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of English, University of Mysore Introduction Aristotle's Poetics is his theory of literature. Only part of it has survived, and that in the form of notes for a course, and not as a developed theoretical treatise. Aristotle's theory of literature may be considered to be the answer to Plato's. Of course, he does much more than merely an answer. He develops a whole theory of his own which is opposed to Plato's much as their whole philosophical systems are opposed to each other. For Aristotle as for Plato, the theory of literature is only a part of a general theory of reality. This means that an adequate reading of the Poetics must take into account the context of Aristotelian theory which is defined above all by the Metaphysics, the Ethics, the Politics and the Rhetoric. Plato's theory of literature may be said to rest on the metaphysical basis of his theory of ideas.
The Poetics is primarily a philosophical work of aesthetic theory. Aristotle believed that art is essentially representational. In the Poetics his fundamental belief is that imitation is the basis of the pleasure derived from all forms of art, not only poetry, but also music, dancing, painting, and sculpture. The artist, by pointing out similarities, gives us the pleasure of understanding things better.
The Poetics became the most influential theoritical book on poetry ever written . It is an epoch-making work, a storehouse of literary theories and a work whose influence has been continuous and universal. It is a cross-ages literary theoretical masterpiece. It is as Murray points out "a first attempt by man of astounding genius to build up in a region of creative art a rational order". The Poetics is a study of poetry in relation to man. It explores the fundamental instincts of human nature as a participatory human reflection on a work of art. Thus the method is that of a psychological inquiry. In other words, Poetics is a thought-provoking attempt which poses the right type of questions which the literary theory across-ages has grown and advanced by seeking answers to those questions.
Aristotle's main contribution to criticism may well be the idea that poetry is after all an art with an object of its own, that it can be rationally understood and reduced to an intelligible set of rules (that is, it is an "art," according to the definition in the Ethics). The main concern of the rules of the Poetics, however, is not with the composition of literary works; it is rather with their critical evaluation. Consequently, criticism can be a science, and not a mass of random principles and intuitions.
Aristotle is very much concerned with the ethics and morals. His Poetics is, as mentioned earlier, an answer to Plato's accusation of poetry on the moral, intellectual and emotional grounds. Here, Aristotle extends his answer to a scope of a theory of literature. Poetry, like any other work of arts, is an imitation. Yet, it is not the mere shadows of things, but the ideal reality embodied in every object of the world. Imitation for him is a creative process. The poet reproduces the original not as it is, but as it appears to the senses, that is, it is reproduced imaginatively. The poet captures the objects in a world of images and reproduces them in the mind. In this respect, Coleridge is a kin to Aristotle in defining imagination as a process of perceiving the images by the senses and recreating them in the mind. Hence, the poet does not merely copy the external world, creates according to the idea of it. In this way, even the ugly objects, being well- imitated, become a source of pleasure. In his comment on the Poetics, J. W. H. Atkins remarks that "«into the term imitation, he [Aristotle] read a new and definite meaning which make the poetic process out to be not of mere copying, but an act of creative vision « by means of which the poet could make things ' as the were or are, things as they are said or thought to be, or things as they ought to be'. Imitation to Aristotle was none other than recreation. It is perhaps his most contribution to literary theory that poetry as a revelation of the permanent and universal characteristics of human life and thought´ (Tilak 2006).
It could be strongly argued here that Aristotle was the first to distinguish between fancy-the mere copying and that which is usually referred to as the fixed images, and imagination-- the vivid and active process of the mind. Poetry is an imaginative art and is emotionally moving yet for the good, the true and the useful. Aristotle supports his argument with lots of references to works of art. Homer's epic tells of the heroic actions which could not happen yet might happen;
Sophocles presents us with a situation which moves us to fear and pity and arouses our instinct emotions to fore; Aristophanes makes us laugh at our faults. The poet picks up a situation, an object or an image and remodels and refashions it so vividly that it becomes pleasing, conducive and universal. This can not be found in history or philosophy. Poetry is far beyond the limit of history which talks only of particular facts and philosophy which deals solely with abstract precepts. Hence, imagination constitutes an essential part of Aristotle's concept of imitation and it is in fact its soul and blood. This can be explained by the tremendous influence of this theory on the critics and scholars of the succeeding generations.
The Arab scholars and philosophers have expressed their influence by the theoretical and philosophical visions of Aristotle through their books and commentaries. Alfarabi, Abu Nasr alFarabi (259-339 AH / 870-950 AD) is one of the foremost Islamic Philosopher and Logician, States that: "Imagination, therefore, motivates action. Reason may indicate one thing, but if imagination indicates its opposite, the individual might still choose to follow what imagination dictates; so although the imagination might project a falsity, there is a kind of suspension of belief as the individual acts in accordance with that falsity and in contradiction to reason. Such a function of imagination, however, need not set it at the polar extreme of reason/truth; rather, and because of its causative faculty, imagination should be seen to operate within the realm of sense perception and reason but with its own creative-mukhayyil".
