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Ramona A. Naddaff: Exiling the Poets: The Production of Censorship in Plato's
Republic. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Pp. xv, 189. $27.50.)

This thought-provoking book well repays its reader's effort. Its central the-
sis is that Plato, through his Republic, becomes the founder of Western literary
censorships (p. ix). The main thesis has as a corollary the assumption that prior to
Plato there existed a literature for him to censor. I have put the central claim in
the plural because Naddaff attributes to Plato or his Socrates both a first censor-
ship (that of Republic books 2-3) and a second censorship (that of book 10). Her
book would be useful if she did nothing more than spell out the difference be-
tween these two censorships. In fact, she shows how the second subverts the
first and how, ultimately, the second censorship subverts itself. Subversion and
self-subversion are recurring themes of her book (pp. 3, 69, 106).
The first censorship acknowledges the need for poetry while excluding
the poetry that does not conform to standards imposed by philosophy (p. 41).
Poetry must conform to the philosophic insights that the gods cause only the
good and that the unchanging and perfect gods would in no way lie or change
shape, not even for the benefit of human beings (p. 31). Such an understand-
ing of the gods is incompatible with the spectacle of a hero wracked with grief
for the loss of a friend or with women wailing in funeral rituals (pp. 42-45).
Socrates's censorship allows only for such gods as might serve as models for
the self-sufficient man, one who is unmoved by pain or loss (p. 46). The politi-
cal man who does not grieve because he realizes that life itself is worth nothing
gains a rare insight into the detachment of the philosophic perspective (pp.
113-14). Socrates's discourse is surely self-subverting, however, if he speaks of
the self-sufficient man as the goal of the education of citizens. It is hard to see
how a self-sufficient man could be a part of the city. Naddaff does not mention
this difficulty, perhaps because she assumes that the first censorship is harmo-
niously in the service of philosophy and the city.
The second censorship is more radical than the first. While the first saw a
useful educative function for the poetry that imitates the actions of decent men,
the second excludes from the city all imitative poetry (pp. 67-9). Naddaff explains
this subversion of the earlier teaching as rooted in Socrates's self-criticism of his
own tripartite division of the soul. While Socrates is "deeply and relentlessly com-
mitted" to developing the conditions for the just and temperate life, he "never
misses the opportunity to explore and understand instability and insatiability, the
dark side of human life" (p. 97). In book 4 of the Republic, the thumoeidetic or
spirited part of the soul is the ally of reason against the appetites. In book 10, this
third part of the soul disappears, and with it goes the ability of the guardians to
withstand the influence of tragic poetry. The rejection of all mimetic or imitative
poetry derives from the suspicion that the indifference and detachment of the self-
sufficient man are things that no education can instill in human beings. Poetry
must be excluded altogether. But Socrates's admission that even the best men take
pleasure in tragedy subverts the second censorship and leaves open the possibil-
ity of a return to the edifying poetry of the first censorship (pp. 119-20).
Naddaff discusses at length the distinction between imitation and narra-
tion, and she explains the use that Socrates makes of that distinction. The Republic
itself is narrated throughout by Socrates. One puzzling feature of Naddaff's
book is that in her frequent quotations from the Republic she everywhere drops
the narrative voice ("I said," "he said"), thus turning a narrated dialogue into
an imitative or performed dialogue. Nowhere does she explain or even ac-
knowledge this change. Of course, from Plato's point of view the dialogue is
imitative, since Plato everywhere imitates Socrates. Dropping the Socratic nar-
ration eliminates one feature that distinguishes Socrates from Plato.
My short summary hardly does justice to the dialectical interplay of Naddaff's
argument. Like all dialectical arguments, her argument is subject to what she calls
self-subversion (p. 3). She assumes that Plato is the founder of Western literary
censorship, and that "the act of censorship politicizes literature" (p. 16). At the
same, time, however, she maintains that poetry always served the traditional civic
function of paideia, of educating the citizens of the polis (pp. 13, 124). Tragic poetry
was political to its core. Naddaff confirms this view when she writes that "the
concept of literature as literature" first emerges under the influence of censorship
(p. 24). What she means by this is that literature as literature is the result of an
alliance of philosophy and literature in the form of poetry that meets the stan-
dards of philosophy (p. 67). She seems to assume that Socrates's censorship in
books 2-3 is in the interest of philosophy and its standards, but her argument here
subverts itself by speaking as if the first censorship is also in the interest of the city.
But only if the first censorship is in the interest of the city, rather than philosophy,
does it make sense to say that the "charges against the poets in the Republic clearly
mirror...the attack on philosophy" (p. 139). The attack on philosophy in the name
of the city was mounted by comic poetry. Aristophanes censored the philosophic
way of life. Plato did not invent censorship in the name of the city; he co-opted in
defense of philosophy a weapon invented by others. The best defense turns out to
be a good offense. Socrates tries to show that poetry, not philosophy, corrupts the
yoxing from the point of view of the city. But Socrates is always aware that this is
not the only point of view. Notwithstanding his bad influence on the young, the
tragic poet is "holy, wonderful, and pleasing" (p. 64, quoting Republic 398a). Naddaff
is reluctant to ascribe these words directly to Socrates (pp. 64-5). She thereby avoids
the conclusion that follows when Socrates here speaks in his own name. Censor-
ship creates literature not by subordinating poetry to the needs of the city, but by
forcing tragic poetry to an awareness of the sense in which the fully human, rep-
resented in poetry, transcends the city.
Naddaff's argument points throughout to the way in which philosophy needs
poetry. Her own account of this is in terms of the equality of both philosopher and
non-philosopher in the face of death (p. 112). Even the most decent men that Socrates
can imagine are moved to sorrow and pity by the death of those they love. Phi-
losophy cannot simply ignore this need of the human soul. But Naddaff suggests
another way in which philosophy needs poetry. She understands by philosophy
the concern with the eternal and unchanging, in the light of which the human
things are "worth nothing" (p. 113; cf. 156n.23). This account of philosophy sub-
verts philosophy as a way of life, since the philosophic way of life is itself a human
thing. Naddaff everywhere hints at a problem stated openly by Lyotard: "The fact
is that the Platonic discourse that inaugurates science is not scientific, precisely to
the extent that it attempts to legitimate science" {Postmodern Condition 1984, 29).
Naddaff's descriptions of poetry and philosophy suggest that it is Platonic poetry
that supplies the discourse that legitimates philosophy as a way of life. Whether
this conclusion subverts her intention is one of many important questions the
reader may bring to this stimulating book.

—Christopher Colmo