Tuesday, May 8, 2007



Characters of the Dialogue

Ryland . . . Cuyler

SCENE: Ryland and Cuyler meet at a urinal in McCone Hall.

Ryland. Is that your rough draft, Cuyler? Where you goin' after this?
Cuyler. I'm not sure. I was going to start the essay on Phaedrus but this girl I was talking to told me I should hit Memorial Glade. She says its great this time of day and I could really use some fresh air, son of Ballenger.
Ry. Yes, she is right. And it is nice, but rather public. Is there a nicer place? Maybe somewhere we can discuss your thoughts, and your thoughts on the essay?
Cuy. I'm sure there is.
Ry. Well, lead on then and keep an eye out for a place to sit.
Cuy. Ah, do you see that bench there, under the tree, across the stream, past the statue of the football player, next to beige building, overlooking the field?
Ry. Yes?
Cuy. It has a nice breeze, the sound of creek is comforting.... and it is rather private.
Ry. It sounds like the right place. And nice.
Cuy. You know Ryland, it was this very spot, where the creek runs pure and clear, that a young girl and I played beside.
Ry. Did you win?
Cuy. Well, I came in first.
Ry. We should erect an alter to your brief triumph! A much better altar than the bronzed and chiseled man we passed. An altar for all minor triumphs and all ecstatic losses. An altar for all.
Cuy. But what about my essay?
Ry. Wasn't that the draft? The one you were holding earlier?
Cuy. It was, in fact, rolled up and hidden, here.
Ry. Please, show me. We won't need to talk with it out.

The Phaedrus, by Plato, uses irony to great effect. By using irony, the text makes a protean standard. The protean standard is always changing and always the same. Each encounter is negotiated through kairos. Kairos is making the right choice which is always different.

Moreover, this technique is used repeatedly throughout the text. The Phaedrus' position is one that is always moving. Yet this movement is always there, stagnant in a sense. The movement is restricted within the irony of Socrates.

Perhaps we can look to Seinfeld. Jerry is an ironic comic, or the modern day Socrates. Moreover, he is kairos. He is in constant negotiation with uncomfortable situations in which he must, as Spike Lee puts it, "Do the Right Thing." The right thing is kairos, and Socrates is always trying to achieve that. It is this very "right thing" that makes a protean standard.

Well Ryland, what do you think? Does it read well?
Ry. This is only a draft right? Or is it an outline? What is it?
Cuy. Are you making fun of it, Ryland?!
Ry. No, I'm just curious! You have peaked my interest. You have some nice insights and seem delighted with them, delighted to share them. And I am delighted to receive them.
Cuy. My insights? Do you mean my essay? Do you mean my essay was insightful? And original? And correct?
Ry. If I were to say "correct" I would be lying. But not. If I were to say "original" I would be lying. And not. My problem lies not in how I heard it but how it went, how it insisted, how unavoidable you made it.
Cuy. What have you heard more correct than this? And where have you heard it?
Ry. At the moment I cannot tell you, but if you come closer, the ideas may come. I will turn, I will face the creek and the field, and I will try to speak on it. But only with these aids will the ideas, perhaps, flow, or, as it may be, pour out of me.
Cuy. Splendidly said, my excellent friend. Please don't stop but continue.

Now imagine the field in front of us, across the creek and behind that chain-link fence.There are boys there, playing, enjoying the sun, and the game. We call it a football field in reference to pigskin yet they play the true football, what we call soccer, which is played foot to ball and ball to foot. Is it not true this football has no set plays? Does it not follow that each player must negotiate his space of play upon the field? Is it not all play?

The football player dribbles not up, not down, but across the field, always changing course, always choosing, in the moment, the right way to go. In this moment the right choice is heroic in its negotiation of the encounter and knowing when to do the right thing at the right time. But the right choice is never the same choice: each encounter demands its own choice, its own right-ness. This is kairos.

Pheadrus is all kairos, as you say, Cuyler. It is a play of encounters. Each line in the dialogue holds a choice. Like the striker eluding the sweeper and firing on the keeper, Socrates must make the right choice, the right move, so he may score. The goal is always there, on the field of play, but its the striker's pliably powerful posture and liquid movements across the field of play that defines the goal. It's the way he goes, it's the way Socrates goes, it's the way you go that makes a protean standard and actualizes the goal.

