This essay questions the reading of Plato's Phaedrus according to which writing is understood as a mechanism of objectivity and critical distance. Plato's denomination of writing as a “pharmakon” (a poison/cure) indicates a deep ambiguity in his definition of writing—an ambiguity embodied in Phaedrus's written speech. The speech triggers both critical analysis and a simultaneous “rhetorical passivity,” whereby upon hearing the speech Socrates is consumed by a manic power. Although Socrates explicitly decries the detrimental consequences of writing in the Myth of Theuth (that it destroys living speech), he nevertheless is overcome by the power of the written speech and driven to a state of logomania. The Phaedrus demonstrates the potential for the written word to release one into a type of passivity, where the subject is no longer an autonomous master but a passive receiver.

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