Plato’s Wayward Path: Literary Form and the Republic

  Schur, David. 2015. Plato's Wayward Path: Literary Form and the Republic. Hellenic Studies Series 66. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

2. Philosophical Rhetoric

In a reexamination of the methodological limitations just introduced, this chapter poses a fundamental opposition between expository and literary paradigms of interpretation. I will begin by distinguishing several methods of interpretation by discipline and by their attitudes toward history, on the grounds that historical inquiry’s methodological focus on information (which we have already glimpsed in Szlezák’s subordination of Plato’s written texts to a historical recovery of what Plato really thought) may help to clarify the difference between expository and literary outlooks. Then I will consider a related disciplinary divide between ancient and modern conceptions of rhetoric. It is worthwhile, I have found, to view both of these as hermeneutic conceptions, distinguishable along expository–literary lines. Whereas an interpretation that follows the ancient model of rhetoric undertakes an expository mission of historical recovery, modern literary analysis adopts a model of rhetoric that leads to the exploration of themes as opposed to theses. The vocabulary of scholarship in this area of textual hermeneutics frequently lacks adequate precision, especially when it is shared by different disciplines; moreover, the study of Plato’s dialogues raises an inexhaustible array of problems. I therefore offer a broad, schematic, and viable framework that encompasses some recognizable assumptions and some general working terms for shared consideration.

As should become clear, I am less immediately interested in the status of Plato’s writing per se (whether it is literary or philosophical or both, for instance) than in the conceptual premises held by different groups of interpreters. [1] At bottom, these methodologies reflect how readers use the text—how they want it to function and what they expect to find and experience when reading it. Various academic disciplines have presumably honed their methods in order to meet their different goals and expectations. Rather than dwell on quarrels over literary and philosophical objects of study, one can address the problem of literary form in Plato by identifying certain key choices and assumptions that interpreters typically make in order to pursue their respective “purposes and interests.” [2] My main suggestion here is that we provisionally recognize and maintain a consistent rather than a haphazard distinction between literary and expository conceptions of reading. In this schema, literary approaches are oriented toward the composition of the text itself as the primary object of study, and their claims concern the text as created by the author. Expository approaches, in contrast, look through the text toward univocal messages installed in it by the author, messages that readers can extract and then consider separately from the wording of the written composition. Each choice of focus has its uses, and in practice interpreters do many different (and sometimes contradictory) things simultaneously with texts. I am neither proposing prescriptive categories nor recommending any one choice over any other. As I see it, however, an implicit difference between literary and expository methods already informs most interpretation. Academic interpreters in all disciplines recognize, to put it one way, “a permanent ‘bar’ of difference between the figural language of creative literature and the referential language of scientific or philosophical discourse.” [3] Yet in interpreting Plato, this normal boundary is frequently and misleadingly crossed. Generally speaking, principles of literary interpretation clash with expository desires in even self-avowedly literary interpretations of Plato; and traditional, doctrinal interpretations of the dialogues remain patently expository.

So I begin by elaborating on three relevant kinds of textual interpretation: textual criticism (which establishes the text), literary criticism or analysis (which views the established text as a composition), and philosophical interpretation (which uses the established text to contemplate the author’s univocal thinking). “Classics,” suggests Lowell Edmunds, “makes a distinction between interpretation or literary criticism, on the one hand, and philology, on the other, of which textual editions and commentaries are the chefs d’oeuvre” (2005:8). I am unsure whether Edmunds’s statement accurately describes the current state of classical studies, but I consider the distinction a valid and helpful one to make. It is easily lost because the discipline of classical studies as a whole (including its literary-critical branch) has long-standing and indispensible historical interests. In any case, the basic idea is that textual scholarship establishes an authoritative text, whereas literary criticism interprets the established text. Yet the crucial distinction is not between natural science and humanistic interpretation; textual scholarship, as a matter of course, must make many interpretive judgments as well as technical decisions. [4] Instead, a crucial difference between these two methods of interpreting texts may be found in their interests and purposes. As a rule, the textual critic is theoretically oriented toward the past and has no wish to go beyond boundaries imposed by the past, regardless of the reconstructive criteria adopted. Thus the critic gives priority to earlier objects, events, and ideas in order to prepare a text for other, later types of interpretation. (Even radical textual critics who treat the text as a social construction rather than the author’s intended creation are still reconstructing the history of its construction.) A critical edition is thus presented as a methodical interpretation of historical phenomena. And the text is in one sense an end in itself: fixation is itself the primary goal of the text-critical interpretation, and the fixed text is a body of data that can be used as readers see fit.

Thus conceived, a written text is a fixed ordering of specific words: “a text is any discourse fixed by writing” (Ricoeur 1981:145). Discourse here refers to a specific and communicative passage of language that is longer than a sentence, and types of discourse are categories of usage associated with different situations in which language is used to communicate; as in historical, philosophical, or literary discourse. What I wish to stress first is that every written text is fixed and that this fixedness sets a standard for the composition’s authority, giving us an evidential basis for subsequent interpretation. (A text may be fixed repeatedly, at various points in its life, giving us different editions or incarnations.) In a particular case such as the Republic, specific choices, ideally those made by Plato in his deployment of words, have been fixed as a unique composition. In their historical reconstructions of the text, experts (epigraphers, papyrologists, paleographers, textual critics, and so on) have pursued an ideal of factual accuracy. [5] For each text-critical question, there can in principle only be one correct answer, and the answer concerns an ideal object of desire that is conceived as a preexisting artifact. [6] Editorial questions concerning the fixed text itself regularly arise when interpreting classical texts, but these questions are addressed (again, in principle) with the distinct techniques of textual criticism, even when textual critic and literary critic are one and the same philologist. The specific form of a Greek text such as the Republic, presumed to have been determined by the author, assumes its place as a stable sequence of words that can be copied repeatedly, cited accurately, and described from different perspectives by different readers without losing its integrity. As it happens, all of Plato’s major writings seem to have survived, and they are in relatively good shape, with Slings’s Oxford Classical Text edition of 2003 bringing the Republic into the twenty-first century.

