A matter of translation

181. Pharmakon means drug, but as Jacques Derrida and others have pointed out, the word in Greek famously refuses to designate whether poison or cure. It holds both in the bowl. In the dialogues Plato uses the word to refer to everything from an illness, its cause, its cure, a recipe, a charm, a substance, a spell, artificial color, and paint. Plato does not call fucking pharmakon, but then again, while he talks plenty about love, Plato does not say much about fucking.

182. In the Phaedrus, the written word is also notoriously called pharmakon. The question up for debate between Socrates and Phaedrus is whether the written word kills memory or aids it—whether it cripples the mind’s power, or whether it cures it of its forgetfulness. Given the multiple meaning of pharmakon, the answer is, in a sense, a matter of translation.

Maggie Nelson, Bluets, Seattle, Wave Books, 2009, p. 73.