• I like sushi
    1.3k
    This is a prominent work in literary critic and something I read in order to further understand Nietzsche’s “The Birth of Tragedy”.

    Also, I have an interest in Altered States of Consciousness (ASC’s) and found a great deal of relevance here to the anthropological work of Clifford Geertz, in relation to his observations of ceremonies in Bali, and in connection to Eliade’s concept of ‘hierophany’ to the ancient Greek ‘chorus’.

    I find the manner in which “Poetry” is discussed by Aristotle to be aligned with religious practices. Much of this would hopefully be of useful discussion to those interested in Nietzsche and in ‘Art’ in general - Nietzsche himself refers to religion as being ‘psychology and morality’ (On the Genealogy of Morals; Third Essay, section 17).

    To start the discussion off perhaps we can deal with the opening to “Poetics” and how the concepts used differ and relate to our modern usage.

    Note: This is not a very long work but it is important to literary critique, art appreciation and the progression of theatre and performance from what appears to be something held with a greater weight of ‘sacred’ value in ancient times - relations to ceremonies etc.,.

    For those without a copy:

    http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.1.1.html

    Part I

    I propose to treat of Poetry in itself and of its various kinds, noting the essential quality of each, to inquire into the structure of the plot as requisite to a good poem; into the number and nature of the parts of which a poem is composed; and similarly into whatever else falls within the same inquiry. Following, then, the order of nature, let us begin with the principles which come first.

    Epic poetry and Tragedy, Comedy also and Dithyrambic poetry, and the music of the flute and of the lyre in most of their forms, are all in their general conception modes of imitation. They differ, however, from one another in three respects- the medium, the objects, the manner or mode of imitation, being in each case distinct.

    For as there are persons who, by conscious art or mere habit, imitate and represent various objects through the medium of color and form, or again by the voice; so in the arts above mentioned, taken as a whole, the imitation is produced by rhythm, language, or 'harmony,' either singly or combined.

    Thus in the music of the flute and of the lyre, 'harmony' and rhythm alone are employed; also in other arts, such as that of the shepherd's pipe, which are essentially similar to these. In dancing, rhythm alone is used without 'harmony'; for even dancing imitates character, emotion, and action, by rhythmical movement.

    There is another art which imitates by means of language alone, and that either in prose or verse- which verse, again, may either combine different meters or consist of but one kind- but this has hitherto been without a name. For there is no common term we could apply to the mimes of Sophron and Xenarchus and the Socratic dialogues on the one hand; and, on the other, to poetic imitations in iambic, elegiac, or any similar meter. People do, indeed, add the word 'maker' or 'poet' to the name of the meter, and speak of elegiac poets, or epic (that is, hexameter) poets, as if it were not the imitation that makes the poet, but the verse that entitles them all to the name. Even when a treatise on medicine or natural science is brought out in verse, the name of poet is by custom given to the author; and yet Homer and Empedocles have nothing in common but the meter, so that it would be right to call the one poet, the other physicist rather than poet. On the same principle, even if a writer in his poetic imitation were to combine all meters, as Chaeremon did in his Centaur, which is a medley composed of meters of all kinds, we should bring him too under the general term poet.

    So much then for these distinctions.
    There are, again, some arts which employ all the means above mentioned- namely, rhythm, tune, and meter. Such are Dithyrambic and Nomic poetry, and also Tragedy and Comedy; but between them originally the difference is, that in the first two cases these means are all employed in combination, in the latter, now one means is employed, now another.

    Such, then, are the differences of the arts with respect to the medium of imitation
  • Fooloso4
    1k
    Any discussion of Aristotle Poetics should keep in mind the "old quarrel between philosophy and poetry (Republic 607).

    Plato frames the issue:

    "Then, Glaucon," I said, "when you meet praisers of Homer who say that this poet educated Greece, and that in the management and education of human affairs it is worthwhile to take him up for study and for living, by arranging one's whole life according to this poet, you must love and embrace them as being men who are the best they can be, and agree that Homer is the most poetic and first of the tragic poets; but you must know that only so much of poetry as is hymns to gods or celebration of good men should be admitted into a city. And if you admit the sweetened muse in lyrics or epics, pleasure and pain will jointly be kings in your city instead of law and that argument which in each instance is best in the opinion of the community." (607a)

    Aristotle, the philosopher, is writing about the work of the poets. What is at stake is the education in the management of human affairs. With the poets pleasure and pain rather than law and argument will rule. That is, opinion will be moved and persuaded by thumos (spiritedness) and sentiment rather than reason.

    I find the manner in which “Poetry” is discussed by Aristotle to be aligned with religious practices.I like sushi

    This makes sense since the poet is the source of religious belief and practice. The poet is in this sense similar to the prophet. What is at issue in the old quarrel between philosophy and poetry is the politics of the soul. Aristotle is not simply describing, analyzing, and criticizing the work of the poets, he like Plato, is providing a philosophical poetry, one that restores what they take to be the proper or natural order governed by reason.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    I’m really interested in starting off by discussing what Aristotle meant by the terms mode, medium and object. Also, I’m fascinated by the ‘chorus’.