So textual criticism is a specialized kind of interpretation, working in any genre (literary or expository, traditional or radical) but giving theoretical priority to historical evidence. The reconstruction of an ideal text thereby results in a real and fixed text. With different goals in mind, the literary critic (by which I mean an interpretive analyst of texts) uses the fixed text as evidence about itself; how it articulates ideas, how its patterns create emphasis. [7] Thus the literary interpreter reflects on the text, in an intellectual conversation where reader and text mutually reinforce emerging perspectives. The views of the composition that emerge from this procedure as scholarly claims are essentially about the text. Certainly—and this should be stressed to avoid misunderstanding—the literary critic is no more divorced from history than from expository comprehension. (Indeed, many branches of literary and cultural studies have a fundamentally historical orientation. [8] ) The point here is that while a literary analysis of a text must adduce evidence from many contexts (historical, cultural, and so on), the text necessarily remains the central node where all contexts meet, and from which their relevance emanates. Otherwise, the result is a different sort of analysis. Once we accept Plato’s Republic as a fixed composition and an existing cultural monument, it has an inexorable integrity. The text is a specific arrangement of specific words, and this web of linguistic complexity is the texture of the composition. Literary scholars (whom I must here insist on distinguishing from, among others, editors, who have different goals in mind) would no sooner rewrite parts of Plato’s text than repaint a stroke of color in a portrait by van Gogh. Indeed, the Republic’s specificity is not only essential to its existence as a shared cultural artifact but is, as Schleiermacher recognized, also the web of evidence on which any interpretation must rest (if it is, in fact, to be an interpretation of the text as an integral composition). So it is axiomatic that literary interpretation focuses on “meaning that is indissociable from the structure of a particular text” (Marshall 1992:171). My emphasis on the text’s specificity may seem unnecessarily labored, especially in light of the careful scrutiny regularly accorded to ancient texts—to the structure and the philosophical terminology of the Republic, for instance—but it is precisely the significance of the specifics, as organized in dialogue form, that is at issue here. As for contexts, these are countless, but the most urgent context in every instance of literary analysis is the specific text itself, understood as a composition whose elements are interrelated components of an integral whole, rather than independent and easily excised pieces of a mosaic. [9]

Besides textual criticism and literary interpretation, we must now take into account another way that scholars pursue textual analysis: philosophical interpretation. The practice of philosophy is broad and diverse, and when it comes to studying Plato, a variety of priorities emerge. Philosophers read Plato in order to comprehend logical arguments, which are paraphrasable lines of reasoning, propositions, and assertions found in the dialogues; to reconstruct the beliefs, claims, and teachings of Plato (and of many other individual thinkers, most especially Socrates); and to test or debate the logic of arguments and claims, both on their own terms and in light of subsequent argumentation. Each of these three tasks is important in its own right, and virtually any academic philosopher, whether inclined to a monological or a dialogical approach to Plato, would recognize their validity. For the current discussion, I set aside the third (which evaluates the general truth or validity of particular arguments) as an exercise in logical reasoning rather than textual interpretation per se; yet in some ways, paradoxically, this logical and abstract sort of analysis most closely resembles interpretation, insofar as both engage in an ongoing exploration of questions and problems. The other two goals, comprehension and reconstruction, assume that some fixed version of Plato’s thought is waiting to be grasped. And here, as with textual criticism, I see an essentially historical project. So part of what I am saying—if we leave aside the contemporary exploration of truth, wisdom, and logic—is simply this: the philosophical interpretation of Plato’s texts is a project in the history of philosophy. [10] And, I would add, the history of philosophy is a philosopher-centric discipline: Plato’s thought is the goal and Plato’s writings are usually considered the best available means to that goal.

It may be troubling here to suggest that the philosophical interpretation of Plato’s dialogues has a biographical goal (to know what Plato himself actually believed) and that the text is, as a matter of course, an instrumental fund of evidence in a resolutely intentionalist project. In other words, the text is an important instrument for undertaking this task, but an instrument nonetheless. If textual criticism’s historical claims concerning ancient texts are fraught with conjecture and speculation, the philosophical attempt to recover what ancient thinkers thought, insofar as it posits what was going on in a human being’s mind, might appear to be a quixotic attempt at mind reading. And for this reason, it may appear that I am trying somehow to belittle this project, when I wish instead to recognize its premises and delineate its scope. In fact, studying the history of philosophy involves a perfectly ordinary and respectable—and indispensably practical—kind of historical intentionalism. The author’s written communication is taken to contain and convey information that we strive to receive and comprehend accurately. In other words, philosophical texts as such are taken to be expository. This is an accepted assumption in academia, as in less deliberate settings. Nor is this intentionalism an affront to the literary-critical interrogation of an author’s intentions—because the text is not taken to be literary. When practicing modern literary criticism, which is founded precisely on the interdependence of form and content, it makes no sense to look for separable content; by the same token, it makes all the sense in the world for philosophical interpretation to do so. I assume that many philosophers will agree that the philosophical interpretation of texts is indeed something entirely different from literary interpretation. Philosophy is the study of arguments and claims that thinkers have made; and though it usually relies on what they are supposed to have written, this is to interpret their texts for the sake of their arguments, and not the other way around. Accordingly, the distinction poses few problems for the community of orthodox readers who are comfortable ignoring the dialogical “spirit” of Plato’s writing, but it spells trouble for those who wish to reach the historical philosopher without bypassing the literary labyrinth of his written compositions. The dilemma is captured in John M. Cooper’s advice to readers of Plato. Cooper concedes that the “spirit” in which Plato wrote dialogues makes their interpretation a “dauntingly complex task” (1997:xxiii). While claiming to maintain “full respect” for Plato’s renunciation of authority and his “spirit of experimentation,” Cooper also “accepts the overwhelming impression, not just of Antiochus, but of every modern reader of his dialogues, that Platonism nonetheless constitutes a systematic body of ‘philosophical doctrine’” (xxv). This latter admission, however, is simply to accept a fact in the history of philosophy—Platonism is, de facto, a systematic body. The difficulty is to reconcile an overwhelmingly accepted impression (Platonism) with the complexity of Plato’s profoundly experimental writings. [11]

Literary and Expository Conceptions of Rhetoric

The emphasis on Plato’s unwritten doctrines by Krämer, Szlezák, and their cohort suggests a thought experiment. For us today, the historical possibility that Plato in fact made unwritten statements depends on written statements. But rather than try to reconstruct the gist of these doctrines from fragments of hearsay, let us imagine a verifiably authentic and adequately accurate recording of what Plato himself said that he believed. Such a remarkable document would be of tremendous interest to any interpreter of Plato. For the historian of philosophy, the unique value of this imaginary document would come from its being accepted as a univocal, rhetorically transparent presentation of Platonic philosophy, divorced from the tortuous language of the dialogues. We would have the key to understanding the dialogues as philosophy, a key that would compensate for their incomplete or otherwise compromised modes of exposition. For the literary interpreter, however, Plato’s dialogues—being integral texts—could never be completed, solved, or opened by the insertion of a separate answer key. The rhetorically transparent version of Plato’s beliefs could only solve the expository problems posed by the dialogues; literary problems would revert to the text itself, invigorated but not replaced by new contextual evidence. By the same token, if James Joyce had told us unequivocally, in a certified document, exactly what Finnegans Wake meant, how could that document replace Finnegans Wake? Only to the extent that we had been looking to the text for evidence of a univocal system of expository messages. Plato and Joyce certainly both communicate their ideas in their writings. But the philosophical conception of “what Plato thought” is categorically different from a literary view of “what Joyce thought.”

