Friday, July 09, 2010

Brill, Sarah. Review of Max Statkiewicz, RHAPSODY OF PHILOSOPHY. NDPR (July 2010).

Statkiewicz, Max. Rhapsody of Philosophy: Dialogues with Plato in Contemporary Thought. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 2009.

Like many of the contemporary thinkers with whom he engages, Max Statkiewicz diagnoses the impact of Platonism on contemporary western thought as a function of a selective reading of Plato's critique of poetry, one which overlooks the complexity of the dialogues' treatment of representation. Thus, at its most general, his Rhapsody of Philosophy: Dialogues with Plato in Contemporary Thought comprises a series of meditations upon Gilles Deleuze's oft-quoted claim that Plato himself made the first step in overturning Platonism. More specifically, the book has two trajectories: to illustrate an element of Platonic thought (its "rhapsodic" dimension) that has not been sufficiently attended to by what Statkiewicz identifies as the two main camps of Plato scholarship (the traditional and the dramatic) and to draw out the connection between this element and the work of a number of contemporary theorists, a connection which should point the way toward a fuller dialogue between ancient and contemporary thought. What Statkiewicz means by "rhapsodic" unfolds throughout the book, but is presented in the introduction as "the mode of thinking -- Plato's mode, replayed in the texts of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, Luce Irigaray, Deleuze, Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe -- that challenges the dominance of univocal interpretation, as well as the corresponding treatise format, in the modern philosophical tradition" (4).

According to Statkiewicz, both the approach to the dialogues that seeks rigorously maintained propositions and the approach that emphasizes the dramatic and dialogic character of Plato's work share the assumption that an interpretation of the dialogues rises and falls with one's capacity to uncover the intention of Plato the author. Because the variety of voices and gestures that appear in the dialogues defy reduction to the single voice of Plato, appeals to authorial intent overlook the radical polysemia of the dialogues; that is, according to Statkiewicz, such appeals overlook their rhapsodic character. What is gained, then, in attempting a rhapsodic dialogue with Plato, is resistance to a trend that fails to do justice to the dialogues themselves and that forecloses the possibility of "authentic dialogue" with Plato: "Only a genuinely rhapsodic reading will be able to respect the integrality of a dialogue and at the same time set into play its mimetic character" (14).

Thus, to take up a metaphor Statkiewicz uses in his introduction, this book fights a battle on many fronts. In between its "Polemic Introduction" and its "Rhapsodic Conclusion," its four chapters develop the book's main themes by presenting the engagement of a variety of thinkers with passages from the Republic, the Phaedrus, the Sophist and the Timaeus. . . .

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