    Comments?
  • Fooloso4
    1k


    I cannot comment without knowing whether the translation and even the Greek use of the terms is problematic, and, the context.

    The chorus is an interesting device - whose voice do they represent? The fact that they speak in unison is important given that both humans and god rarely agree.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k


    The following is from a post I made elsewhere some time ago. It touches more closely on what interests me:

    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.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    6k
    Such, then, are the differences of the arts with respect to the medium of imitation

    What do you think is meant by "imitation" here? I have a hard time imagining "imitation" as we commonly use the word, being used to refer to the medium of the poetic arts. For example, suppose a person imitates another, as a joke, or form of comedy. How is the imitation a medium? Is it the medium between the comedian and the audience? If so, then why must the medium always be an imitation? Is there no room for creativity in Aristotle's account of poetry?
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k
    noting the essential quality of each, to inquire into the structure of the plot as requisite to a good poem;

    "Essential qualities" are only determined by the way an individual thinks about his/her conceptual abstractions.

    A "good" versus a "bad" poem is determined by individual preferences.

    Both can differ from individual to individual.
  • Terrapin Station
    12.5k


    Supposedly Aristotle uses "imitation" somewhere between contemporary (artistic) "representationalism" and (artistic) "realism"--trying to represent something about the world and human experience in it, including emotional experience, more or less accurately (which might require exaggeration is some regards to stress something).

    It seems questionable to try to graft this notion onto music and dancing as Aristotle does above, and obviously it doesn't work well for more formalist and/or some abstract approaches to art.
  • Fooloso4
    1k
    From the Benardete and Davis translation:

    Mimêsis is differentiated according to "in which" ("in what", heterois mimeisthai), "what" ("on what", hetera), and "how" (heterós), being translated variously as the means employed (matter, medium), the objects 'mimetised' (subject) and the manner in which the mimêsis is effected (mode, method).


    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.)I like sushi

    As to the question of the meaning of the term translated as poetry, this is a footnote from the Benardete and Davis translation:

    "Poetics" translates poiêtikê; it is the art of poiein, which means first to make or do and secondarily to make poetry. Poiêsis, the product of poiein, frequently takes on the narrower meaning of poetry. Articulating the full meaning of poiêtikê is the task that Aristotle sets himself in the book that comes down to us in the English tradition as On Poetics. Because of the weight of this tradition and the obvious concern of the book with poetry and especially tragedy, we have retained this translation. However it should be kept in mind that poiein is a very common verb in Greek, and that in principle the art dealing with it could have as much to do with making or action as with poetry in the narrower sense. Where an ambiguity of meaning seems possibly intentional, the Greek verb will be placed in brackets after the translation. Virtually every occurrence in the translation of any form of the verb "to make" is a rendering of the Greek poiein, and all appearances of English words cognate with "poet" are translations of words cognate with poiein. It is perhaps significant that the only time poiêtikê is coupled with technê (art or craft) is at the end (1460b14), for it is precisely there that Aristotle distinguishes poiêtikê from any other art. At 1447a19-20 Aristotle indicates that imitation comes to be not only by art but also by habit.

    I think our interests here might be quite different.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    I think it is as obvious as it can be that Aristotle is referring to what we call “theatre” rather than any other item of activity. I was simply trying to distinguish his use of “poetic” and distance it from the modern conception of “poetry”.

    If you are attempting to argue that he is talking about anything other than ‘theatre’ and the structure of narratives, and how Comedy differs from Tragedy, I guess there is little to add.

    I’m still looking for guidance/opinion (informed) regarding the terms I’ve highlighted - mode, medium and object. These seem to be quite open to different interpretations; the “object” caught my attention especially.
  • Fooloso4
    1k
    I think it is as obvious as it can be that Aristotle is referring to what we call “theatre” rather than any other item of activity.I like sushi

    I am not sure what you are referring to. Homer's epic poems are not "theatre".

    I was simply trying to distinguish his use of “poetic” and distance it from the modern conception of “poetry”.I like sushi

    As was I. As the note on poiêsis indicates, however, Aristotle's use of the term is broader and embedded in its common usage at that time. So, one problem he must deal with is to distinguish this kind of "making or doing" from others.

    Your interest may be the narrower sense of making poetry but as they point out:

    Articulating the full meaning of poiêtikê is the task that Aristotle sets himself in the book


    I’m still looking for guidance/opinion (informed) regarding the terms I’ve highlighted - mode, medium and object. These seem to be quite open to different interpretations; the “object” caught my attention especially.I like sushi

    The first quote from Benardete and Davis above, who unlike me, are certainly well informed, says: "the objects 'mimetised' (subject)" that is, the "what" or "on what". The object is the subject of the work. This is not so clear cut. The subject of Aristophanes' "The Clouds" can be said to be Socrates, but can also be philosophy, or, perhaps, the latter by way of the former.