A similar problem arises from the experimental diversity of an author’s oeuvre. In the case of Plato’s dialogues, “anyone who is interested in Plato’s philosophy must find a way to relate the intellectual contents of these works to one another. We cannot ascribe to Plato eighteen different philosophies” (Kahn 1996:37). Although we regularly seek to understand one literary work through reference to others, we would hesitate to ascribe a single, coherent message to all of Catullus’ poems, Shakespeare’s plays, or Virginia Woolf’s novels. All the same, I hope it is clear that my argument here is not a general condemnation of message-seeking intentionalism in interpretation. I am pointing out instead why Plato’s rhetoric, when pressed to yield the results desired by the discipline of philosophy, is often reconceived as a collection of crypto-expository, if artful, dodges.

Helen Vendler, a critic of literature in English, offers an unusually lucid account of the expository–literary distinction. Vendler specializes in lyric poetry, and in tandem with her critical writings she has made a strong case for an aesthetic approach to this specific genre. I am not suggesting that we read Plato quite as we might read a poem, play, or novel—the dialogues sprawl over generic borderlines—but that the lyric genre may help to illuminate the relationship between exposition and literary form. On a related note, the term poetry often serves in broad categorizations of genre and discourse to indicate the nonexpository status of literature in general—as seen in the German word Dichtung, which refers to both poetry and literature generally, and in the traditional notion of poetics (as a theory of literature) adopted from Aristotle. Vendler fully recognizes that “criticism may, along the way, make an interpretation or unveil or counter an ideology; but these activities (of paraphrase and polemic) are not criticism of the art work as art work, but as statement” (1988:1, my emphasis). [12] I draw attention to the word “as” because the reader’s approach is a matter of choice—it is not strictly necessitated by a generic form or a type of discourse. My discussion so far should make clear that one ordinarily follows different guiding principles of interpretation when reading a text as history, or as philosophy, or as literature. When reading lyric poetry, where our usual conceptions of form and content are challenged by a condensed use of language, it would be misguided to extract propositions and arguments, and to translate a poem’s careful arrangement of words into expository statements and messages. It is nonetheless certainly possible to do so. In fact, it is extraordinarily tempting to look for univocal messages in anything we read. Vendler prefers not to speak even of interpreting a lyric poem; interpreters, she says, “fundamentally regard the art work as an allegory: somewhere under the surface (as in a biblical parable) there lies a hidden meaning” that can be transliterated in expository prose (3). This is quite different from saying that poems are devoid of positions and ideas, but the poetic interest of these ideas is in how they are dynamically refracted in patterns of language. [13] Many readers might think that the job of the literary reader is precisely to look for hidden meanings, yet in Vendler’s view, form is nothing other than “content-as-arranged” (3). As long as the reader is looking for a covert ideological content (a content that is usually presumed to hide behind or beneath form), the form will remain a mere vehicle, a disposable veil or shell. Allegorical excavation does not respect the integrity of the text’s manifest arrangement of language. “Content disarranged (as in paraphrase) leaves form behind, usually unnoticed” (3). I fully agree with this last point and stress its relevance to the discussion of approaches to Plato, especially approaches that translate Plato’s literary form into philosophical discourse by way of rhetoric. We should note, however, that in the metaphorical terminology of textual analysis, disarrangement by paraphrase is also a process of straightening out the various complexities and turnings of linguistic composition, complexities that expository interpretation must ignore in order to reach its univocal goals. [14]

Vendler makes her point about exposition with particular force in the case of Shakespeare’s sonnets. “Lyric poetry,” she observes, “is almost never assigned in a course on the ‘great books’ because the exposition of ideas in poetry seems too platitudinous for discussion” (1997b). The main thought of any sonnet, for example, can be expressed in a perfectly straightforward single statement. [15] Still, if Shakespeare is no great statement maker, he is no mean thinker either, and Vendler’s aesthetic of the lyric is far from hostile to ideas; the problem is that “the way in which lyric deals with ideas—that is, by transforming them into forms—is still incompletely understood” (1997b). [16] What we might call poetic thinking exists in the choice and arrangement of words; to extract expository statements from that arrangement is to lose the kind of (poetic) thinking most valued by the literary analyst. Even assuming that all thought occurs in language, this would suggest that the language of thought is not solely the language of univocal statement. Thus a sonnet can be highly rhetorical (containing a high density of conventional tropes) without simply trying to convince us of something: that beauty fades, that love is blind. And the loss incurred by paraphrasing a text is not a simply a loss of charm or decoration—or of persuasiveness, for that matter. Shakespeare’s literary art is, to use a word popular in Shakespeare studies generally, a kind of perspectivism, allowing us to think about complex topics from multiple angles. [17] With Plato in mind, the notion of multiple perspectives is helpful for characterizing the contrapuntal movement—the simultaneous currents, countercurrents, and meandering trajectories of thought-in-language that we may recognize in and as literary discourse, and which are anathema to expository comprehension. And lest this aesthetic approach to the art of poetry seem to stray too far afield, let us not forget that Schleiermacher viewed Plato’s misunderstood unification of form and content as the work of a “philosophical artist.” [18] More recent scholars such as R. B. Rutherford, Charles Kahn, and Christopher Rowe have likewise made explicit gestures toward a philosophical aesthetic of sorts in seeking to account for Plato’s literary “art” of philosophical writing. [19] And like Schleiermacher, scholars now wish to translate Plato’s dialogue form so as to reveal its covert (by which I mean inapparent) purposefulness. This justifies but does not do justice to the dialogue form. As I see it, recent gestures toward the importance of artful writing tend to straitjacket the wayward play of language that is inherent and insistent in Plato’s dialogue form, justifying that form as a persuasive tool Plato used to promote or impose a philosophical lesson or agenda. [20] Reassurances that literary form is not merely decorative thus end up saying that the literary is not only literary but also expository.

