Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

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Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

Postby BadgerJelly on January 1st, 2018, 12:25 am 

Taken from Aristotle's "Poetics" (Penguin Classics)

"We should begin, as is natural, by taking first principles first." - Aristotle, Poetics (1. Introduction)

Aristotle starts with the subtitle of "2. Poetry as a Species of Imitation." Firstly I will point out the footnote for the term imitation.

From the Greek mimesis. Aristotle refers to Epic Poetry and its various forms including tragedy, comedy, and dithyrambic poetry, and for music of pipe and lyre, all together as imitations.

Direct quote from footnote (for clarity):

The dithyramb was a kind of lyric poetry performed by a chorus. Pipe (aulos) and lyre (kithara) were the two most common forms of Greek wind and string instrument; the addition of the pan-pipes (syrinx) below implies general conception of instrumental music.


Please note the term chorus here; something I will look more closely at in the future.

Aristotle then goes on to say these types of "poetry" can be distinguished by three main points, MEDIUM, OBJECT and MODE.

What I ask you to take into consideration here is that by "poetry" we can take this to generally mean "literature" at large (art that makes use of language is how I would put it myself.) The kind of things Aristotle talks about are generally more similar to theatrical performances taken on by certain means; through music, dance, and use of props. He is essentially examining how to create a popular and engaging narrative and the structure of these narratives (you can even look at this as a handbook for the literary critic.)

Medium

Aristotle says

... the medium of imitation is rhythm, language and melody, but these may be employed either separately or in combination.


This means that thorough movement the dancer expresses emotions, through words the orator expresses emotions, and through music the musician expresses emotion. In some the term "language" is more readily applicable and concrete. For example with words the language is clear to all and captured in speech, yet melody plays a smaller part here compared to the shifting of moods brought about by the melody of music.

Note here that "dialogue" is not poetry. A lecture is not poetry. Here Aristotle is talking about a particular scope of worded language and the work of "Poetics" itself is not a work of poetry; but it necessarily will display a certain form that purposefully tries not to "imitate". The "art" appeals to the universal nature of emotion where the work of intellect appeals to structures at large.

These, then, are what I mean by differences between the arts in the medium of imitation.


The spiritual term of "medium" springs to mind here. In this way it could be of use to think of the "medium" more as the "mediator" between the event and the audience. The place of "audience" here is a very interesting one to consider, because today the poem is often taken up where the reader is both audience and mediator. The reader of text has to be both "reader" and "listener".

Object

Those who imitate, imitate agents; and these must be either admirable or inferior.


Characters like us and unlike us. Heroes and villains. In tragedy they imitate admirable characters and in comedy inferior characters.

So the "object" seems to be the general "character" of the work, not necessarily an actor, be rather the "manner" of the art - positioned apparent to us as being of "better character" or "worse character".

I have a hard time understanding what is meant by Aristotle when he says "object." He seems to be talking about the "emotional object" of the art, rather than any particular modern idea of genre; this is because the emotional theme of some piece of art can be brought to us by either comedic or tragic means (meaning that a movie genre today does not distinguish between the "character" of the movie, between what is "better" or "worse".)

In some way I am a little inclined to view this as the "moral objective" by how Aristotle talks about "better" and "worse" people.

Mode

The way the "objects" can be imitated. This appears to me to be the "mood of presentation"; but it is hard to understand what exactly Aristotle meant here in a way that is applicable to all art forms (but keep in mind his intent was only to look at Poetry.)

The view is he meant how the narrative was presented. Given that at the time there would often be a running commentary and in plays the actors would perform and the narrator would give a running commentary of the action. in this way we see the "chorus" come in to play as part of the "narration", as a moving part of the "commentary" conveying mood and atmosphere thorugh the "language" of dance and music.

I am purposely stretching the example given because Aristotle is dealing only with the artistry of Poetry not anything lke a modern ballet where no words are uttered at all. Such a display would be set apart from the Poetics.

What is curious fo rme is that the musicians or dancers could well be thought of as being "narrators" for oratation of poetry that made no use of actors. The words conveyed would have motion narrated by dancers whilst the orator stood still.

note: I understand that there are various interpretation of this that pull from Aristotle's other works. I have taken the text at face value as best I could. I find these the three points quite vague compared to the rest of the text.

