Voices in the Interstices: Internal Aporia in the Platonic Dialogues

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0001-9258-1065
Pincus, Matthew, Classics - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Clay, Jenny, Classics, University of Virginia

I examine the phenomenon of central or internal aporetic moments in the Platonic dialogues from a literary, dramaturgical, and narratological perspective. Throughout the investigation, my guiding questions are: (1) what are the meaning and function of internal aporia in a Platonic text, and (2) how can it help us to understand the vexed question of Plato’s thoughts about writing and its implications for philosophy? Combining close literary analysis with contemporary narratology, I analyze this phenomenon with respect to classical literary conventions surrounding the textual “middle” and narrative interruption, and I consider how Plato transforms these conventions for his own philosophical purposes. I argue that this kind of aporia is not simply a logical impasse that results from Socrates’ elenctic arguments, nor merely protreptic to oral philosophizing outside the text. Instead, by investigating the literary prehistory of internal aporia and then its use in the Meno and the Euthydemus (with appropriate comparanda, drawn from the Platonic corpus, for each), I conclude that an internal aporetic moment is a fundamentally Platonic and textual rupture that pierces through each of the various narrative levels and the argument itself, with different effects upon the participants of the dialogue at the different levels (e.g. Socrates, his immediate interlocutors, and the internal audience; any frame narrators or interlocutors; the reader and the author of the text).

The purpose of this rupture, by rendering the whole narrative and argumentative structure transparent to the reader, is to emancipate her perspective from the various mimetic situations of the dialogue and to enable her to confront the question at hand from a multiplicity of different perspectives at the different narrative levels. Moreover, as a narrative pause that encourages all the participants, but especially the reader, to re-discover their bearings, recollect what has come before, and anticipate what is to come, it also reveals alternative argumentative pathways embedded within the text, encouraging the re-reading of the dialogue and the repetition of the argument, even as both move inexorably forward. This interpretation, I believe, yields important insights not only into Plato’s understanding of the nature of philosophy, writing, and reading, but also into his broader understanding of human engagement with the world.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Plato, Ancient Greek Literature, Aporia, Literary Interpretation, Narratology
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