The Rhetorical Approach to Literary Form in Plato

Given the historical weight of literariness associated with Shakespeare, and with lyric poetry generally, the comparison with Plato may seem a poor one. As noted earlier, however, my argument does not, strictly speaking, rely on conventional categories of genre or discourse per se. These categories may seem to have been dictated by form—and most do have distinctive formal characteristics or qualities—but a category such as literary discourse is notoriously difficult to pin down in terms of formal features. To take a basic example, we may segregate verse (the arrangement of words in a rhythmic pattern) from poetry—an advertising jingle, for instance, is different from a text by Sappho—but this determination will always be a choice, made within limitations imposed by convention and context. [21] And a similar choice is involved in our treatment of rhetoric. Virtually any text we encounter will contain an array of identifiable rhetorical devices. When we wish to retrieve a uniform message (a teaching, let us say) from the text, then its rhetoric cannot be allowed to distract us from the goal of comprehension and conviction. On the contrary, rhetoric must somehow help turn us toward that goal, which is then shared by both reader and text; otherwise, rhetoric will be discounted or ignored. Should the text’s language at times seem bent or deviant, the interpreter must straighten it out; justifying the means by the end, explaining away local turns as inevitable detours in a global plan, and reducing dialogical currents to a static, authoritative monologue. [22] Indeed, for the expository interpreter of rhetoric, figurative language is only apparently figurative; in the end, those elements of the text that are deemed figurative must be literalized, regularized, or discarded. It is in this way that allegorical interpretation is another kind of expository literalization, assigning a fixed and correct sense to each (figurative, yet manifest) element of the text in order to recover a single (literal, but latent) message.

In Plato and the Art of Philosophical Writing (2007), Christopher Rowe proposes to explain Plato’s “strategies as a writer who writes, for the most part, in order to persuade his readers.… In other words, my first concern is with understanding the nature of Platonic rhetoric” (vii). [23] While Rowe’s specific take on Plato is distinctive, the approach to rhetoric described in his book, an approach that is also forcefully laid out in his article “The Literary and Philosophical Style of the Republic” (2006), may serve to represent the view of literary form that I am criticizing here. [24] Rowe’s conception of persuasive rhetoric is shared by many scholarly attempts to understand Plato as a philosophical writer, and so I will now point out some of its salient characteristics. As I noted earlier, the nonexpository form of Plato’s dialogues has become a major problem for philosophical interpretation. And one attractive way to frame the problem (“the longest-running dispute among Plato’s interpreters”) is in terms of Platonism: “what it is that Plato stands for” (Rowe 2007:2). On the one hand, Plato may have wanted readers to think for themselves, yet the abundance of arguments and positions in the dialogues points many toward dogmatism; and for Rowe, the sheer reiteration of a claim, along with the passion seen in its formulation, can argue strongly for Plato’s commitment to it (2006:8–9). On the other hand, “if Plato is so anxious to communicate, or at any rate get us thinking about, certain substantive theses,” asks Rowe, “why does he go about it in so roundabout a way?” (2006:9). [25] In response to this question, Rowe proceeds to invoke a conception of distance, to which I will return in my next chapter; in essence, “Plato’s use of the dialogue form reflects his recognition of the distance that separates his own assumptions from those of any likely reader.” [26] But my first concern is with the notion of persuasive rhetoric itself, which allows Rowe to explain Plato’s digressive, “roundabout way” of writing in terms of purposefulness, arguing that Plato is using “strategies” to promote “substantive theses.”

To begin with, Rowe, like most interpreters, assumes that Plato was a philosophical writer (2007:1). Similarly, most of us assume that Plato wrote these complex and thought-provoking texts in order to share and, crucially, to teach us something that he knew, whether this be the truth or the way to truth. Rowe acknowledges that the term philosophy can mean a variety of things (2007:9), but he, like most interpreters, consistently takes it as a coherent system of interconnected propositions held by an individual thinker, as in the phrase “what it is that Plato stands for.” (Even those who attribute a less systematic, more searching stance to Plato tend to look for a coherent account of what Plato thought and what he wanted us to think. Anything less would be too vague to count as a philosopher’s philosophy.) As the English word stand indicates, philosophy involves taking fixed positions. A position (a propositional claim) set forth by the philosopher is a thesis, and is substantive by virtue of the thinker’s commitment to it. (As discussed in the next chapter, a literary theme is a topic but not a position.) According to Rowe, for instance, one of the positions obviously taken by Plato in the Republic is that justice pays (2006:9). [27] When it comes to philosophy, the author is presumed to be using the instrument of writing to endorse and promote certain theses. And this is what univocal means: declarative, assertive; argumentative; promoting a single, authorial point of view—all of which amounts to a definition of expository writing. To repeat Frye’s definition, “philosophy is assertive or propositional writing” (1957:329). Given these assumptions, the idea that Plato is using language persuasively makes great sense. As a philosopher and teacher, how could he not be trying to make as strong a case as possible for his philosophy?

Nevertheless, this explanation does not solve so much as it finesses the long-standing problem of literary form, particularly as sharpened by Schleiermacher’s insistence on the connectedness of form and content. Before returning to the example of Rowe, I would like to offer a clearer view of what is meant in this context by literary form. For interpreters of Plato the philosopher, literary form is not only a collection of features that we moderns (following in Plato’s and Aristotle’s footsteps) have conventionally deemed “literary” (fictionality, setting, characterization, and the like), although simply by being identifiable, these features are of great significance. Instead, literary form in Plato is defined negatively: it is any form of discourse that is not manifestly declarative. This version of the literary can be identified linguistically as a nondeclarative mode of discourse. Of course, the dialogues are replete with declarative sentences that make propositional statements, but apart from the letters, none of Plato’s works, not even the Apology, is an example of global declaration. This is why, at the broadest level of description, we can speak of Plato’s varied experimentations in the dialogue form, a genre of presentation marked first and foremost by the fact that Plato does not declare his commitment and does not speak in the first person. The dialogues are therefore, by definition, not univocal. By the same token, the literary face of Plato’s discourse—defined as the obverse of authorial discourse, which is a sine qua non for philosophical interpretation—is perceived as inherently mediated, refracted, and refractory. The dialogues are considered indirect because we assume that Plato is trying to give us direction; they are considered digressive and disorienting insofar as we are looking for the sort of straightforward, purposeful positions that constitute a philosophy such as Platonism. (Again, no one routinely attributes univocal systems to writers as writers of literature. One can imagine an expository Homerism, Virgilism, Danteism, Keatsism, Rimbaudism, or Proustism, but the effort is either misguided or of use only for limited purposes far removed from written compositions.)

