Derrida’s “Plato’s Pharmacy” from Dissemination

Derrida: Dissemination “Plato’s Pharmacy”
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies
•    Derrida: Western thought has always been structured in dichotomies
o    These dichotomies are not polar opposites, though
•    The second term is always considered negative, corrupt (man/woman, light/dark): arrangement gives priority
•    Writing is the representation of speech
•    The possibility of opposing the two terms on the basis of presence is already structured by difference and distance as much as writing is
•    Language is constituted by the very distances and differences it seeks to overcome
o    This lag in any signifying is differance
•    Appears to be immediate and present
“Plato’s Pharmacy: The Final Inscription”
•    Plato in Phaedrus: “writing can only repeat itself; always signifies the same”
•    One is dishonored only if one writes in a dishonorable fashion
o    Phaedrus: what does it mean to write beautifully?
•    Khairein: takes place in the name of truth, in the name of knowledge of truth, of truth in the knowledge of self
•    Pharmakon: both a remedy and a poison
•    Writing is proposed, presented, and asserted as pharmakon
•    Morality is at stake: public morals and social conventions
o    Question of knowing what is done and what is not done => question of writing
•    The truth of writing (non-truth) can’t be discovered in ourselves
o    Myth: writing is repeating without knowing
•    The discipline of writing will improve memory and wisdom
•    Question: the tekhne—sophists and rhetors had or pretended to have at their disposal—at once an art and an instrument
•    Logos: indebted to the father ; tokos: return or revenue
•    The good is hidden, illuminating source of logos
•    Thoth: god of language
•    Pharmakon of writing is good for hypomnesis (re-memoration, recollection, consignation) and not for the mneme (living, knowing memory) that Thamus, in the Phaedrus, condemns as being of little worth
•    God of writing must also be the god of death
•    Figure of Thoth is opposed to its other—the original kind of logic but it at once supplants and supplements it
o    Extends or opposes by repeating or replacing
“The Pharmakon”
•    Pharmakon=remedy
o    Not a completely inaccurate translation
o    Translation of King Thamus
•    The pharmakon goes against natural life
•    Opposition by King Thamus: Writing goes round in circles
o    Writing will weaken the memory—will draw on what is written down
o    Writing is only apparently good for memory, seemingly able to help it from within
•    Memory is like a shelter in a crypt: life of a memory, taking it out of itself by putting it to sleep in a monument
•    Memory and truth can’t be separated
•    Writing has no value on its own: simulacrum—mime of memory, of knowledge, of truth
•    Sophists: not memory, but memorials
•    Memory always needs signs to recall the non-present
•    The pharmakon can restore memories; monuments—it is a debilitating poison for memory but a remedy for its symptoms
•    Writing is external to (internal) memory, affects memory inside: effect of this pharmakon
•    111: Freud’s analogy; writing has no effect on memory
•    While presence is the general form of what is, the present for its part is always different
Critical moments the text
70: Pharmacia is also a common noun signifying the administration of the pharmakon, the drug: the medicine and/or poison.  “Poisoning” was not the least usual meaning of “pharmacia.”  Antiphon has left us the logogram of an accusation of poisoning against a mother-in-law.”  Through her games, Pharmacia has dragged down to death a virginal purity and an unpenetrated interior.”
77: “From the position of the holder of the scepter, the desire of writing is indicated, designated, and denounced as a desire for orphanhood and patricidal subversion.  Isn’t this pharmakon then a criminal thing, a poisoned present?”
84: “Logos is thus a resource.  Once must turn to it, and not merely when the solar source is present and risks burning the eyes if stared at; one has also to turn away toward logos when the sun seems to withdraw during its eclipse.  Dead, extinguished, or hidden, that star is more dangerous than ever.”
89: “The process of substitution, which thus functions as a pure play of traces or supplements or, again, operates within the order of the pure signifier which no reality, no absolutely external reference, no transcendental signified, can come to limit, bound, or control; this substitution, which could be judged ‘mad’ since it can go on infinitely in the element of the linguistic permutation of substitutes, of substitutes for substitutes; this unleashed chain is nevertheless not lacking violence.”
100: “Such will be, in its logical outlines, the objection the king raises to writing: under pretext of supplementing memory, writing makes one even more forgetful; far from increasing knowledge, it diminishes it.  Writing does not answer the needs of memory, it aims to the side, does not reinforce the mneme, but only hypomnesis.”
104: “Every model of classical reading is exceeded there at some point, precisely at ht point where is attaches to the inside of the series—it being understood that this excess is not a simple exit out of the series, since that would obviously fall under one of the categories of the series.  The excess is only a certain displacement of the series.”
108-9: “The boundary (between inside and outside, living and nonliving) separates not only speech from writing but also memory as an unveiling (re-)producing a presence form re-memoration as the mere repetition of a monument; truth as distinct from its sign, being as distinct from types.”
Favorite quote
112: “How indeed does the dialectician simulate him whom he denounces as a simulator, as the simulacrum-man?”


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