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François Roustang

Changing: Socrates’ Secret

It has been held that Socrates' death sentence resulted from a misunderstanding. But that was not the case, according to the author, because many people stood to gain from his death — first among them Plato who, in his works, gradually makes the historical Socrates disappear by stripping him of personal characteristics and absorbing him into his own writings — to the extent that specialists find it next to impossible to discern the real Socrates. What was Plato trying to suppress? Perhaps the ravages of Socrates' aporetic dialogues, which pose puzzles without resolving them and thus obstruct the construction of a doctrine. And Xenophon, in trying to overprotect Socrates, only succeeded in masking his originality and neutralising him. Aristotle dismissed Socrates even more brutally. And what about the Western philosophical tradition? “To stop the Socratic message from disturbing us, the best we could come up with was to declare Socrates admirable — so admirable in fact that he is totally beyond our scope,” writes François Roustang.What is the cause of so many denials and rejections, which seem to provide a photographic negative of Socrates' originality? Roustang argues that the cause would seem to hinge on the Socratic use of dialogue and of the “lulling effects” of his “narcotic discourse”, whose goal is not to seek the truth but to experience not-knowing. Or, in other words: “Not to think in order to think; not to think in order to be able to act while thinking.” Not-knowing introduces a human being to what he or she is. And from that moment on, thinking lies in action itself.Could the “narcotic” Socrates have been the first real therapist? That is the hypothesis that François Roustang explores here.This book is, first of all, a patient attempt to rediscover the originality of Socratic speech through a number of unwittingly revealing texts, which disclose Socrates while trying to hide his “eccentricities”.There is an added dimension to the quest for the “real Socrates”. For François Roustang, as a therapist, the goal is to understand how to elicit a life change, in action as well as thought, which will enhance well-being and produce a new relationship to the self and to the outside world. This was, after all, the experience that Socrates aimed to create.A psychotherapist and virulent critic of psychoanalysis, François Roustang has for many years undertaken a radical re-examination of the conditions for change. His position led him to rediscover the ability of hypnosis to bring about a profound modification in patients' self-image and in how they relate to the outside world. His trilogy — La Fin de la plainte (2000), Il suffit d'un geste (2003) and Savoir attendre (2006) — has placed him among the most original writers in his field in France. His other works include Comment faire rire un paranoïaque (2000).