At the same time, very few interpreters deny that Plato’s dialogues are roundabout or indirect in their presentation of ideas. In his essay on literary and philosophical style, Rowe writes about the tremendous complexity of the Republic, its “indirection, its tangled plot,” and “the apparent informality of its style” (2006:9, my emphasis). Rowe faces the unruliness of the Republic head-on: “themes, arguments, apparent digressions appear in such rapid succession that it is easy for the reader to lose his or her way” (2006:7, my emphasis). [28] Characterization in the dialogue, for instance, cannot be “for merely ornamental purposes,” because “it is so obtrusive” (2007:11). Rather than ignore such impediments to the flow of univocal argument, Rowe, like Schleiermacher, seeks to convince us that they are purposeful, the operative term here being “apparent.” [29] For, again recalling Schleiermacher, Rowe’s vision of unity requires making a strong separation between the appearance of a disconnected presentation and the reality of philosophical substance. And here we see again how attention to the significance of form may lead away from merely apparent unruliness to consistent content. Rowe is sympathetic to the idea that “underlying the play of each and every dialogue, there is a kind of subterranean flow of thought that is … constant” (2006:8). All readers perceive the manifest, superficial play of language, but that play is merely apparent, underpinned as it supposedly is by a unified and single current of thought. Therefore, “underlying the whole grand edifice” of the Republic “is a substantive, and connected, set of ideas, which needs to be carefully excavated and reconstructed” (2006:9). [30] In his effort to find a global “set of ideas”—which is not different from the ideas we read about in Plato so much as a substantive (authorial, authoritative) and connected (coherent, quasisyllogistic) version of them—Rowe adopts a methodology that is compelled to look beyond or beneath what is actually there. Although this approach tries to avoid the cherry-picking of arguments so often found in traditional readings of Plato, it is a project of excavation and reconstruction, unable to rely on the evidence present to our senses—if anything, it encourages us to tamper with the evidence. (Like Schaerer, Rowe could be said to argue that what is actually written is merely a world of appearances.)

The notion of rhetorical persuasion has thus given scholars a way to explain the peculiarity of the dialogue form as Plato developed it. Again, the problem may be summed up roughly as follows: Why did Plato experiment with variations on the dialogue form rather than write in an expository manner? Once we recognize the power of philosophical rhetoric, a question concerning Plato’s motives, aims, and goals itself becomes rhetorical, and we will be ready to accept literary form as a device or instrument in the service of philosophy; as a detour, that is, on our teleological journey to recover the philosopher’s didactic agenda. So David Gallop asks, “How can literary form, by endowing philosophical argument with an appropriate ‘rhetoric,’ enable it to achieve its goals?” The popularity of the rhetorical approach can be glimpsed in the following subtitles of books: The Philosophical Use of a Literary Form (Kahn 1996), Literary Device and Dramatic Structure in Plato’s Dialogues (Gordon 1999), Rhetoric As Philosophy (Michelini 2003), and Plato’s Many Devices (Scott 2007). As Jill Gordon puts it, “what to modern eyes and ears are literary elements of Plato’s texts … are not embellishments, or finery, or even mere artistry. Rather, they are necessary for Plato to achieve his philosophical aim” (1999:12). If literary form is to be defended, in the name of philosophical writing and against charges of ornamentation and uselessness, Plato’s art must be more artful and less arty, it seems. This is also the force (or rather the weakness) of the word art in studies by philosophers such as Rutherford, Kahn, and Rowe; scholars who celebrate Plato’s artistry by pitting the writer’s control and the writing’s usefulness against Plato’s apparent renunciation of authority and the apparent dilatoriness of the dialogue form. Thus the literary aspect of writing is converted into the expository art of rhetoric. [31]

In his book on the Phaedrus, G. R. F. Ferrari shares this attitude when he explains the function of the dialogue’s physical setting: “This mode of exposition—Plato’s device of orienting his readers by narrating how his characters orient themselves and their landscape—is no literary toy”; on the contrary, stresses Ferrari, it “has philosophic purpose” (1987:2). Ferrari’s contextually sensitive analysis of topography in the dialogue is compelling, but here we see an attempt to justify literary form as an expository “device” that guides readers toward a philosophical end. By claiming that the setting of the Phaedrus is not a “literary toy” but a philosophical tool, Ferrari does two things at once—bucking traditional scholarship by arguing for the significance of literary form, yet also seeking disciplinary legitimacy by implying that the literary is merely literary (and therefore a plaything) unless we can demonstrate its single-minded purposefulness. Such an attitude (made all the more complicated by the contrapuntal way rhetoric is toyed with in the Phaedrus itself) shows how expository treatments can dismiss the text’s literariness as merely apparent.

Twentieth-Century Rhetorical Analysis

Meanwhile, it is a twentieth-century innovation to delve into the figurative dimension of manifestly and avowedly univocal prose, and the rhetorical analysis of literary form in Plato is likewise a radical and previously unexplored approach. It is an irony of intellectual history that the rhetorical approach to Plato echoes selected developments in literary studies, and discussion of these interdisciplinary similarities is usually avoided. In the analysis of Plato as a writer of textual artifacts, the modern emphasis on form has significant points of resemblance to literary formalism, in general, and to the New Criticism in particular. Many of the principles guiding the nondogmatic interpretation of Plato, such as “holism, contextualism, and organicism” (Press 1993b:111), are recognizably New Critical concepts. Blondell stresses that a text-based understanding of the dialogues must accept “the fundamental literary-critical axiom that every detail of the text contributes to the meaning of the whole.” [32] Given the ongoing influence of the New Criticism in academic textual analysis generally, its incursion into the study of philosophy should come as no surprise, especially if scholars of Plato are indeed, as R. B. Rutherford puts it, now “using tools of literary analysis.” [33] What makes things more unusual in the case of Plato is simply the potential dissonance between literary concepts of interpretation and philosophical conceptions of writing. Writers have produced works of genre-busting literary philosophy or philosophical literature throughout history (to name just a few: Parmenides, Lucretius, Boethius, Rousseau, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Blanchot), but the literary analysis of philosophical rhetoric is a methodological development that flourished in the last quarter of the twentieth century, with the advent of Deconstruction. The title of a book by Christopher Norris, The Deconstructive Turn: Essays in the Rhetoric of Philosophy (1983), sums up several aspects of the movement. [34]

