Plato's Pharmacy  

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Plato's Pharmacy (La pharmacie de Platon, 1969) is a text by Jacques Derrida, a reading of Plato's Phaedrus and Phaedo. Plato writes of a fictionalized conversation between Socrates and a student, in which Socrates tries to convince the student that writing is inferior to speech. Socrates uses the Egyptian myth of Thoth's creation of writing to illustrate his point. As the story goes, Thoth presents his invention to the god-king of Upper Egypt for judgment. Upon its presentation, Thoth offers script as a pharmakon for the Egyptian people. The Greek word pharmakon poses a quandary for translators- it is both a remedy and a poison. In the proffering of a pharmakon, Thoth presents it as its true meaning- a harm and benefit. The god-king, however, refuses the invention. Through various reasonings, he determines the pharmakon of writing to be a bad thing for the Egyptian people. The pharmakon, the undecidable, has been returned decided. The problem, as Derrida reasons, is this: since the word pharmakon, in the original Greek, means both a remedy and a poison, it cannot be determined as fully remedy or fully poison. Amon rejected writing as fully poison in Socrates' retelling of the tale, thus shutting out the other possibilities.

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