Thursday, August 14, 2008


Version at BMCR home site
Andrew Scholtz, Concordia Discors: Eros and Dialogue in Classical Athenian Literature. Hellenic Studies, 24. Washington, D.C.: Center for Hellenic Studies, 2007. Pp. ix, 174. ISBN 9780674025981. $18.95 (pb).
Reviewed by Nicholas Rynearson, University of Georgia

Andrew Scholtz's Concordia Discors, a revised version of his 1997 Yale dissertation, explores the use of the language of desire (eros) to address political subjects in Athenian literature of the late fifth and early fourth centuries. Scholtz seeks to make an original contribution by applying theories of the sociality of language, especially those of Bakhtin and his circle, to his analysis of eros in discourses about politics. The connection of the political and erotic is, of course, not a new area of investigation and significant work has appeared since Scholtz's dissertation research.1 For the most part, the book avoids feeling dated by engaging some of the more important recent contributions, especially Victoria Wohl's insightful and influential Love Among the Ruins (Princeton: PUP, 2002), which covers much of the same ground as the present study. Scholtz narrows his focus to offer a nuanced consideration of the rhetorical function of eros in a limited set of contexts where speakers must seek to communicate with their audiences through complex negotiations based on nuance, circumspection and ambiguity.

In six chapters, Scholtz offers fresh perspectives on the texts he treats by contextualizing them in useful and sometimes quite innovative ways. For example, he reads Pericles' Funeral Oration against the "epideictic" speeches of Isocrates; he finds a meaningful connection between extant demagogic rhetoric and Aristophanes' parody of that rhetoric in the Knights; and he takes a uniquely "dialogical approach" to the problem of Socrates by juxtaposing different literary representations of his relationship to his interlocutors in Aeschines of Sphettus, Plato and Xenophon. In general, his methodological approach, which draws on a fairly wide range of theorists but focuses on Bakhtin, provides a useful guiding principle for such contextualization. At times, however, Scholtz's application of specific theoretical models appears tangential or even confusing, particularly in his discussion of Socrates, which I address below.

The first chapter (Introduction) explains the book's central metaphor, concordia discors, Horace's succinct description of the Empedoclean model of flux (Epistles 1.12). For Scholtz, this metaphor of "discordant harmony" does double duty. First, concordia discors provides a model for the fraught relationship of literature to the "social-political-cultural matrix" in which it is produced and the ideological tensions texts absorb from this context in the form of "ambient dissonance... marring the harmonious unity of the literary Kunstwerk" (p. 1). Second, concordia discors is connected to the contradictory roles of eros in a political community: eros may be both "self-assertive", a desire to dominate and possess, exemplified by the negative image of tyranny (p. 13), and "communal", a force that draws individuals together, promotes bonds of philia and civic harmony, and turns the aggressivity Scholtz considers essential to eros outward toward common enemies (pp. 15-17). Concordia discors captures the "dynamic process" of political consensus as a fragile balance between individual and collective desires (p. 19). Scholtz's readings repeatedly return to two opposing trends that threaten to disturb this balance: on the one hand, the tensions and divisions masked by the harmony of political consensus constitute a polyvocality that threatens to dissolve into chaos; on the other hand, a communal, "centripetal" desire may become tyrannical by drowning out individual voices and making dialogue impossible.

This introductory chapter also provides background on the theoretical models that inform Scholtz's readings and a brief outline of the rest of the chapters. Scholtz begins with Althusser's "symptomatic reading" in order to define the interpreter's task as a diagnosis of ideological dissonance beneath the surface of the literary text.2 A "dialogical" approach, based on Bakhtin and members of the "Bakhtin circle", especially Valentin Voloshinov, nuances this diagnostic approach with a focus on the relationship of speaker to audience and the purposefulness of the utterance. This approach allows Scholtz to bring texts together in meaningful and illuminating juxtapositions based on shared strategies of communication. A number of other theorists, including J.L. Austin and Jacques Derrida, play supporting roles in Scholtz's outline of his methodology, though we are not prepared here for the repeated appearances of Gilles Deleuze later in the book.