Although more recent rhetorical approaches to Plato share with Deconstruction an interest in the literary form of philosophy and in the analysis of rhetoric, scholars of Plato have maintained a traditional view of rhetoric as a technical means of persuasion, choosing not to follow literary studies in this regard. In this instance, a specific interdisciplinary gap between philosophical and literary studies mirrors the general difference between expository and literary methods of interpretation. In the twentieth century, scholars of literature began developing a new conception of rhetoric, focused on the plurisignificant potential of figurative language, that was more suited to their concerns than was the traditional notion of rhetoric as persuasion. Thomas Cole suggests that this “neorhetoric” (whether formalist, structuralist, or deconstructionist) bears so little resemblance to the old discipline as to be a symptom of our “antirhetorical” times (1991:20). [35] Whereas ancient rhetoric assumes a “separability of matter from method,” this principle “is incompatible with the central position that close reading and interpretation of texts has come to occupy in literary studies” (19). Furthermore, ancient rhetoric “undergoes what is in effect a complete inversion when … its contents are now studied with an eye on the multiplication rather than—as in antiquity—the reduction of meaning in any given piece of artistic discourse” (21). Cole’s observations help to show how the neorhetorical tools of twentieth-century literary criticism (wherewith one strives to maintain the inseparability of thought and language throughout the interpretation of a written composition) are incompatible with the traditional, expository conception of rhetoric currently being applied to Plato.

In The Philosophy of Rhetoric, Richards chooses to focus on “how words work in discourse” (1965:5). “My subject,” writes Booth, “is the technique of non-didactic fiction, viewed as the art of communicating with readers—the rhetorical resources available to the writer of epic, novel, or short story as he tries, consciously or unconsciously, to impose his fictional world upon the reader” (1983:xiii). Barthes’s explicit reassessment of rhetoric may be found in essays such as “Rhetorical Analysis” (1966), “From Science to Literature” (1967), and “Style and Its Image” (1969), collected in the The Rustle of Language (1986). In “Semiology and Rhetoric,” de Man chooses to understand rhetoric as “the study of tropes and figures” rather than what he calls “the derived sense of comment or of eloquence or persuasion” (1973:28). Concurrent with the trend toward rhetorical description came an emphasis on overdetermination, insofar as factors beyond the author’s avowed or implied sense of purpose have been increasingly thought to contribute significantly to the structuring, wording, and functioning of texts. [37] As a descriptive approach focused on the functioning of discourse, rhetorical analysis offers an expanded vocabulary (adapted mainly from ancient rhetoric) for identifying patterns or structures of language, and for connecting these structures with significant functions and effects. Neorhetoric can allow for many different and concurrent functions.

As it is, literary works, unlike expository ones, are routinely presumed to communicate more than just fixed positions (lessons, morals, and the like); at the same time, many interpreters of literature share a “common view that literary texts can be interpreted equally well in vastly different and deeply incompatible ways.” [38] It is in this sense that literary works are said to be overdetermined (without, it must be stressed, being open to every possible interpretation). [39] The term overdetermination, coined by Freud, refers to the way multiple factors or causes can contribute to a single manifestation (such as a detail in a dream or a symptom in an illness of complex origins). [40] Thus in literary studies, a word may be considered overdetermined insofar as it is recognized to have a plurality of meanings at the same time. The term is especially apt for describing polysemy, when expository interpretation must suppress potential contradictions in order to maintain a stable, univocal meaning. If one allows that no text is exclusively, single-mindedly purposeful, then interesting patterns of form and relevant currents of nonargumentative significance may be rewardingly observed in expository texts—and in the Platonic dialogues, especially since the latter have never been thought to fit into a neat opposition between literary and nonliterary. Regardless of broad formal conventions that might tell us when language is literary or philosophical, the language in a dialogue can have other notable functions besides communicating expository content and promoting authorial positions.

Still, none of this is particularly radical; scholars in many disciplines now have an ingrained awareness that conventional categories of discourse are entangled: “avowedly literary” texts contain all sorts of mundane or nonliterary utterances, while “all texts have secret-hidden-deeper meanings, and none more so than the supposedly obvious and straightforward productions of journalists, historians, and philosophers.” [42] In fact, a growing awareness of this dimension of rhetoric accompanied the contemporary resurgence of philosophical interest in the literary form of Plato’s texts in the 1980s. Introducing Platonic Writings/Platonic Readings in 1988, Charles L. Griswold, Jr. called this period “the era of ‘deconstruction’” (2002:15). Suggesting that the analysis of many canonical philosophical texts could benefit from attention to their “literary integrity,” Griswold contemplated the possibility that “the rhetorical devices frequently deprecated by philosophers … are inseparable from even the most systematic or architectonic works. How authoritative or final is the apparent divorce of philosophy from rhetoric and poetics?” (15). Despite the great progress that has been made in pursuing these questions and in raising the profile of literary features in the dialogues, avowedly literary approaches to Plato have remained focused largely on the didactic function of literary form. The need for fuller consideration of nonexpository functions of literary form in Plato remains, and my next chapter will suggest that Plato’s manifest repudiation of authority is, among other things, just that: a rhetoric of qualification.

Schleiermacher’s Legacy

Because the dogmatic approach distorts the compositional integrity of the writings, a conundrum arises when one seeks both to avoid constructing a dogmatic Plato and at the same time to reconstruct and extract Plato’s thought, as though it were merely distorted but still essentially encrypted in those same writings. Plato’s writing would thus remain a tool that could be used to reach a predefined pedagogical end. By treating literary form as persuasive rhetoric, interpreters make an end run around the overt unruliness of Plato’s writing and arrive back at rather fixed, regularized conclusions. This utilitarian conception refuses to accept the dialogical implications of dialogical form. It subsumes literary form under expository philosophy by placing Plato’s text in the rhetorical service of his presumed purpose: namely, to advance his didactic agenda and univocal teachings, whether these be gently propaedeutic, maieutic, protreptic, or coercive.