Well Cuyler, what do you think? Am I not a player?
Cuy. You are quite so. You understand the field and your words are accurate.
Ry. Have I satisfied your aims then? Have I spoken correctly on the topic? Have I brought more originality?
Cuy. You certainly have, Ryland, and for that I thank you. It was a delight to take in your words and ideas.

Ry. But they were not my ideas, they were but a revision of yours. They were yours, through my mouth, from you and to you. And in this revision I have failed.
Cuy. How so?

Ry. I have ignored a large portion of your argument. Which, if not insightful, was delightful to my ears. I should like to revise your words further. To make them my own.
Cuy. What did you overlook? It seems you defined kairos and the protean standard well enough.

Ry. While I may have defined kairos, I haven't done justice to the protean standard. I offered more of an aside, rather than a whole and complete sense of the phrase. Plus, Cuyler, I have forgotten Jerry! To say nothing of George, Elaine and, most missed, Kramer. And what, my good friend, could be more awful? More sinful?
Cuy. Ah, I guess you have neglected issues of importance. Please, Ryland, don't let me hold you back, proceed, proceed!

Coffeen would have us encounter Phaedrus as a pedagogy between text and reader, shifting the burden of kairos from Socrates to the readers themselves. We readers must reckon not simply Socrates' apparent instruction of Phaedrus, the cutie, but how the text, Phaedrus, as a whole, instructs us, the readers. Where we wronged -- where you wronged through me and where I wronged -- is that kairos is not the striker, the player on the field, but the field, and the game, itself. The game itself is its own text as Plato's Phaedrus is its own text and the moment wherein we read the text is the moment of kairos. This is where Kramer slides through the door.

In revising your draft I failed to remember Seinfeld. Your notion of Jerry as a modern day Socrates was insightful. Yet, only slightly. While Jerry is renowned for his ironic stance, his ability to pester, as is Socrates, he still plays by the rules. He uses the same terms to talk about why the terms fail. Kramer, however, habitually shifts the terms. He doesn't play by the same rules as Jerry, nor the same as Socrates. Wouldn't a more true sense of kairos be found in only that which moves itself, by its own rules? Jerry and Socrates, or the player, derive their rules from the game, which exists without them; Kramer exists as a game. Kramer's sliding entrance into the field of Jerry's apartment habitually disrupts the game he intrudes upon, shifting it into his own game. Therefore, Kramer defines a protean standard.

To sense a protean standard we can turn to Lohren Green's introduction to his abridged Poetical Dictionary and a crucial phrase Coffeen returns to often in lecture. Green relies on a protean standard for his definitions, one that shifts according to the word. He attends to the encounter that is each word just as Kramer attends to each encounter that defines his life. Kramer is, as Coffeen would say, simultaneously constituent and constitutive in the encounter. His presence changes the encounter and defines the encounter. It's this dual attention and presence that we can call a protean standard. The protean standard, then, defines the encounter, and the text, rendering them inseparable.

Phaedrus the text is defined by this sense of protean standard and kairos. Kairos is the encounter, and the navigation of the encounter, which, in turn, defines the protean standard, which, in turn, defines the text.

Cuyler extends fist, awaits pound; Ryland pounds Cuyler.

Cuy. LeChaim.
Ry. Word.
Cuy. Well I think you have adequately revised my draft. And for that I thank you and I praise you like I should.
Ry. Maybe so, yet I haven't satisfied my appetite for the sense is incomplete.
Cuy. No, no, no buddy. Wait a minute. What you said of sense of text as protean standard and kairos as the encounter was uniform, accurate, clear, concise and simple. You're an excellent performer and quite the character.
Ry. But of course, here too (even especially here) there's room for error. For as you said, Cuyler, I am a character as Jerry is a character as Socrates is a character, and even as Kramer is a character. Following the logic of the second draft we must realize we must never trust the characters. We must listen to them, we must read them, however it is not they who will instruct us, it is their play.
Cuy. So you're saying, Ryland, the characters' performances must be attended to, but it is the play we must encounter. The play is the actual text, Phaedrus, is what we must interact with.
Ry. Correct. As such it is not Kramer who exists as the game, nor is it Jerry, but Seinfeld the show is the text we must encounter. The play and politics of an encounter, then, are defined by a radically particular protean standard, constituent and constitutive presence, decisive kairos, maneuvering the field, disrupting the rules, pestering, reading, sensing, shifting the terms, in attendance to character, Cuyler, Jerry, Phaedrus, Kramer, Socrates, Ryland, Seinfeld, Phaedrus.
Cuy. Word
Ry. LeChaim.

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