Chapter 2 ("Lovers of It": Erotic Ambiguity in the Periclean Funeral Oration) begins a series of case studies with an examination of Pericles' famous exhortation (Thucydides 2.43) that the Athenians become lovers (erastai) of the polis -- or of its power (dunamis), an ambiguity Scholtz's discussion highlights. Scholtz argues that Pericles' "revalorization" of the self-assertive desire of the erastes as a community-oriented, patriotic desire fits into a pattern of eros vocabulary in "epideictic" oratory. Scholtz adduces Isocrates' Helen and Antidosis as strategic (if not necessarily ideological) parallels. Isocrates, according to Scholtz, uses deliberately counterintuitive praise of eros for "a certain shock value" (p. 30) that invites the audience to leave behind the conventional values of the many and join Isocrates as members of a more sophisticated, elite speech community "in the know" -- a risky strategy appropriate, according to Scholtz, to epideictic performance. In his search for common ground with an audience divided by class, diverging interests and the stresses of war, Pericles employs a similarly risky strategy. When he encourages his audience to look beyond the calculation of individual advantage and embrace a patriotic eros, he intends to shock his listeners out of the logic of the everyday and to "let passion, eros, guide their judgment" (p. 38). Whether this desire is for the idealized polis or for the more tangible rewards of Athenian empire (dunamis), Pericles' "centripetal" discourse seeks to put highly charged communal desires above the divergent concerns of individuals.

Following the same trajectory as Wohl's 2002 study, chapter 3 (He Loves You, He Loves You Not: Demophilic Courtship in Aristophanes' Knights) complements Pericles' image of love for the city with an exploration of Aristophanes' parody of demagogic rhetoric as eros for the demos in the Knights.3 The analysis of the wrangling of cynical slave-lovers for the affection of their debased and foolish master, Demos, is the most compelling and closely argued of the book. Scholtz emphasizes the pointedness of Aristophanes' parody by persuasively demonstrating a connection between this parody and rhetorical practice, in what he calls the "demophilia topos": a warning not to trust an opponent's declaration of affection for the people or the city. As we might expect, the outright declaration of desire for the demos like those of both Paphlagon and the Sausage-Seller (e.g., Knights 730-736) falls outside the bounds of extant demagogic oratory (pp. 46-47). But Scholtz points to instances of a relatively common assertion he paraphrases as, "So-and-so claims to love you / the demos / the polis, but in fact does not", drawing on examples such as Demosthenes 53.3 and Isocrates 8.121 (pp. 47-48). Paphlagon and the Sausage-Seller take to extremes both the "demophilia topos" and the declarations of love this topos is meant to counter, providing a comic critique of eroticized, "centripetal" discourses such as Pericles' Funeral Oration and their potentially manipulative power over the mass audiences of the Assembly, law courts or other public venues.

Aristophanes' critique of democratic discourses of consensus also provides the focus of Chapter 4 (Forgive and Forget: Concordia discors in Aristophanes' Assemblywomen and Lysistrata), which concentrates mainly on the gynaecocratic utopia of the Assemblywomen. Scholtz argues that the civic strife of 404 BCE and the amnesty that followed the democratic restoration provide the subtext for the women's coup and their "salvation" of the polis, despite the probable production date of 391. The women's new social order embodies civic harmony or "same-thinking" taken to an extreme as a radical antidote to stasis. Scholtz highlights the ambiguities of this radical utopia, which contains elements of the very problem it is designed to remedy, including some of the sins of the oligarchic coup of 404: silencing of dissent, confiscation of property and the abolition of the law courts and Assembly along with the women's dissolution of the family. These critiques not only emerge from Scholtz's reading of Praxagora's own vision of a new Athens, which prizes homonoia above all else; they are also focalized through two characters who resist the new order. First, the "Skeptic" refuses to surrender his property without assurances that everyone else will do so and "insists upon subjecting communalism to a thorough cross-examination before he will acquiesce (746-755)" (p. 104). Second, the young lover Epigenes, insisting on his free status and, therefore, his "civic and sexual autonomy", attempts to resist the old women who demand their privileges under the new regime (p. 106). "Aristophanes could not help but notice struggle internal to same-thinking, the city's saving grace, taken to the extreme: how it must forever resist resistance and dissent with dissent," Scholtz concludes (p. 108), suggesting that the Assemblywomen exposes the limits of consensus so insistent that it undercuts dialogue (p. 109).