To summarize, I see the rhetorical explanation of Plato’s literary form that stems from Schleiermacher’s holism as a misguided development, on four grounds. First, its teleology is tautological; though not in itself wrong, it is unhelpful. Let us all agree that Plato, like any skilled writer in any literary or expository genre, strives to use language as effectively as possible. Beyond that, our understanding of literary form must look beyond traditional rhetoric for a satisfactory solution to the problem this form has come to present. And if we are not sure of Plato’s goals, then we must be careful about allowing them to dictate our interpretive approach.

Each of these criticisms articulates the difference between expository and literary interpretation, a difference that does not hinge on the status of the text per se. Rhetorical persuasion is, to be sure, an inherently expository conception of function, and is therefore incompatible with a nonexpository, literary conception of form. Yet rather than bring new problems to the fore, the points I raise are reformulations of the problem first encountered by Plato’s earliest readers, and then brought into relief by the likes of Schleiermacher and Schaerer. Few contemporary scholars of Plato claim to be literary interpreters, but many seek to account for the literary form of Plato’s writings—if only by insisting that this so-called literary form is not, in essence, merely literary (or merely decorative) because it is also philosophical. Some would prefer to erase the traditional division between philosophy and literature entirely, but here too the tendency is to show that the literary can have a philosophical function that mere literature does not.

Striving to save Plato’s literary form for the purposes of Platonism, some scholars seek to identify devices, strategies, and uses that could align the text with classical rhetoric, which assigns to all formal features the single overarching function of persuasion. But this approach relies on a single vision of philosophy that has never easily squared with Plato’s idiosyncratic writings. If we adopt a modern and descriptive view of Plato’s texts—not trying to reconstruct what ancient readers must have experienced, but staying within the realm of what Plato’s Greek could have signified in his time—there can be no single answer concerning the function of literary form, but some features are more prominent and some functions more important than others. My approach in what follows is to expand and expound on prevalent patterns of self-reflection in the dialogues that are undervalued by interpreters of Plato’s writings. When Plato’s texts and his speakers reflect on their own methods, especially when they talk about talking, they often pose questions about the practice of philosophy that we have learned to ignore.


[ back ] 1. Cf. Culler 2007: “For many works, it does not seem to be objective properties that make them literature but rather the fact that they are read in certain ways, placed in the cultural framework of literature, subject to particular sorts of attention” (229).

[ back ] 2. Stout 1982; I follow Heath 2002 in drawing on Stout’s view of meaning in interpretation. Cf. Marshall 1992: “interpreters decide, on the basis of their own interests and questions, what materials to interpret and what practices will satisfy the need or desire to interpret them” (162).

[ back ] 3. Greetham 1999:345, describing efforts by poststructuralist writers to subvert this bar. See also Frye 1957:5, 86.

[ back ] 4. Greetham 1994: “The single most important characteristic of textual criticism (that part of textual scholarship charged with interrogating the text and preparing it for public consumption, usually in the form of a scholarly edition) is that it is critical, it does involve speculative, personal, and individual confrontation of one mind by another, despite the attempts by some textual critics to turn the process into a science” (295).

[ back ] 5. Here I differ from Heath 2002:86, who does not see a separation of editorial from interpretive practices in classical studies.

[ back ] 6. Experts also sometimes choose to reconstruct multiple texts under a single traditional designation, and they may recognize the involvement of multiple authorial minds as well as hands in the formulation of artifacts. See Nagy 2004:25–39 for an evolutionary model of textualization in the oral tradition of Homeric poetry. Variorum and multiple-text editions of plays by Shakespeare are prominent examples of a similar kind.

[ back ] 7. Cf. Culler 1988: “One of the signal virtues of literary criticism is that it does not deem its texts to be simply data about something else” (278).

[ back ] 8. The literary historian has still another goal: using the text (along with any other relevant information) as evidence to make historical claims. This is how I understand Heath’s historically oriented, intentionalist model of interpretation: Heath’s ideal is to make historical (expository) determinations rather than explore perspectives afforded by the text (2002). While I embrace Heath’s pragmatic model of pluralism, I consider his recommended method of interpretation to be not literary but historical in orientation.

[ back ] 9. The importance of taking a Platonic dialogue as a whole is emphasized by, among others, McCabe 2008:89, Blondell 2002:4–5, Cooper 1997:xxiii, Press 1993b.

[ back ] 10. Kahn 2000, for example, sees issues of chronology as highly relevant to the interpretation of Plato’s dialogues because “chronology is the backbone of any historical understanding” (190), which includes the history of philosophy. But Kahn is not suggesting, as I am, that history is the backbone of the philosophical interpretation of Plato generally; in describing his view of Plato’s work, Kahn proceeds from a firm “historical claim” about chronology to reach a “hermeneutic hypothesis,” which is in turn tested in his interpretation of certain dialogues (190). See also Griswold 1999; Kahn 1996; McPherran 1990.

[ back ] 11. Cooper relies on a holistic vision of authorial control to suggest that “it is in the entire writing that the author speaks to us”; so “what the writing itself is saying” equals “what Plato is saying as its author” (1997:xxiii). This appeal to the author’s ultimate control threatens to devolve into a truism, flipping Plato’s manifest renunciation of authority on its head by confusing authorship with authorial commitment. Blondell 2002:43–45, Rowe 2007:15–16, and Ferrari 2010:28 offer similar explanations, in effect explaining away Plato’s glaring absence from his dialogues by implying that any text (if not an entire oeuvre) by a single author must necessarily be treated, in the final analysis, as univocal (i.e. expository).

[ back ] 12. Cf. C. Brooks 1947:192–214; Frye 1957:4–5, 84–85.

[ back ] 13. Cf. Vendler 1997a:1–41, esp. 21–25.

[ back ] 14. See also Aviram 2001.

[ back ] 15. E.g. Sonnet 30: “Whenever I think about the past, I sink into a melancholy recollection of all my losses; but if, when I am doing this, I think of you, I seem once again to possess all I have lost, and my melancholy ceases” (Vendler 1997b).

[ back ] 16. Contrast Arieti’s experiential aesthetic, which asks that our intellects be satisfied by “lessons” in Plato’s dialogues that are true but not “startlingly new,” lessons that “do not dazzle with breathtaking novelty” (1998:283). Arieti, who cites Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Euripides as parallels, stands out as an advocate for literary aestheticism in the study of Plato: “The kind of teaching that one receives from art is very different from that which one receives from a philosophical treatise; art works primarily by appealing to our emotions” (283). This strikes me as a diminished and tepid aestheticism, and a poor response to literary form, underestimating the cerebral rewards of a Sophoclean play no less than those of a Platonic dialogue.

