Jerz: Media Aesthetics

17 February 2005


Catch-up date. We've read a lot of material, so I'm just keeping this day open for further discussion.

Aristotle, ''Poetics'' (delayed -- was 2-15)

The whole thing is valuable reading, but focus on parts 1-4, 7, 9, 13-15, 22, 25 & 26.

Update: I've added notes and a few passages I'd like to discuss.

Part II

Poets represent men as nobler than, or baser than, they really are. (Tragedy deals with the nobler, and Comedy the baser sphere of human life.)

Part VI

In a discussion of plot as outline and colors as character: "The most beautful colors, laid on confusedly, will not give as much pleasure as the chalk outline of a portrait." Compare to the drawing action in Cathedral, and also the use of color in modern art.

Part VII

The discussion of "a beautiful object" as being composed of parts, and of a certain magnitude (too small is ugly, too large is incomprehensible); of plots that should be no longer than that which can be embraced by the memory... What would Aristotle say about technology such as microscopes (that let us see the beauty of snowflakes and subatomic particles), satellites (which show us the whole earth as a ball), or videotape collections (that let us store and re-watch dozens or hundreds of episodes of our favorite TV shows, thus letting us review plot points we would have forgotten and character details we wouldn't have noticed). How does art change to reflect humanity's increased capacity to view, recognize, and remember?

Part IX

"It is not the function of the poet to relate what has happened, but what may happen."

"Poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular."

Later in the same paragraph, there is a discussion about tragedies that take names mosty from history (or legends), and tragedians who create fictional characters... how does this relate to Plato's idea that art is all about imitation?

Part X

Explanation of "propter hoc or post hoc"

Latin "post hoc" means "after this." "Propter hoc" means "because of this." The phrase "Post hoc ergo proper hoc" refers to the fallacous argument, "After this, therefore because of this." In broader terms, "First A happens.. then B happens. Since B came after A, A must have caused B."

Part XIII refers to a "perfect" tragedy, one composed according to all the rules. The end of that section refers to "tragic pleasure," which Aristotle deems to be less pure in the popular tragedies (which punish the wicked as well as the suffering hero).

Part XV contains some shocking statements about women and slaves... I'm not sure there is much to be gained by noting that Aristotle was a product of his time, and therefore despite his wisdom he believed in a hierarchy that placed women below men. By arguing "even a woman may be good," he was noting the difference between "manly valor" and the kind of goodness towards which a woman can aspire. This opinion is an artefact of the times, during which men fought while women stayed home.


poetry is the art of telling lies skillfully