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John Tennant

Headshot of John Tennant

John Tennant

Lecturer

John Tennant’s research concerns the transmission of cultural wisdom in Greek prose and poetry and how this transmission was called into question in the late fifth century BCE – coming to a head in works by authors such as Euripides, Thucydides, and especially Plato. John explores how proverbs, aphorisms, and other rhetorical commonplaces become particularly important at times when shared discourse breaks down, when language itself becomes an object of mistrust. John received his PhD in Classics from the University of California, Los Angeles (2019) and his MA in Classics from Stanford University (2013).

The transformative potential of figurative speech employed in proverbs became apparent to John while practicing as a union labor lawyer, his previous profession. The law itself is arguably composed in large part of just such phrases, with similar normative aspirations. John received his Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School, where he first became interested in the seeming connections between modes of discourse and speakers’ ethics and moral values. In 2002-03, John received a Fulbright Post-Doc Research Fellowship to work with police unions and immigrants' rights advocates in Paris, France, studying the ways in which tensions might be reduced in the Parisian suburbs between rank-and-file police officers and the communities they serve, composed primarily of Muslim immigrants from the Maghreb.

John’s current project (a continuation of the subject of his dissertation) is to frame Plato’s Republic as an attempt to reform the state of discourse in a politico-discursive crisis that occurred toward the end of the fifth and beginning of the fourth century in Athens, by focusing on the previously unexplored role that proverbs and gnômai play in Plato’s creation of the ideal polis. Plato uses such commonplaces not solely for the purpose of lending his dialogue a more authentic character. Rather, they both elucidate the dynamics of power that inhere in the prevailing modes of Athenian discourse and provide a locus for Plato’s critique of the improper use of language. Plato reveals how discursive reform is inseparable from social and political reform. Proverbs, gnômai, and other rhetorical topoi serve collectively as one of the building blocks of a just society. Put simply, wordcraft is statecraft.