    I suspect that I am not really addressing your concerns so will step aside.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k


    I am not sure what you are referring to. Homer's epic poems are not "theatre".

    Isn’t it clear? The ‘poetry’ was performed. Sometimes accompanied by music (that is about as explicit as it can be) and the ‘chorus’ is also a very blatant element of a performance - there is more in common with modern theatre than not.

    Homer undoubtedly stems from oral tradition too. The event of writing and reproducing is also worth considering.

    Still, I am asking about the three key features mentioned (by Aristotle) and what they mean.

    What you’ve provided is useful for sure. I’d like to hear more of your personal take on this though informed by the text and translations of the text.
  • Fooloso4
    1k
    Isn’t it clear? The ‘poetry’ was performed. Sometimes accompanied by music (that is about as explicit as it can be) and the ‘chorus’ is also a very blatant element of a performance - there is more in common with modern theatre than not.I like sushi

    The term theater comes from the Greek meaning to see or watch. (A musician on a discussion board I read occasionally used to complain when someone would say that they went to see a musician perform. He said in response that he did not go to see but to hear music. He was an old-timer before a music performance became a spectacle.) While it is possible to act or reenact parts of the Iliad or Odyssey, it was story-telling, even when accompanied by music. Visualization was left to the imagination. There were no sets or costumes or masks. Although performances sometimes took place in a theater, as an oral tradition, it is likely the stories were originally told rather than performed.

    There is also no chorus in Homer.

    In general though, I agree, the Greek plays, which as an important part of Greek poetry, has much in common with modern theater.

    You might find this interesting:

    http://www.openculture.com/2016/10/what-homers-odyssey-sounded-like-when-sung-in-the-original-ancient-greek.html


    I’d like to hear more of your personal take on this though informed by the text and translations of the text.I like sushi

    It is typical of Aristotle's organizational structure, his way of dividing things in order to analyse and discuss them. I do not know the Poetics well enough to discuss it. I know of Benardete's work on it because of his interest in the relationship between Greek poetry and philosophy. His take on it is that the two are not as opposed as is often assumed today.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k


    There is also no chorus in Homer.

    This may or may not be the case. There is nothing that states a ‘chorus’ has to do anything other than be a number of people dancing about - it does seem to me that ‘chorus’ can be a combination of people expressing a certain emotion (speech, dance and music involved; not necessarily in separate parts).

    Some reciting Homer accompanied by ‘musicians’ - here the ‘musicians’ would be the ‘chorus’ and may likely have been inclined to dance as they played (depending on the mood being expressed).

    The modern take of ‘chorus’ as being a unified collection of voices may not have been taken as such in ancient Greece (I could be mistaken, but I’ve not had any hard evidence presented that it couldn’t be what I’m suggesting).

    I do not know the Poetics well enough to discuss it.

    It’s not particularly long. Take the translations at roughly face value - they are, from what I’ve seen, all accompanied by footnotes and suggestions as well as introductions that are far longer than the actual surviving texts. Meaning there is enough agreement among them to take the bulk of the translation as sturdy enough without clutching for too obscure a meaning; yet I do find the opening to be the least lucid.
  • mcdoodle
    1k
    I used to use the Poetics to teach scriptwriting and screenwriting. It's enjoyably succinct, and has that slightly baffling tendency of Aristotle's (I've only realised in later life, through also reading the Nicomachean Ethics and other works) to move between description and prescription, which is a good blurring for students to argue against, in my experience :)

    I long ago decided it was best to call mimesis 'mimesis'. It's had a lot of meanings in modern times as well as its different meanings 2300 years ago. There is a whole Continental strand of 20th century thought that debates 'mimesis', e.g. Adorno after Walter Benjamin. But they all hold on to the origin of the creative process in 'imitation'. Music, for instance, imitates certain feelings by certain tricks; dance expresses/represents ideas and feelings by the dancer and her audience inhabiting, as it were, a certain way of performing. Acting might be quintessentially mimetic on this reading, though it would depend on the skill of the writer as well as of the actor.

    If I may say so, I think you are worrying unnecessarily about 'objects', which slip around in meaning in translations of Aristotle. For instance if you fast forward to xxv of the Poetics you'll find this:

    The poet being an imitator, like a painter or any other artist, must of necessity imitate one of three objects- things as they were or are, things as they are said or thought to be, or things as they ought to be. — Poetics

    That covers a pretty wide area!

    Plenty is known about the history of the chorus, which was large until Aeschylus reduced its size, enabling the greats to utilize the chorus for more immediate, intimate and dramatic purposes.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k


    Plenty is known about the history of the chorus, which was large until Aeschylus reduced its size, enabling the greats to utilize the chorus for more immediate, intimate and dramatic purposes.

    If you could provide sources of information about this I’d be very greatful.
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