Part 2 : I will look at section 3 and possibly 4 too (The Anthropology and History of Poetry, and, Tragedy: Definition and Analysis) - TRAGEDY is something Aristotle returns to over and over throughout Poetics.
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Re: Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

Postby Asparagus on January 1st, 2018, 10:47 am 

BadgerJelly wrote:Aristotle says

... the medium of imitation is rhythm, language and melody, but these may be employed either separately or in combination.

This made me think of mediums like paint, stone, clay, or even light. The medium is something raw and unformed in the sense that it says nothing on its on. It's a vehicle. It has the potential to be used as the means of expression and it will ultimately limit the character of the expression. For instance the same melody played by a flute is different from one played on a trombone.

Thinking of melody itself as a medium is interesting. And btw, thinking about comprehension of speech is a good way to understand the concept of the hermeneutic cycle.
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Re: Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

Postby BadgerJelly on January 1st, 2018, 11:26 am 

Asparagus -

That is pretty much what Aristotle says. So "melody" for poetry can be considered as "paint".

What strikes me most is the use of the term "object".
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Re: Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

Postby Asparagus on January 1st, 2018, 12:10 pm 

I think the object is the thing or person that's being imitated. Could be wrong, though.
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Re: Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

Postby dandelion on January 1st, 2018, 6:53 pm 

Badger, just passing through quickly, but wonder about your familiarity with works like of Homer, Sophocles, etc., illustratively?
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Re: Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

Postby BadgerJelly on January 2nd, 2018, 12:25 am 

dandelion » January 2nd, 2018, 6:53 am wrote:Badger, just passing through quickly, but wonder about your familiarity with works like of Homer, Sophocles, etc., illustratively?


I have not studied either in depth. I've never read anything of Sophocles plays, but I've read some of Homer's epics.

Asparagus -

When Aristotle refers to "object" he clearly talks about, repeatedly so, the "better" and "worse" of the characters in the play/poem.

He marks out people as better, worse or the same as us. So, in a sense he is referring to the character, but I was looking more deeply into this because the people imitated are clearly not people; meaning they are expressions of something common to the audience, it is the audience who experience some part of themselves.

Basically the audience intimate something through the art. The "object" of this something is not really an "object" exactly, but more an emotional directedness. So it is the character of the play/poem being referred to here, but really the audience are allowed to open up towards the "attributes" of the character being portrayed (this is done emotionally.)

It is quite clear that Aristotle was put considerable weight into the investigation of this art by categorizing them by way of emotional content - the tradegy and comedy being referred to as the audiences disposition towards "better" or "worse" people and how a kind of "moral justice" played out among the audience which if broken by the artwork would lead to the art being regarded as missing the mark.

Honestly it makes more sense to read what Aristotle wrote from back to front in parts. Hopefully you''ll see this as I move on to the later parts of this work of his.
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Re: Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

Postby dandelion on January 2nd, 2018, 2:22 am 

BadgerJelly » January 2nd, 2018, 5:25 am wrote:
I have not studied either in depth. I've never read anything of Sophocles plays, but I've read some of Homer’s epics...


I’d meant those just as examples, but good, so perhaps more extents of boundaries of these, such as Achilles as a shield, as the Iliad, a cosmos, etc.
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Re: Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

Postby BadgerJelly on January 2nd, 2018, 2:41 am 

Dandelion -

No idea what you're talking about or why you think it is important here.

I am looking at how Aristotle sets out to distinguish the various aspects of these art forms and how best to compose them. There is a lot of commentary in the work about the emotional weight of the art work.

For a more rounded vie wof my approach I am very much looking at this as a representation of how language came into use to describe the world and the self, and how ideas were passed on by oral tradition (which Aristotle does comment on in the next section.)

Basically he is looking at what it is that makes this of that work better than the other and how different parts of the work are encapsulated into certain areas (the main one he looks at is Tragedy, which he sees as the most "modern" and refined form of his time I believe?)

