Pharmakon in Philosophy
Derrida writes of the Socratic pharmakon in Dissemination. The pharmakon refers to a kind of power hidden in words that allows them to function as both poison or remedy. This power/metaphoric substance - or rather anti-substance - resembles a drug since it suggests a depth while revealing an ever changing surface (70). Efforts to determine its play result in indeterminacy. Derrida gives Phaedrus dialogue as an example of a text whose dialectical play amounts to a series of such repetitions.
As pharmakon, writing represents a discursive supplementarity whose meaning indefinitely defers itself into other meanings. Accordingly, when Socrates tells the story of how the north wind carries Oreithyia away as she plays with Pharmacea (229c-d) he dismisses the myth only to reintroduce another later in the text. Because of its resemblance to a drug, and an unpredictable one at that, the conclusion is that there is something about writing that turns out to be dangerous and this explains something of Socrates' reservations about speaking and writing, for these have "the power to break in, to carry off, to seduce internally, to ravish invisibly. It is furtive force per se" (116). In its power to force discursive divergence (while not seeming to), writing as pharmakon sets off an endless deferral of meaning in language as well as revealing the hidden power of reversal.
- Jacques Derrida (1981). Dissemination. University of Chicago Press. 0-226-14334-1.