The Discourse of Phaedrus Constructed Through Body Relations
In Plato’s Phaedrus the concept of discourse is schematized through the employment of metaphors of the interaction between physical bodies. The body frames another overarching allegory of desire, which manifests through the concepts of constriction, veiling, and the sight of discourse. These textual moments set the stakes for the argument and discourse of Phaedrus.
The body acts as a medium for the production of discourse and truth telling, and when there is an obstruction between individuals’ bodies there is a constriction in identity. This constriction creates a desire from the unknown, and when one separates a body from another body, or an object through cloaking there is a sense of freedom in which discourse is created and disseminated.
The figure of the cloak is described in the beginning of the dialogue between Phaedrus and Socrates. The scroll, which is being hidden physically by the cloak, is a symbol of discourse. Socrates insists on knowing Lysias’ speech which is transcribed on the scroll and that “[Phaedrus] must first of all show what [he] has in his left hand under his cloak, for that roll, as [Phaedrus] suspects, is the actual discourse.” The deployment of actual discourse is literal in that, the text under the cloak consists of Lysias’ speech, but the cloak acts as a symbol for the separation of mind and body. Socrates exclaims “I am going to have your memory exercised at my expense, if you have Lysias himself here,” consequently meaning that the scroll is Lysias when he cannot physically be there. This argues that a rhetorician is only defined by his deployment of rhetoric, and not his physical presence.
Phaedrus’ form creates rapture through the performance of the document in that he performs this document through the gesture of cloaking it. This is also the moment of desire. There is unknown information, discourse, written on that scroll which is separated from the body of the rhetorician that wrote the discourse and the bodies who are wishing to hear his argument. This point marks desire, the cloak is to the body as the scroll is to discourse.
Another moment in Phaedrus, when the symbol of cloaking or veiling enacts the allegory of the production of truth is when Socrates calls Phaedrus to witness his expulsion of discourse. Socrates defines the stakes in which discourse can take place, exclaiming that “[he] will veil [his] face,” metaphorizing the veil as a catalyst for the engagement of discourse, and that through his hidden identity Socrates is able to “gallop through the discourse as fast as [he] can.” This moment illuminates the argument that there is power that concealment can have, the veiling of a person, a separation from societal recognition, which enables an occasion for the production of efficacious discourse. The physical recognition of the body is what obstructs the opportunity to articulate oneself, “for if [Socrates] were to see you [he] shall feel ashamed and not know what to say.” The body is symbolically inseparable from the mind and persona.
This moment marks a part of the physical body when it is covered, ‘veiled,’ so that Socrates is enabled to engage in discourse. The veil acts as shield in order to separate the individual identity. There is a sense of protection. There is something worth hiding much like the actual discourse, existing under the left hand of Phaedrus in the scroll of the speech of Lysias. Plato’s argument is directly figured by the allegory set forth by the symbol of the act of cloaking. Through the physical barrier of the cloak or veil, the body is disabled and the mind is free to create discourse and the body’s identity does not hold back the diffusion of rhetoric.