Western Euro-American academic contexts. The next step is to test those  observations and those speculative inferences. Find out what the Greek term is  that is translated as „art“. Research its semantic range, and its meanings for Plato. How?  The word search feature  on Perseus. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/

But I’l l   make  it even easier. 
The word is texnê, and I’ve included its meanings  in the lexicon I designed for this seminar.
Click THIS.
But wait – before you go. Please note that I said that such speculative inferences as you make here are fine as initial steps in developing a research topic  and devising a research  protocol. Such inferences, however, should never never never find their way into a paper submitted. Remember  presuming commonalities between  our culture and that of ancient  Greece is a dangerous and thoroughly uninformative habit. Wondering something isn’t investigating it. Supposing something isn’t  advancing an argument.

Through calling the inspiration of Ion or Homer 
divinely inspired, Socrates invokes the standard ancient explanation for 
the presumably inexplicable. I „know“ intuitively that belief in the 
divine is inseparable from belief in objectivity, but, ironically enough, 
I could not prove it myself without arguing objectively.
Socrates never indulges in claiming “divinity“ to hide ignorance of the facts! And read more carefully. He begins with the premise of divine inspiration. He’d hardly do that if it was just a dodge. Remember too [READ!!!] – When he claims this for Ion  it is not to exalt him but to disqualify  him. 
If I weren’t  exhausted I’d explain why your argument that divinity is objectivity  is self-annihilating nonsense. But instead, I’m just going to ask you to do the work now, and explain it to both of us.

To Anthony Costanza on Ion

To Javiera on Ion