Chapter 5 (Satyr, Lover, Teacher, Pimp: Socrates and His Many Masks) turns to the literary portraits of Socrates in Plato, Aeschines of Sphettus and Xenophon. Taking his cue from Socrates' speculation in the Phaedrus as to whether he is "a beast more complex and fiery than the monster Typhon, or a simpler being partaking of a divine and mild nature (229e-230a)" (p. 112), Scholtz argues for a multi-faceted -- even polymorphous -- Socrates, whose shifting identity is entirely socially embedded. In this way Scholtz brings welcome new perspective to the problem of the "Socratic question", since "Socrates" emerges only in conversations with his interlocutors. Three dialogues serve as case studies, occupying the three main sections of the chapter: Aeschines' Alcibiades, Plato's Gorgias and Xenophon's Symposium (though this last section draws almost as extensively on the Memorabilia). Building on Alcibiades' famous contrast between Socrates' satyr-like exterior and divine interior in Plato's Symposium, Scholtz makes the innovative argument that Socrates uses various "masks" in order to connect with his interlocutors in each of these dialogues.4

Hence Aeschines' Socrates, in an attempt to engage, and therefore benefit, his famous beloved, dons the mask of bacchant, which, according to Scholtz, means that "he has stepped outside his normal self and has embodied himself on the outside, closer to his dialogical other, but closer, too, to his anti-self, what he is not" (p. 124). Eros is an irrational force that drives Socrates to attempt to better his beloved and gives him the power to make every effort to this end, even without possessing any secure knowledge and with little hope of success.

In his discussion of the Gorgias, Scholtz concentrates on Socrates' conversation with the intractable Callicles and his attempts both to find common ground with him and, subsequently, to convert him to philosophy. Moving beyond Socrates' much-discussed observation that both he and Callicles are lovers of two beloved objects (481c-d), Scholtz suggests that Socrates takes on the role of the coercive, even violently passionate "sophist-rhetorician" in an attempt to convert Callicles (pp. 132-134). Scholtz makes the attractive suggestion that what Dodds sees as an "ascending spiral... [moving] from the superficial to the fundamental" (Plato. Gorgias. Oxford: OUP, 1959, pp. 3-4) in the dialogue can be rethought as a "strange version of the love-dance by which lovers ascend the cognitive-existential ladder in Plato's Phaedrus, Symposium, and First Alcibiades" (p. 135). That Socrates' conversion is unsuccessful, Scholtz concludes, suggests to the reader "that no simplistic scheme will explain dialogue in the real world; that missteps and disconnects, aggression and frustration, inevitably figure into the process" (p. 135).

