Saturday, 7 May 2016

I Read a Book About Poetry and You'll Never Guess What Happened Next.

Any self-respecting study of philosophy begins with Plato and Aristotle. But it’s best to avoid reading too many books written by classicists on mimesis: you’d think they’d know what it is after two thousand years of discussing it, but they can’t even decide whether Aristotle is using the word in the same way as Plato!
In the meantime, here’s three reasons why it’s easier to ignore Plato if you want to talk about Aristotle’s idea of mimesis.

Aristotle’s general project is not the same as Plato’s general project (Martha Husain)

Certainty might not be the best way forward in any of this: writing about ancient philosophy doesn’t lend itself to dogmatic statements like social media does. But still, scholars often say that Aristotle wrote his Poetics to answer Plato’s Republic (in particular, the bits where he slagged actors). Maybe he did, but he had bigger calamari to fry. He probably wanted to show how theatre could work as part of a good life, or maybe he wrote a handbook for aspiring dramatists, or perhaps it connects to a bigger job, like investigating ontology or something. Anyway, seeing The Poetics as an early version of the beef between Biggie and Tupac kinda… diminishes it.

Different Strokes for Different Folks
That cool picture of all the philosophers having a jam notwithstanding, Plato and Aristotle didn’t hang out that much. Their beef – when Plato died, Aristotle didn’t get his school – is a bit fanciful. Sure, Aristotle studied with Plato, but while Plato nipped off to Sicily, tried to teach the local tyrant to act the philosopher-king (and ended up getting sold into slavery), Aristotle tutored Alexander (before he became The Great) and lived during the beginning of the Hellenistic era. Plato saw the collapse of Athenian democracy, the execution of his main man Socrates and the rise of Macedonia, effectively destroying the city-state system he knew and, well, mostly hated. Aristotle got to see the Greeks team up, kick more Persian ass and establish a cultural presence in the east, almost into India. It only took a few years, but the change was massive.

Who knows what Plato meant, anyway?
Plato hates the mimesis, right? His spiel is basically like -  it’s well out of order, because it copies, and copying is bad, because it is a copy of a copy (nature is a copy of the pure form), so it takes the observer further away from God.
Only, he wrote these books which are a mimesis of Socrates’ teaching method. So it’s a copy of a copy and so you better not be reading it because it takes you further away from Socrates, who is probably not a Platonic pure form and…
Okay, I’m not getting into this, but Plato cannot be read straight. He’s playing somewhere beyond language and while there is plenty of fun to be had, it’s not a great foundation for studying Aristotle as a response to Plato, since Plato is, I reckon, just fucking with you.

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