Jarratt’s Rereading the Sophists

Susan Jarratt
Rereading the Sophists: Classical Rhetoric Refigured
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies

•    Investigate the reasons why the sophists have only lately begun to enter the conversation about the histories of rhetoric
•    How do the sophists answer questions treated by philosophy?
•    Examine history of the sophists and history in the sophists
•    Aristotle: sophists = a certain kind of moral purpose
o    Tricky emotional appeals ≠ methodological investigations
•    Enos: legitimate sophists in terms of “epistemology”
o    Describes sophistic discourses as a ‘non-rational’: a discourse structured by the conjunction of opposing logoi
•    For Derrida, the sophists are the ‘closest other’ of Plato, one inseparable side of a leaf that can’t exist without its opposite
o    Writing ≠ speech
o    Monument ≠ memory
o    Rhetoric ≠ philosophy
•    Nomoi: community-specific customs and laws
•    Goal of the historian: not to become to specialized or too generalized
•    Not suggesting that rhetorical historians fabricate a past, but view history as merely uncovering lost “facts”
•    “Each sophistic discourse disrupts a stable historical narrative and subverts the teleology of its analogs.” (ex.: Gorgias’ retelling of Helen)
•    Rhetorical history won’t look for superficial similarities, but look longer into discovering finer and finer shades of difference
•    Sophists use of antithesis:
o    Manipulative device to elicit emotional effects
o    Precursor to Aristotelian logic and Socratic definition: excludes one of two options
•    Logical structure = traditional history
•    Narrative structure = rhetorical history
•    Rearrangement is revaluation
•    Reassessment of the shift from an “oral” consciousness to full “rationality” by way of the sophists suggests a complication of that historical formula
•    For the sophists: nomos is the middle term between mythos and logos
o    Nomos: order
•    Discourse-as-knowledge → epistemic rhetoric
o    Knowledge is constructed as it’s enacted
•    Oppression
o    Sophists by Plato, Aristotle, and historians of philosophy
o    Women by men
o    Composition teachers by literature teachers
Xvi: “Once a metaphysical epistemology is put in place dividing being from seeming, substance from appearance, wisdom from eloquence, then a reductive picture of ‘rhetoric’ can be created, conveniently combining all the negative poles in each opposition, displacing them in favor of ‘philosophy.”
Xix: “The result will be different readings of canonical texts, as well as the identification of new significant sites of ‘rhetoric’ in its more comprehensive sophistic definition.”
Xx: “When the sophists are interpreted in reference to the mythic literary tradition, to the sixth-century natural philosophers, and to the political developments of their era, a general profile emerges of a group of intellectuals (in the active sense of the term) who rejected speculation about nature as an isolated activity but rather took their own materialist anthropology as the starting point for understanding and teaching effective discourse performance in the new democratic polis.  They were skeptical about a divine source of knowledge or value and focused attention on the process of group decision-making in historically and geographically specific contexts.  The first linguistic theorists, the sophists were performers as well, following in the tradition of oral poetry.  But they predated the establishment of sharp distinctions between the techniques and effects of poetry and language use in other fields.”
13: “The revisionary historian today will work with an expanded range of materials: not only the pedagogical treatises summarized in traditional histories, but any literary artifact as it operates to shape knowledge and effect social. The identification of materials at an active site becomes as must the work of the revisionary historian as her commentary on them.”


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