Derrida’s selection entitled “Plato’s Pharmacy” and Hunter’s essay, “The Embodied Classroom: Deaf Gain in Multimodal Composition and Digital Studies”, have a conversation with each other across time. The first author pointedly discusses Plato’s Phaedrus, analyzing and adding musings to the work in an effort to revive and understand it, and the latter focuses on the tendency to trust language for everything in the classroom while forgetting the power of non-verbal communication. Together, these selections point to the same truth: there is a separation between the body-bound mind and body-free language.
It is upon Derrida’s work that Hunter’s finds a foothold. To begin, Derrida gives background information about Phaedrus. It was not received well in the first few centuries of its existence. Some claimed that the work showed Plato’s immaturity while others claimed that the dialogue pointed to Plato’s old age (66-67). Either way, Plato’s language provided an image of the writer in scholars’ minds of someone who was not as competent as his other work would suggest. The only reason they could think of for this different was some bodily issue. This is an important note to make because even before Derrida unpacks the content of Phaedrus, the readers encounter a relationship between the body and written word. Continuing on, Derrida claims that his reason for writing is that writing and reading are the same thing. In order to read well, he must write, even if to do so is merely a repetition (63-65). He then discusses logography and the origin of logic. “What does it mean to write in a dishonorable manner? And, Phaedrus also wants to know, what does it mean to write beautifully?” (68). This conversation hangs heavily upon the relationship of the characters to their surroundings and to each other, in other words, bodies are essential to the plot (69). The fable of the cicadas, for example, never would have occurred if the characters were not hot (70). Derrida marks his way through each conversation as relying on the physical. He also explains that the knowledge shut into books is far lesser than than that of experiential learning (73). It is this claim upon which Plato builds his argument and Derrida expounds. All of this hits a head in part three, the re-telling of the myth about Thoth, the god of writing (85). In this tale, Ra, the sun god, listens to presentations about writing, but dislikes the idea of it. He, after all, is the chief of all thought, so writing is a lesser way to communicate his meaning than action (88). Ra later asks Thoth to stand in for him in the sky (89). Thoth does so, and communicates what his father has to say, but is known as the “hidden” god who only re-tells the ideas of another (87). In other words, the god of writing is also the god of death, “non-identity”, and usurpation. He is constantly trying to fill the role of original thought, but is unable to, much like writing often falls short of the original thought or intention.
Hunter’s essay is quite a different piece from Derrida’s. The author purposes to “draw upon Deaf culture and the concept of Deaf Gain to illustrate how the hearing classroom could benefit from practices that engage in embodied discourses and visual-spatial metaphors” (Hunter). In Hunter’s classroom, the students “engage the physical space of the classroom as well as the expressive space of an embodied pedagogical practice” (Hunter) by participating in physical activities like wordless skits, and sign language. By approaching the learning process as a deaf woman, Hunter has a specific understanding of physical human capabilities that often go untapped in the modern classroom. The central idea to her experimentation is the “Deaf Gain”. Instead of viewing deafness as a loss, deafness can be viewed as an opportunity to interact uniquely with the world. She explains how her teaching style developed from being lecture and slide based to mime and theater centered with the help of her father and students. By engaging students in physical activities that were purposefully devoid of text and words, students became more engaged in class. In short, action and experience are better teachers than words, pages, and screens. Hunter urges that in this digital age we must cling to the value of our physical bodies as supreme modes of communication.
So how do these two texts interact?
When thinking about communication, we must face one principle: thought must be conveyed somehow, and there will always be a gap between thought and language. Either thought emerges as action or language. If it emerges as language it is possible for thought to evolve again, and this time into words recorded on a medium often separate from the body. These words then take up a form of their own. Now, Plato says that the danger rests in the fact that language is disembodied, but this assertion may be untrue. Rather, written language becomes embodied in a new medium. The danger is instead that language appears without the originator of the thought present.
This danger is represented in Plato’s myth. When Ra asks Thoth to take his place, Thoth tries to usurp him. Similarly, the written or audible word has taken over our society and our classrooms. Countless power points, books, and lectures “leave a gulf between words on a page and the ideas they symbolize” (Hunter). Thus, students have learned to perfect dishonest feedback in the classroom. Original thought has been detached from words, so students become parrots and not experts. Very little of the knowledge they gain from the classroom allows them to learn or express themselves as if they were original creators. What Plato feared has happened to a degree in our classrooms: we have divorced thought and language. We must now work to re-discover our human capabilities through uniting our bodies, minds, and words. This trailer shows some of the ways that humans can communicate physically and the dissonance between the physical and lingual.
Derrida, Jaques. “Plato’s Pharmacy.” The Athlone Press, 1981. Web. 24 Jan. 1016
Indieculturebox. “Pina (2011) – Official Trailer [HD].” YouTube. YouTube, 2 Nov. 2011. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.
Hunter, Leeann. “The Embodied Classroom: Deaf Gain in Multimodal Composition and Digital Studies.” The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy. CUNY Academic Commons, 17 Dec. 15. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.