4inquiries (4inquiries) wrote in psychoanalysts,

Plato on the Pharmakon

From the Phaedrus:

This is a quick look at Plato's Phaedrus which may help me to understand better from where Derrida and others are coming.

In the Phaedrus Plato gives us a myth in which a girl, Orithuia, is abducted by the personification of the north wind, Boreas. On one hand John M. Cooper informs us, “According to legend, Orithuia, daughter of the Athenian king Erechtheus, was abducted by Boreas while she was playing with the Nymphs along the banks of the Ilisus River” (emphasis added 509). On the other hand Plato tells us, “she was playing with Pharmaceia” (229c). We are at the intersection of sexuality and drug use. Thus a love potion - Socrates says he has been affected by his interlocutor as “a potion to charm me” (230d).

Socrates, “isn’t the method of medicine in a way the same as the method of rhetoric” (270b). Plato offers us a myth in which the father of writing gifts writing to the king of all Egypt, describing writing as “a potion for memory and for wisdom” (274e). The king exposes this potion as not only good for memory - writing formalizes memories - but also bad - writing “will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing” (275a).

Socrates relates a speech “by Stesichoris [cured by confession]” in which “the best things we have come from madness, when it is given as a gift of the god” (244a). For Plato there are good and bad parts of madness that are tied to one another, as right and left hands without ambidexterity. People “accomplish little or nothing when they are in control of themselves” (244b). They would be better off with “god-inspired prophetic trances” (244b). In particular, “madness (mania) from a god is finer than self-control of human origin” (244d). So “self-controlled verses will be eclipsed by the poetry of men who have been driven out of their minds” (245a). In fact “madness can provide relief from the greatest plagues of trouble that beset certain families because of their guilt for ancient crimes: it turns up among those who need a way out” (244d-e). And “the right sort of madness finds relief from present hardships for a man it has possessed” (244e). The thesis is “this sort of madness is given us by the gods to ensure our greatest good fortune” (245b-c). In this avowal Plato reaffirms his split but ego-centered psychology when arguing, “Don’t we differ with one another and even with ourselves?” (263a).
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