Peripety, Discovery and Suffering

A likely impossibility is always preferable to an unconvincing possibility.
– Aristotle, On Poetics (238)

IMG_0105On Poetics is a diverting book for a few reasons. Lacking Aristotle’s declarative tone of absolute knowledge, I humbly submit a few for your consideration:

Reason # 1)  Imagine the long road of literature, anyone of us may not know all of the side streets, perhaps very few, but we do have an inkling as to one of the starting points. Reading Aristotle, (which in my mind is a lot closer than not to the starting place) in which he outlines and explains the art of Poetry, Epics, Tragedies,  and Comedies is fascinating for his relative juxtaposition- there’s not a lot more road where that came from. He breaks the thing down into hilariously pedantic laws and by-laws, but still- he’s not wrong.

Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars. (214)

Reason #2) Okay, so maybe it is the latent quasi librarian in me, but who can resist such a genius for categorization and organization? The ultimate constituents of language (chapter 20) is a marvelous deconstruction. Interestingly, he discusses the terms not only as we unthinkingly absorb them today: as written words, but also as most people of his day thought of them: as spoken sounds and words. The Diction is wrapped up in the grammar and from our view down the road, it makes one reconsider our penned ideas of language.

The iambic, we know, is the most speakable of meters, as is shown by the fact that we very often fall into it in conversation, whereas we rarely talk hexameters, (208)

Too true. I find the iambic regularly holds my tongue hostage leaving me laughing to myself like a mad woman. These things can’t be helped, apparently, and that’s a comfort.

Reason #3) Brevity. In form and function. Aristotle naturally has an opinion on the whys and wheres of the importance of brevity. Epics are long, Tragedies are not. I find that’s true in life as well. But Aristotle is no hypocrite, if something demands an explanation, he happily gives it, but when it gets down to brass tacks obvious, he doesn’t waste time, Here by ‘Diction’ I mean merely this, the composition of the verses; and by ‘Melody’, what is too completely understood to require explanation. (210) I really hope I remember that gem for the next time someone asks me to explain something obvious- too completely understood to require explanation– enough said. Aristotle, I could kiss you!

The argument of the Odyssey is not a long one. (226)

Then again, anyone who thinks that the Catalogue of the Ships section of the Odyssey is an “[episode] to relieve the uniformity of [Homer’s] narrative.” (235) is perhaps a little too much of a home town fan for my taste. To me that was like being stuck behind a parade of local by-gone heroes. The argument may not be long, but let’s get back to it, shall we?

Reason #4) Philosophy. Student of Plato he is. This is what I find so appealing about philosophy in general as a framework for studying anything- it seeps in. For example, his discussion of the proper makings of Poetry broken down into three parts: peripety, discovery, and suffering- If that’s not life, than I don’t know what is and perhaps deserve a refund.

The worst situation is when the personage is with full knowledge on the point of doing the deed, and leaves it undone. (220)

Yes, we all crave a little resolution. Aristotle inadvertently and on purpose makes many a brilliant observation that apply to our non-fiction lives. The one small little concern I have on his behalf, and this could simply be a result of having studied under the arm of the apparently humor-less Plato, is his view of Comedy.

As for Comedy, it is (as has been observed) an imitation of men worse than the average; worse, however, not as regards any and every sort of fault, but only as regards one particular kind, the Ridiculous, which is a species of the Ugly. (208)

Well. That’s cause for a moment’s awkwardness. I’m not sure what I would do without my attachment to the Ridiculous. I’m not even sure if I am aware of the parts of life that aren’t ridiculous. He goes on to describe something which produces laughter as a thing “ugly and distorted without causing pain.” Come now, Ari, lighten up. Anything that doesn’t distort with pain is a-okay in my book.

*Aristotle, Rhetoric and On Poetics – translated by Ingram Bywater

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9 responses to “Peripety, Discovery and Suffering

  1. terrific commendation, thanks

  2. A good day for me. Spinoza over at Time’s Flowed Stemmed; Aristotle, here. It’s been years since I’ve read his Poetics. Does he address non-mimetic art, say, music or architecture or even some forms of sculpture and painting?

    • No, just words. Oh wait, there was a little on melody- but that was really melody of poetry. A few words here and there to art, but it is really all- On Poetics.

  3. I am a fan of Aristotle, though I admit I have not studied the works you have written about. Educational post.

  4. Pingback: An Accord Sown | so very very

  5. Reason #3) Brevity. That I identify with so strongly when writing poems. As you said; when an explanation is warranted, give it. Otherwise, get to the point.

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