[ back ] 17. Vendler herself does not use this term. For discussions of literary perspectivism, see Spitzer 1988, Burke 1969:503–517; cf. Cooper 1997:xxiii. Regarding perspectivism in Shakespeare, Russ McDonald notes that scholars have situated Shakespeare’s own perspectivism among Early Modern conceptions of ancient rhetoric (2001:49). As a hermeneutic principle, perspectivism may be seen in the New Critical suggestion that literary criticism (unlike historical and philosophical interpretation) “is as much concerned with the processes of stylistic refraction as it is with the topics and ideas mediated by the literary text” (Bradford 1997:35).

[ back ] 18. Schleiermacher 1936:4; Lamm 2000:222–226.

[ back ] 19. Rutherford 1995; Kahn 1996; Rowe 2006, 2007.

[ back ] 20. See e.g. Rowe 2007:12.

[ back ] 21. See Hollander 2001:1–2.

[ back ] 22. On the metalinguistics of metaphor as turning, see Nietzsche 2010; Culler 1975, 2002; Derrida 1984; Lakoff and Johnson 2003; Schur 1998.

[ back ] 23. Quoting a definition of rhetoric from the OED, Rowe writes, “If rhetoric is ‘the art of using language so as to persuade or influence others,’ Plato has a fair claim to be the inventor, as well as the finest proponent, of philosophical rhetoric” (2007:268).

[ back ] 24. Rowe poses his view of Plato and Socrates against, in particular, what he sees as skeptical developmentalism, on the one hand, and strict doctrinalism, on the other; he seeks to discern and explain Plato’s varied but purposeful strategies of writing, which persuasively acclimate readers to a coherent set of ideas that may then serve as “starting-points” for further thought (2007:1–51; see also Penner and Rowe 2005:196–205). Rowe’s emphasis on unity, connectedness, and purposefulness recalls Schleiermacher, in particular.

[ back ] 25. Cf. a question rehearsed in Rowe 2007: “why on earth did Plato not try to impart his teaching in a more direct way?” (3).

[ back ] 26. Plato’s “aim is to draw us over from where are now to where he is; and to that end he employs a variety of persuasive devices” (Rowe 2006:10; cf. 2007:25, 31, 55.). Words such as “aim” and “end” reflect a teleological conception of “devices,” identifiable, conventionally rhetorical structures that are used purposefully to achieve a univocal (expository) agenda.

[ back ] 27. Cf. White 1979:13–30.

[ back ] 28. Compare the references to digression (abschweifen, Tennemann 1792:127) and “disconnectedness” (Unzusammenhang, Schleiermacher 1836:8–9) quoted above.

[ back ] 29. See Rowe 2007:2n2 for a related and explicit emphasis on the term “apparent.” Compare Schleiermacher’s “apparently” (1836:37–38), quoted above.

[ back ] 30. Compare Schleiermacher’s stress on “connectedness” (Zusammenhang, 1836:8).

[ back ] 31. A related version of Platonic writing is seen in the notion of “logographic necessity,” adopted from the Phaedrus as a hermeneutic principle. See Clay 2000:110–114; Strauss 1964:53.

[ back ] 32. Blondell 2002:4, with note 8. As Blondell also points out, this holistic organicism is a decidedly modern hermeneutic principle, but it may be well suited to interpreting Plato’s ancient texts, depending on the reader’s agenda (2002:5).

[ back ] 33. Rutherford writes that he and his colleagues have been “using tools of literary analysis to shed light on Plato’s method of working, which is … very far from that of a modern writer of philosophic textbooks” (2002:250).

[ back ] 34. Norris’s title contains echoes of the “linguistic turn” (Rorty), Heidegger’s “turning,” and the turns of metaphor as trope. Derrida 1983 (“Plato’s Pharmacy”) is the seminal text in this regard.

[ back ] 35. See Kenneth Burke, “Rhetoric—Old and New” (1967). Bradford 1997: “Rhetoric has been variously transformed into modern stylistics. The New Critics and the Formalists are the most obvious inheritors of the disciplines of rhetoric” (13).

[ back ] 36. “Rehabilitators of rhetoric in the twentieth century have set themselves two goals: to achieve a total rhetoric, and to make it descriptive rather than prescriptive. A total rhetoric would address all aspects of textual construction, global as well as local” (Chatman 1990:185).

[ back ] 37. See Cole 1991:21–22.

[ back ] 38. Nehamas 1985:3.

[ back ] 39. Rowe exhibits a particularly offhand disregard for the overdetermination of texts (2006:9–10). Rowe raises the specter of “varieties of relativism in literary theory,” wielding the term relativism—itself a fashionable and politically charged bogey—to dismiss the possibility that the Republic might convey multiple and contradictory currents of thought, rather than standing as a single ideological edifice (which must nevertheless be “excavated and reconstructed”). See also Annas 2000:34.

[ back ] 40. Freud 1953:283–284.

[ back ] 41. For a defense of historically oriented intentionalism, see Heath 2002. For a wide-ranging argument against giving special consideration to authorial intention over other kinds of evidence, see Maynard 2009, who suggests that, their usefulness notwithstanding, “historical interpretations are only other interpretations” (30).

[ back ] 42. Scholes 1985:8.

[ back ] 43. Cf. Kahn 1996: “behind the literary fluctuations of Plato’s work stands the stable world view defined by his commitment to an otherworldly metaphysics” (xv–xvi, my emphasis).

[ back ] 44. Rowe 2006: “The approach I shall adopt in this chapter is to reject absolutely the possibility that Plato intended to leave his readers with an open text, that is, a text on which the reader is free to place his or her own interpretation” (8–9). Rowe must rely on a self-confirming intentionalist premise (prioritizing what he is certain that Plato intended) in order to argue for an expository model of authorial message-making as opposed to a literary model of mediation, pluralism, perspectivized ideas, linguistic patterning, and overdetermination.

[ back ] 45. As Todorov 2007:27 says of literature: “Unlike religious, moral or political discourse, it does not formulate a system of precepts.” See Culler 2007:233, who notes that de Man’s version of rhetorical analysis fought against critics’ use of literature to broadcast precepts.