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Exiling the Poets: The Production of Censorship in Plato's "Republic" Hardcover – 14 Feb 2003


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The question of why Plato censored poetry in his "Republic" has bedeviled scholars for centuries. In "Exiling the Poets," Ramona A. Naddaff offers a strikingly original interpretation of this ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy. Underscoring not only the repressive but also the productive dimension of literary censorship, Naddaff brings to light Plato's fundamental ambivalence about the value of poetic discourse in philosophical investigation.
Censorship, Nadaff argues, is not merely a mechanism of silencing but also provokes new ways of speaking about controversial and crucial cultural and artistic events. It functions philosophically in the "Republic" to subvert Plato's most crucial arguments about politics, epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics. Naddaff develops this stunning argument through an extraordinary reading of Plato's work. In books 2 and 3, the first censorship of poetry, she finds that Plato constitutes the poet as a rival with whom the philosopher must vie agonistically. In other words, philosophy does not replace poetry, as most commentators have suggested; rather, the philosopher becomes a worthy and ultimately victorious poetic competitor. In book 10's second censorship, Plato exiles the poets as a mode of self-subversion, rethinking and revising his theory of mimesis, of the immortality of the soul, and, most important, the first censorship of poetry. Finally, in a subtle and sophisticated analysis of the myth of Er, Naddaff explains how Plato himself censors his own censorships of poetry, thus producing the unexpected result of a poetically animated and open-ended dialectical philosophy.

About the Author

Ramona A. Naddaff is assistant professor of rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. She is also a senior editor at, and codirector of, Zone Books.

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