What Alfarabi shows is that the imagination can act causatively with the images which it receives from sense perceptions; it can project them onto objects, link them with other images, define and compare, analyze and create. In so doing, the link between imagination and imitation 'muhakat' is clarified. It is a link between al-quwwa al-mukhayyila, what is projected from the imagination onto external objects, and the analogies and/or differences that then become apparent between the objects. Al-quwwa al-mukhayyila projects an image onto an object raising thereby the possibility of comparing or contrasting that object with another. Al-quwwa almukhayyila makes possible muhakat.
It is important to note that Alfarabi used the term Al-quwwa al-mukhayyila, on which Aristotle had focused in the Poetics, in connection with muhakat /imitation. For in his short
Treatise, Alfarabi proved to be the first Muslim philosopher to link Aristotle's discussion of imagination to poetics. Indeed, what is important in the Treatise is that Alfarabi introduced an Aristotelian psychological term into aesthetics--the concept of mukhayyil into artistic (sculpture and poetry) construction. In no other work did Alfarabi so carefully focus on the interaction between psychological imagination and poetic imitation.
Other Arab scholars who seemed to be influenced by Aristotle are Ibn Sina " Avicenna" and Ibn Rushd " Averroes". For at the start of his analysis of Aristotle's poetics, Ibn Sina employed the concept of takhyeel: "Poetry employs takhyeel." Significantly, he indicated in this treatise that he was "summarizing" Aristotle's ³On Poetry´. The same approach appears in Ibn Rushd's "Outline of Argument for the Short Commentary on Aristotle's Poetics;" and so too in his Talkhees.
Critics since Aristotle have understood the theory that imaginative poetry reflects its time ignores what is specific to a work of art, along with its powers of invention and transformation. Aristotle¶s points out, in the ninth chapter of the Poetics: "The difference between a historian and poet is not that one writes in prose and the other in verse.... The real difference is this that one tells what happened and the other what might happen. For this reason poetry is something more philosophical and serious than history, because poetry tends to give general truths while history gives particular facts. By a "general truth" I mean the sort of thing that a certain type of man will do or say either probably or necessarily.... A "particular fact" is what Alcibiades did or what was done to him. It is clear, then ... that the poet must be a "maker" not of verses but of stories, since he is a poet in virtue of his "representation," and what he represents is action."
In the modern times, critics have diligently returned to the Poetics to examine and reexamine its value and influence. "Through the use of the creative imagination," Babbitt believes "man has access to the universal, which is now viewed as accessible ³through a veil of fiction´ or "illusion". In bridging the aesthetic theories of Aristotle, Babbitt thus claims to excavate a truth often obscured by classical intellectualism that our imitation of that which is highest and
universal in human nature can ± and indeed must ± be creative. "Most fundamentally, Aristotle¶s theory is informed by the notion familiar to Greek antiquity that man is subject to two laws: he has an ordinary or natural self of impulse and desire and a human self that is known practically as a power of control over impulse and desire. If man is to become human he must not let impulse and desire run wild, but must oppose to everything excessive in his ordinary self, whether in thought or deed or emotion, the law of measure.´ Hence, it is a humanistic concern with restraint on excess and proportion with reference to a model of imitation that one finds at the center of Aristotle¶s theory.
Imagination, as expressed through poetry or art, at its best, aims to imitate what ³ought to be,´ i.e. the normative or the universal, not in any direct or literal fashion, but as a profound representation or symbol. Indeed, this is the sense of Aristotle¶s famous remark in the Poetics that poetry is capable of being ³serious´ and ³philosophical,´ in contradistinction to the sort of dull imitation.
Therefore, classical imagination distinguishes itself by aiming at that which is abiding in human experience, the permanent as opposed to the mere transient flux. Again, it is Aristotle who best captures this highest potential of the imagination in art and literature: ³One may be rightly imitative, [Aristotle] says, and so have access to a superior truth and gives others access to it only by being a master of illusion. The great poet µbreathes immortal air«".
Aristotle's imagination is that which is capable of such perception, which is to say, the ethical or moral imagination. It informs that art which best approximates the universal in human life through its veil of illusion. For, ³the best art", says Goethe in the true spirit of Aristotle "gives us the µillusion of a higher reality.¶
Works Cited Babbitt, Irving. Character and Culture: Essays on East and West. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1995. ---. A Common Human Ground: Universality and Particularity in a Multicultural World. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003. Gibbs, Raymond W. The Poetics of Mind: Figurative Thought, Language, and Understanding, London: Cambridge University Press, 1994. ix+ 527. Matar, Nabil. Alfarabi on Imagination: With a translation of his "Treatise on Poetry", [London]: College Literature, 1996. Tilak, Raghukul. Aristotle's Poetics, New Delhi: Rama Brothers Pvt, Ltd, 2006. Turner, Mark. As Imagination Bodies Forth the Forms of Things Unknown, Review, published in Pragmatics and Cognition, 3:1 (1995) 179-185.
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