In Xenophon's Symposium, Socrates playfully assumes the role of "pimp" (mastropos), a coy masquerade that Xenophon uses as a model for Socratic pedagogy as well as "a serio-comic way to think about Socrates' skill at social networking" (p. 140). In the mask of pimp, Scholtz sees Socrates' recognition not only of the practical need to "seduce" interlocutors into the pursuit of philosophy but also of "the importance of surface as interface between inner and outer being" (p. 140). Thus Socrates renders his "clients" agreeable (areskontes) to their beloved objects or to the city as a whole by making them seem to be excellent. But, according to Scholtz, for Xenophon's Socrates, "the reality of virtue offers the best route to the appearance of it" (p. 143) and this connection of the inner and outer self saves this peculiarly Socratic form of pimping from a charge of superficiality. Nonetheless, Scholtz suggests that, in the Symposium, "only through surface manifestation, whether verbal or visual, can inner meaning, the "soul," enter the give-and-take of social reality and thus make a difference" (p. 143). This necessity to negotiate inner and outer, surface and depth, Scholtz concludes, leaves an indelible remainder of ambivalence in Xenophon's portrait of Socratic eros.

The final chapter (Conclusions) caps the discussions of tension between unity and polyvocalism that run throughout the book by very briefly (the chapter fills little more than a page) highlighting the importance of understanding dialogue -- in scholarly as well as political discourse -- as a middle ground between the chaos of completely free individual voices and a consensus that threatens to tyrannize those individual voices.

Scholtz's readings, while often insightful, are occasionally marred by inadequately explained application of theory or superficial argumentation, compromising both their clarity and persuasiveness. Such problems are, in my view, particularly evident in Scholtz's treatment of the Socratic authors in Chapter 5, where his discussion of Aeschines of Sphettus may serve as an example.

While it is gratifying to see a substantive engagement with Aeschines' fragmentary but important work, Scholtz's central premise that Socrates presents himself to Alcibiades in the mask or guise of a bacchant sits uneasily with the text. Socrates compares himself to a bacchant in the frame of the dialogue (fragment 53 SSR), a first-person account that sets up and then comments on Socrates' narration of his conversation with Alcibiades. Since this imagery occurs here -- not in the conversation with Alcibiades itself -- I would argue that it has more to do with "Socrates'" attempt to forge a connection with the reader, who stands in for an interlocutor to his first-person narration in the frame, and it is this relationship that might be more fruitfully viewed through Scholtz's "dialogical" lens. In contrast, Alcibiades himself is subjected to the shaming effect of Socrates' questioning and his long speech on Themistocles, much more akin to his usual conversational mode as represented by all the Socratic authors. In addition, I am not convinced by Scholtz's claim that "...Socrates' eros is quite simply the desire to do another good" (p. 121). Aeschines, I believe, suggests a less straightforward (and more interesting) connection between Socrates' desire -- the object of which he explicitly states is Alcibiades -- and his ability to improve him. In addition, Scholtz's introduction of Deleuze's "simulacrum" seems superficial here: it fails to explain why this particular "mask" should derive persuasive power simply from its incongruity with Socratic rationalism (p. 124).5 Scholtz also takes for granted that Aeschines' dialogue is influenced by Plato's Ion in order to connect Socrates' "maenadism" with Plato's emphasis on ekstasis in that dialogue. The chronological relationship between these dialogues of Plato and Aeschines, however, remains unclear.6 Finally, while I agree with the assertion that the question of "divine dispensation" (theia moira) is an important feature of the discussion in Aeschines and that it is connected with the problem of inspiration in Plato's Ion (pp. 121-122), Scholtz overlooks what is perhaps a more significant connection with the question of the teachability of virtue in the Meno; for Plato also introduces the idea of theia moira in this dialogue (99c-100b), where it serves as an alternative to teaching as a model for improving his interlocutor, an issue of obvious and central importance to the Alcibiades.

