Xenophanes: From Homer To Plato

In STORIES FROM PAOLINO’S TAPES Feyerabend translates some fragments from Xenophanes, taking care to conserve as much as possible of the original rhythm and style. From Feyerabend’s point of view rhythm and style are just as important as content. He comments on how the style of a scientific paper today is not that of ordinary language, but a a special sort of elevated language that has been formalised so as to eradicate the imaginal dimension, what Xenophanes calls the plasmata, the phantasms of Homeric and Hesiodic poetry. It all becomes Mondrianesque after the presocratic revolution,

Xenophanes was an « expert », one of the Homerides, « one of the traveling singers who went from city to city reciting Homer, but he also recited his own elegies and mocking poetry. His elegies, which expressed his own ideas, had a precise form: one line hexameter, one line pentameter. Contrary to foundational figures of the theoretical attitude and the theoretical style (such as Hecateus and Anaximander), Xenophanes used poetry to mock and so to criticise the poets from within the poetical style. He criticises the tales of « battles fought with Titans and Giants and even Centaurs », calling them the « phantasies of our fathers ». His objection is utilitarian: « not useful are these events ». Here Xenophanes is distinguishing himself and his world from that of Homer and Hesiod, but he is still using poetry. He is a transitional figure in the invention of « theory ». He recommends not to talk about fantastic battles and civic dissent, but about « how you pursued virtue and what happened to you ». These events concerning virtuous acts, we are to understand, are useful.

Xenophanes is an interesting example of what Zizek would call ideological critique. He makes fun of the cult of the stars of the time, the athletes. He critiques the popular anthropomorphic repesentation of the gods and substitutes his own de-humanised conception: « One God alone is the greatest, the greatest of gods and of men, not resembling the mortals, neither in shape nor in insight ». This is a philosopher’s God, post-human in the trivial sense that human degrees have been left behind, but still anthropomorphic in that certain human qualities have been exaggerated at the expense of the rest: thought, vision, hearing.

« It is important to know the rhythm of the whole business, because it is not just content, it is also the form. » Today we think that we don’t have to worry about « form », we just have to present our ideas. This is itself a special form, « prose ». But at some time this prose was a newly invented form, a neutral medium for presenting things. « This was a new artificial idiom: scientific prose. » For Feyerabend everyday speech was far from the unified model of prose, but was quite fragmentary: « bits of statements, bits of sentences ». This is the type of fragmentary speech that Feyerabend attempts to restore, not just in these tapes, but in all his later work.

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  1. Ping : Feyerabend’s Affective Portrait [at AGENT SWARM] | ~ S c h i z o s o p h y ~

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