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neitzsche: philosophy and deconstruction

‘conspiracy’, suffering the taunts of professors and students unwilling to question received wisdom. The ‘Church of Reason’ is too firmly established in Chicago, with its neo-Aristotelian stress on the virtues of clear-cut logical analysis and firmly categorical thinking. The trouble comes to a head for Phaedrus when his class is taken over – ominously – by the Chairman for the Committee on Analysis of Ideas and Study of Method. What ensues – at least in Phaedrus’s inflamed imagination – is an ultimate duel of wits between ‘dialectic’ and ‘rhetoric’, with rhetoric decisively winning the day. The turning-point comes with his realization that ‘ “dialectic” had some special meaning that made it a fulcrum word – one that can shift the balance of an argument, depending on how it’s placed’. By challenging the Chairman to explain the provenance of dialectic – its ‘genealogy’, in Nietzschean terms – Phaedrus shows it to rest on a willed and systematic forgetting of its own rhetorical origins. Reason, or the supposed self-evidence of reason, is thrown into doubt by its manifest failure to justify its methods on other than purely tautological grounds. Hence Phaedrus’s triumphant conclusion: The halo round the heads of Plato and Socrates is now gone. He sees that they are consistently doing that which they accuse the Sophists of doing – using emotionally persuasive language for the ulterior purpose of making the weaker argument, the case for dialectic, appear the stronger. We always condemn most in others, he thought, that which we most fear in ourselves. (Pirsig 1974, p. 378)

But that way madness lies. Phaedrus cannot communicate his discovery within the norms of institutionalized knowledge and ‘dialogue’ so zealously preserved by the Chicago Aristotelians. He leaves the university and suffers (like Nietzsche) a protracted – though in his case not terminal – nervous collapse. The ‘original’ Phaedrus, in Plato’s dialogue of that title, is yet another foil for Socrates, a young and vaunting rhetorician whose headlong gambits are neatly anticipated at every turn (see Plato 1973). As far as the latter-day Phaedrus is concerned, this exchange simply follows the standard pattern of an argument ignoring its own


Christopher Norris on 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' (1982)  

Norris reads Pirsig's 'Zen' as a Nietzchean-styled deconstructive critique of the 'authority of Socratic reason'...

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