Discuss Aristotle’s view of literature as imitation.
According to Aristotle, the pleasure derived from imitation is in knowing what an imitation aims to represent. Aristotle’s view of literature.
For Aristotle, imitation is not a question of good or bad, as it is for Plato; imitation, and therefore the creation of art and poetry, is simply human nature and will always be a part of the human experience. Aristotle maintains that some imitation is bad, such as a poorly-written poem that ignores probability or necessity, or a badly executed painting in which a female deer is depicted with antlers (because only male deer have antlers). But for Aristotle, the fact that some imitations are bad doesn’t mean that all imitations are bad. While Aristotle doesn’t explicitly state whether imitation and therefore poetry is good or bad, he does imply that its existence is inevitable and should be assessed and questioned more thoroughly. Aristotle’s view of literature.
Aristotle’s Poetics is particularly concerned with mimesis, a Greek word used within literary theory and philosophy that loosely translates to “representation” or “imitation.” In Ancient Greece, where Aristotle lived and wrote, art—including visual art and poetry—was considered mimetic. This idea means that, in one way or another, all art is a representation or imitation of nature, including human nature. Mimesis was a hot topic in Aristotle’s time, and some writers and philosophers, such as Plato in his work The Republic, warned that art, especially poetry, should be approached with caution, as it is merely an imitation of nature as created in God’s vision. Since poetry only imitates nature, Plato argues, it is too far removed from absolute truth. In Poetics, Aristotle weighs in on this broader argument about mimesis; however, he isn’t concerned with imitation in quite the same way as Plato. Instead of arguing against poetry as Plato does, Aristotle more deeply explores the human tendency to imitate nature through art. In Poetics, Aristotle upholds the popular belief that all poetry is a form of mimesis; however, he implies that imitation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in large part because all human beings are naturally prone to imitation and respond to it with pleasure. Aristotle’s view of literature.
Aristotle argues that all forms of poetry—tragedy, epic poetry, comedy, dithyrambic poetry and dance; and music performed by pipe or lyre—are forms of imitation and can only differ three ways: their medium, their object, and their mode of imitation. In all poetry, Aristotle says, “the medium of imitation is rhythm, language and melody,” and different types of poetic expression employ these mediums separately or together in some combination. For instance, music may use melody and rhythm, whereas dance uses only rhythm and tragedy uses all three. Imitations must have an object, and poetry imitates “agents,” meaning people and events. These objects “must be either admirable or inferior,” and the difference, Aristotle argues, is the difference between a tragedy and a comedy. According to Aristotle, comedies aim to “imitate people worse than our contemporaries,” and tragedies imitate those who are “better” than us. Lastly, poetry differs in its mode of imitation. Imitation is accomplished in Homer’s Odyssey, an epic poem, through the narration of a single person. In other forms of poetry, like tragic plays, imitation is created through multiple agents engaged in some activity. Poetry as a form of artistic expression can vary in many ways; however, Aristotle maintains that all poetry is a form of imitation. Aristotle’s view of literature.
Aristotle further argues that the human tendency to create art and poetry comes from a natural instinct for imitation. According to Aristotle, “imitation comes naturally to human beings from childhood.” This is how humans are different from animals, Aristotle says, as people learn through imitation and have a strong inclination to imitate people and things. Furthermore, Aristotle claims that human beings find “universal pleasure in imitations.” People naturally take pleasure in looking at an accurate imitation of an object, especially those objects that otherwise cause some form of distress, like a wild animal or a corpse. The idea is that people find pleasure in viewing distressing and believable images, as long as there is adequate distance, such as that created through art and imitation. When human beings look upon an imitation in any form, Aristotle maintains, they find pleasure in the understanding of what exactly that form is attempting to imitate. Aristotle uses a painted portrait as an example. A portrait is the imitation of a specific person, and when one recognizes that person (“This is so-and-so”), it is a pleasurable experience. Aristotle’s view of literature.
Plato and Aristotle on Poetic Imitation:
It was Plato, not Aristotle who invented the term ‘Imitation’. In Platos’ view, a work of art is no more than an imitation of imitation. He argues that a carpenter can make no more than an imitation of the reality, and the bed he makes is once removed from the truth. But, the painter’s bed is, argues Plato, twice removed from the truth. Read More Drama It is an imitation of imitation. In like manner the poet too creates only a copy of a copy, Aristotle holds that poetry, or for that matter any fine art, is not an imitation of imitation, but imitation of reality. In his view, Imitation is the objective representation of life in literature. It is the imaginative reconstruction of life. Thus, “Imitation distinguishes what we call creative literature from literature which is didactic” (Scott-James).
Medium, Object, and Manner of Treatment:
Aristotle begins his inquiry by confining it to Epic Poetry, Tragedy, comedy and Dithyrambic Poetry, along with the music of the flute and the lyre which accompanied them. Aristotle distinguishes the subject treated (which he calls the object imitated), the medium in which it is treated, and the manner of treatment. Objects of poetic imitation, according to Aristotle, are “men in action.” In his view, Imitation is not a mere photographic representation of the surface of things, but it is a creative process.
The poet selects and orders his material, and in this way he recreates reality. In the process of selection the poet prefers, according to Aristotle, probable impossibilities to improbable possibilities. He also brings in the element of universality by asking the poet to rise constantly from the particular to the general. Read More Criticism Gradually the particularities are dropped and discarded, generalities are accepted and adopted. And thus universality is attained. The medium of the poet is language, rhythm and harmony. The painter imitates through form and colour. The musician imitates through rhythm and harmony. Read More Drama Thus, the mediums of the poet, the painter, and the musician differ from one another. The manner of treatment also differs. In the case of the poet, the manner of treatment differs from genre to genre. Epic is a narrative art. Tragedy is an imitation of action. Its manner is dramatic.
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