February 17, 2005

Aristotle and I fight: I win

I, like Anne, was a bit ticked off at Aristotle and his editorial comments about what beauty is and is not.

His separations, for example, of what is and what is not draw a line that I think should not exist. His own good opinion of himself and his judgment of artwork: "Polygnotus depicted men as nobler than they are, Pauson as less noble, Dionysius drew them true to life", as one being real, another better or worse reminds me of an article that I have to scratch opinion out of for the Setonian.

If Aristotle is so into observations and empirical evidence, why can he not provide some conclusions of his own? Instead, he stipulates at the reason we find pleasure in seeing nasty images:

"We have evidence of this in the facts of experience. Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies. The cause of this again is, that to learn gives the liveliest pleasure, not only to philosophers but to men in general; whose capacity, however, of learning is more limited."

His opinion concerning tragedy and comedy struck me, as well. According to Aristotle, tragedy is a higher form than comedy. I have heard it said by many actors and writers that to perform or write comedy is the most difficult of tasks. Getting the timing down correctly, especially. Both forms of drama are beautiful in different ways, and saying that one is superior to another is pretentious.

I do, however, agree with Aristotle in that drama "a certain length is necessary, and a length which can be easily embraced by the memory" is essential. Artwork, should be 'just enough' that the viewer, listener...whatever can be reinspired by it through memory.

I don't exactly understand what Aristotle means by:

"A very small animal organism cannot be beautiful; for the view of it is confused, the object being seen in an almost imperceptible moment of time. Nor, again, can one of vast size be beautiful; for as the eye cannot take it all in at once, the unity and sense of the whole is lost for the spectator; as for instance if there were one a thousand miles long."

I can't say that I have classified art in this manner before, or thought I needed to do so. Beauty can be overwhelming in many formats--it is not the format or size of the beauty that matters, but rather the thing itself.

When discussing history and poetry, Aristotle does the same thing, "Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history"; he qualifies what is a higher thing, making a generalization about the written word--an artform, which I find, cannot be pinned down by one perspective, especially in history.

When he mentions poetry again, I found truth in his statement that, "fear and pity may be aroused by spectacular means; but they may also result from the inner structure of the piece, which is the better way, and indicates a superior poet." Poetry, as I have discovered is better when the showing happens rather than the telling, and the format, whether in verse or prose-like style adds to the piece. Every line of poetry, if it is good poetry (in my opinion), offers nuanced layers of meaning. In this, Aristotle and I agree.

Maybe I am being overly critical of this work. I mean, his intent was to be instructive (I guess?: "We must proceed to consider what the poet should aim at, and what he should avoid, in constructing his plots; and by what means the specific effect of Tragedy will be produced"--sounds pretty instructional to me). While reading, I just got more and more angry at his distinctions of what is good and what is not--that's the kind of thing that messes kids up. :-D

Posted by Amanda Cochran at February 17, 2005 2:01 PM | TrackBack

Yeah, I'm with Aristotle on poetry. Plato, on the other hand... That guy was heartless. If I remember correctly, he essentially believed that nearly all poets should be banished from society.

It isn't our problem that our art was too much for him to handle. ;)

Posted by: ChrisU at February 17, 2005 11:51 PM

The American democratic ideal (if not its actual implementation) encourages us to think that hierarchies are wrong. But it was not always so. Classical culture was very hierarchical, as is Nature -- consider the food chain, although I recently came across a reference to the term "food web" as a preferable term... woah, another hierarchy!

Do you agree or disagree with Aristotle's claim that learning gives the greatest pleasure?

And by aligning yourself against Aristotle, are you backing Plato, or do you see yourself as up against both Plato and Aristotle?

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at February 18, 2005 6:08 PM

Going it alone against Plato *and* Aristotle, yikes.

Posted by: ChrisU at February 18, 2005 6:22 PM

Philosophy, WCT and now Aesthetics. I think I am just getting tired of Greeks.

Posted by: Amanda at February 19, 2005 12:40 AM
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