I have no inclination to refer to individual "texts" because the texts are meaningless. This is because these were made to be "performed" to other people not read like a novel - even dialogues were "performed", yet this is a different species of public demonstration and more about intellect than entertainment; but I would say both are about "learning". It is this point I believe (as I have read) that Aristotle disagreed with Plato. Plato looking for universal understanding and being dismissive of poetry, and Aristotle holding poetry in, perhaps, the highest regard - this strikes me as quite unusually given the my previous more general overview of Aristotle as the measurer of reasn and Plato as more of the mystic; their views of poetry seem contrary to the modern impression they've grown into in today's world.
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Re: Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

Postby dandelion on January 2nd, 2018, 2:54 am 

Yes, Plato and Aristotle have had considerable influence on distinctions today. I was writing of Achilles’ shield in the Iliad and also possibly that Aristotle may have been considering such notions as regarding extents of humanity.
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Re: Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

Postby BadgerJelly on January 2nd, 2018, 3:21 am 

Dand -

In Poetics he mentions many plays and poems; and even specific instances. He doesn't mention Achilles' Shield, but if I were to place that within the work of Poetics I guess I'd have to go back to the Illiad and read that part. It loks like a metaphor, and a complex one. Like a narrative within the narrative.

For the purposes of these posts I am only going to refer to what Aristotle writes in terms of examples.

What do you mean? That Achilles' Shield fits into either the "medium", "object" or "mode"? I don't see how any more than I see how I would place a species of animal into a musical category (even though they may sound like this or that instrument.) See my confusion as to why you've brought this up?

By all means if you wish to expand into something else do so. Just make it distinct from the OP :)
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Re: Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

Postby dandelion on January 11th, 2018, 10:04 am 

Hi Badge, I hoped I'd added to some of the op
BadgerJelly » January 1st, 2018, 5:25 am wrote:Taken from Aristotle's "Poetics" (Penguin Classics)… Aristotle starts with the subtitle of "2. Poetry as a Species of Imitation." Firstly I will point out the footnote for the term imitation.
From the Greek mimesis. Aristotle refers to Epic Poetry and its various forms including tragedy, comedy, and dithyrambic poetry, and for music of pipe and lyre, all together as imitations.
, and I see you said you read at face value, but perhaps consider Aristotle’s thought, and perhaps this also as response to Plato.
BadgerJelly » January 1st, 2018, 5:25 am wrote: ... Plato looking for universal understanding and being dismissive of poetry, and Aristotle holding poetry in, perhaps, the highest regard - this strikes me as quite unusually given the my previous more general overview of Aristotle as the measurer of reasn and Plato as more of the mystic; their views of poetry seem contrary to the modern impression they've grown into in today's world.

For Plato, who has art as thrice removed from reality, an ekphratic shield artefact or art-work, would be even worse. Aristotle suggested that although artistic mimesis may involve representation of much else of real objects, like reality, it was also a search for truth, imitated. In such a way, the shield might seem a more refined, filtered search for truth in the object’s poetic description, mimicked.

As well, for Plato, art such as Homer’s shows gods and people with faults which should be avoided lest this seem socially acceptable.
BadgerJelly » January 1st, 2018, 5:25 am wrote:Object

[Those who imitate, imitate agents; and these must be either admirable or inferior.

Characters like us and unlike us. Heroes and villains. In tragedy they imitate admirable characters and in comedy inferior characters…
and,
Asparagus » January 1st, 2018, 5:10 pm wrote:I think the object is the thing or person that's being imitated. Could be wrong, though.
Aristotle suggests a nearness and critical distance in art, with exaggeration of faults and merits, allowing empathy and catharsis, giving art a purpose, while remaining obviously art. In this way, art would mimic notions Aristotle held about reality, but it would also be clear that it remained different, as art. Fine art that was too real would be considered deceptive. Items created by people to extend upon or compete with nature were deemed artefacts, while "fine art" in Aristotle's terms imitates Aristotle’s view of nature.

Aristotle required coherent unity in “fine” art that imitates rather than competes with nature, with integral parts belonging to a causal chain and circumstances involving the shield appropriately flow in this way- there was a described purpose it was created for and served. Unlike Plato’s being, Aristotle’s becoming is more suited to the art of poetry detailing action toward an end.
BadgerJelly » January 1st, 2018, 5:25 am wrote:Note here that "dialogue" is not poetry. A lecture is not poetry. Here Aristotle is talking about a particular scope of worded language and the work of "Poetics" itself is not a work of poetry; but it necessarily will display a certain form that purposefully tries not to "imitate". The "art" appeals to the universal nature of emotion where the work of intellect appeals to structures at large.

I think he distinguished literature as more interesting than historical writing for including possibilities. More, he considered poetry with such possibilities more universal, more of a complete whole, imitating his conceptions of nature, and so perhaps something of a microcosm.

