A Writer's Discourse
TAKE on art|July - December 2017

There are two moments in Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus that I come back to often. The first is an epitaph that Socrates uses to explain bad writing, which he recites (and I will now quote) in full:

Stephanie Bailey

A maid of bronze I stand on Midas’ tomb,

So long as waters flow and trees grow tall,

Abiding here on his lamented grave,

I tell the traveller Midas here is laid.1

Socrates says it makes no difference what order these lines come in — essentially the text will always say the same thing. The only role for this bronze figure, inanimate and solid, is to mark the place where a dead body lies. It represents the opposite of what Socrates considers to be good discourse, which should be “constructed like a living creature.”2 This live body is articulated in another moment in Plato’s dialogue when Socrates likens himself to a vessel through which words pour in as if from some external and forgotten source.3 This brief admission feels like a breaking of the fourth wall—a moment when Plato the writer punctures through the scene he has constructed to reveal it for what it is: a construction. After all, the words that poured into Socrates in Phaedrus did not come from Sappho or Anacreon, as he supposed in the text. Rather, they came from none other than Plato himself, the author who speaks through the mouths of the many bodies he created for the purposes of his dialogues.

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A Writer's Discourse

There are two moments in Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus that I come back to often. The first is an epitaph that Socrates uses to explain bad writing, which he recites (and I will now quote) in full:

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