Though the book is well-edited and generally free of errors, such problems in argumentation are sometimes exacerbated by obscurity in Scholtz's prose, as in the statement that same-thinking "must forever resist resistance and dissent with dissent" (p. 108, cited above) or in the first sentence of the preface, which states that "discordant harmony" is "an aesthetic principle where classical Athenian literature addresses politics in the idiom of sexual desire" (p. vii).7 In the end, the drawbacks I have described do not invalidate the interest of the provocative readings that characterize Scholtz's approach -- particularly in his analysis of Aristophanes' Knights and his exploration of the "dialogical" nature of literary representations of Socrates -- which will provide food for thought even for those readers whom they do not persuade.8


1.   Including J. Davidson, Courtesans and Fishcakes (London: Harper Collins, 1997); L. Kurke, Coins, Bodies, Games, and Gold (Princeton: PUP, 1999); W.R. Newell, Ruling Passion (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000); P. Ludwig, Eros and Polis (Cambridge: CUP, 2002).
2.   Here Scholtz draws especially on David Konstan's development of "symptomatic reading" in his Greek Comedy and Ideology (Oxford: OUP, 1995).
3.   The chapter was published separately in 2004: "Friends, Lovers, Flatterers: Demophilic Courtship in Aristophanes' Knights." TAPA 134: 263-293. In Love Among the Ruins, Wohl, too, begins with Pericles' Funeral Oration (Chapter 1) and then turns to the contrast between Pericles and Cleon in Chapter 2, which treats Knights extensively.
4.   Scholtz's understanding of Socrates' "dialogical masks" is substantively different from Alexander Nehamas' extremely attractive model of Socratic irony as a mask. The present discussion, however, would have benefited from a consideration of Socrates' ironic mode as described by Nehamas in his Art of Living (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), which does not appear in Scholtz's bibliography.
5.   The abrupt introduction of Deleuze here is somewhat typical of Scholtz's use of theoretical models outside his central methodological focus on Bakhtin and his circle. In his discussion of the Gorgias, for example, Deleuze's model of "sense" (sens) and Yair Neumann's discussion of the utterance, "I love you", seem only tangentially relevant to the main lines of the discussion and confusing to the reader. In Chapter 4, the use of the "computer analogy" of "handshake", which is then inflected through Deleuze, Voloshinov and Holquist, seems to add little to the interpretation of the Lysistrata into which it intrudes (pp. 84-85). In the same chapter, Max Weber's "communism of love" (p. 91) seems similarly tangential, apart from providing a brief connection with the theme of eros, which has all but disappeared in the rest of the chapter.
6.   Charles Kahn presents a detailed argument for dating Aeschines' Alcibiades and (following Barbara Ehlers and others) concludes that Aeschines is drawing on Plato's image of bacchants in the Ion ("Aeschines on Socratic Eros" in P. Vander Waerdt, The Socratic Movement. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994). This chronology, though not unreasonable, is hardly secure, as Kahn himself admits.
7.   It is perhaps trivial to point out that the sentence that follows is somewhat misleading when it claims that the book will explore how eros "became a vehicle for exploring and exploiting dissonance within the songs Athenians sang about themselves" (p. vii), since none of the texts treated in the book, with the exception of some lyric and choral passages from Aristophanes, can properly be considered "songs" the Athenians "sang". But a similarly frustrating lack of precision and obscurity of expression can be observed in a number of places in the book.
8.   I would add a final minor concern, regarding Scholtz's principle of selection, which is not explicitly addressed anywhere in the book. To me at least, the absence of any substantive discussion of tragedy -- especially Euripides -- seems to constitute a blind spot in this study. Perhaps the question of political consensus is not near enough the surface of Euripides' erotically charged plots to justify their treatment. Nonetheless, Euripides' repeated engagement with the power of eros to disrupt the polis as well as the household might have provided a useful counterpoint to the texts Scholtz considers. That he goes as far afield as Horace's Epistles for his central metaphor, in my view, underscores Euripides' conspicuous absence -- after all, he might have called the book dustropos harmonia, the Greek equivalent of concordia discors that describes Phaedra's ailing body in the Hippolytus, a play in which the destructive and divisive power of eros is an obsessive focus. (See especially F. Zeitlin, Playing the Other. [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996] pp. 236-237, 247-248, 351-352.)

1 comment:

  1. Why use latin terms for Greek texts? Concordia is not exactly the same as homonoia.


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