There was further mimicking, e.g., as mentioned, the shield, Achilles, the poem, the cosmos, and also, Archaic Greek from around the time of Homer, Hesiod’s The Shield of Heracles, “The poem takes its cue from the extended description of the shield of Achilles in Iliad xviii, from which it borrows directly, with a single word altered…”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shield_of_Heracles
or Virgil’s Shield of Aeneas, or Auden’s Shield of Achilles, etc.
The shield may exceed such aims?
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Re: Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

Postby BadgerJelly on January 11th, 2018, 12:20 pm 

I'll have to deal with this tomorrow. I am a little curious about you repeatedly mention "Shield"?
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Re: Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

Postby BadgerJelly on January 12th, 2018, 3:52 am 

In reference to OBJECT what Aristotle wrote here was merely a paragraph. He talks about the "Character" of the people rather than "The Character", the actor. MODE covers the means of presentation; through actor, dancer, musician and/or through commentary or oration.

In this brief paragraph dedicated to OBJECT the following; "either admirable or inferior", "Better people than we, or worse, or the same sort", and to quote directly:

... So it is clear that each of the kinds of imitation mentioned above will exhibit these differences, and will be distinguished by the imitation of distinct objects in this way. These dissimilarities are possible in dance and in music for pipe or lyre, and also in connection with language and unaccompanied verse (for example Homer imitates better people; Cleophon people similar to us; Hegemon of Thasos, who invented parodies, or Nicochares, the author of the Deiliad, worse people) ...


and for the next couple of paragraphs dedicated to MODE he starts with :

A third difference between them is the mode in which one may imitate each of these objects.


The MOE being the means through which the "better" or "worse" people are expressed through music, dance, commentary or direct oration from the actors of the performances and their dramatic expressions and such. I think this has a close tie to the idea of "chorus" because through the development of theatre the "chorus" was placed further and further out of frame to the point where pure dramatic actions and speech took over (in the movie theatre prose and word choice are still more directly experienced yet the music and choreography are much less prominent (expect in musicals and in operas.)

Anyway, what do you make of my impression of what Aristotle says about "OBJECT" here? Would you agree my point has weight? Basically I am saying that by "object" Aristotle meant something more like "theme", which is exposed to the audience by way of how they relate to the "better" or "worse" nature the narrative evidently points out (the success of which he goes on to explore in more depth later - and which I will address more closely after I've posted part 2.)

note: As you probably know (?) Aristotle mentions Achille's Shield in this work, but I don't see him uses this reference as anything other than a device to explain symbolic weight referring to the Gods, Ares Shield and Dionysus' Cup I believe he mentions as being synonymous because Ares Cup is like saying Ares Shield ... this I find curious for other thoughts of mine involving memory and the develop of religious ideologies (that's for a whole other line of investigation though!)
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Re: Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

Postby dandelion on January 13th, 2018, 2:32 am 

It is an example. The shield, etc., is a famous example of ekphrasis. Aristotle held art as mimesis of his view of reality, which seems rather linear compared to the shield, so the shield may fulfil this brief in imitation, as well as involving Achilles, an object, as imitated, so too, the poem while also pausing the story, and the universe or beyond, including notions of mortality/immortality, as well as on-going imitation through the centuries, so in the same way exceeding/countering the brief.
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Re: Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

Postby BadgerJelly on January 13th, 2018, 7:17 am 

Does Aristotle use that term in Poetics? I cannot see it anywhere, but maybe it was lost in translation?

I am not really sure what to make of this term. Is it just "calling out" to history? Or the residual of some forgotten tradition. I'll have to look into the specific use of this in ancient Greece more closely I guess.

I do think this links into what he says in "recognition" later on in Poetics. Anyway, I'll get to the next part ...
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Re: Aristotles Poetics (Part 1)

Postby dandelion on January 13th, 2018, 8:30 am 

BadgerJelly » January 13th, 2018, 12:17 pm wrote:Does Aristotle use that term in Poetics? I cannot see it anywhere, but maybe it was lost in translation?

I am not really sure what to make of this term. Is it just "calling out" to history? Or the residual of some forgotten tradition. I'll have to look into the specific use of this in ancient Greece more closely I guess.

I do think this links into what he says in "recognition" later on in Poetics. Anyway, I'll get to the next part ...


I think the term may have been more about description, maybe more visual, in Classical Greece, including other senses more in Hellenistic Greece and has become more about mimesis in mimesis, or art within art more recently.
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