Friday, June 27, 2008
Lee, Benjamin Todd. "Review of Paul Allen Miller's POSTMODERN SPIRITUAL PRACTICES." BRYN MAWR CLASSICAL REVIEW (June 2008).
Miller, Paul Allen. Postmodern Spiritual Practices: the Construction of the Subject and the Reception of Plato in Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2007. It is practically a truism of literary theory that poststructuralism is anti-humanist as well as anti-classical, and that the "swerve into poststructuralism was a turning against humanism, against the traditional values of Western civilization." Miller provides a fundamental challenge to this proposition, and in a thoughtful and deeply researched study of Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault, shows the great extent to which these critical titans all relied on exegesis of Plato and other texts of classical antiquity to articulate their philosophies. In so doing, Miller addresses directly one of the most important questions confronting classical studies as a discipline: namely, the value and relevance of a classical canon in the face of poststructuralism and its off-shoots in deconstruction, gender theory, and postcolonialism. Miller is obviously not the first to address this question, but I believe he has offered a significant argument that inscribes the classics into postmodernism, as opposed to attempting to apply postmodernist methodologies to classical texts. His argument attempts to shift the position of the classics from the periphery to the center of a poststructuralist theoretical geography inasmuch as he argues that a student of these modern and dynamic texts would benefit also from an understanding of ancient philosophy. Miller studies not only the manifestly classicizing works of each figure (e.g. Derrida's "Plato's Pharmacy," Lacan's seminar on the Symposium, Foucault's lectures on the Alcibiades), but also the broader intellectual climate of the France in which these works were written. He argues that these theorists used Platonic texts as a means of responding to each other in an ongoing dialogue on the nature of subjectivity and how philosophy can transform subjectivity. In this critical regard, then, Miller's book creates an alternative to the theoretical apparatus we currently employ and gives our discipline a new way of performing our identity: we are essential to poststructuralism and essential to the thought of Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault. Read the rest here: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2008/2008-06-30.html.