Poetics

Poetics I with Hypothetical Reconstruction of Lost Book on Comedy - Aristotle, Richard Janko Even art cannot escape Aristotle’s categorical dissection. This analysis of tragedy and epic poetry (as well as extant fragments on comedy) slices the works of tragedians and separates them into their primary parts. Like an entomologist pulling apart the wings of a butterfly to see beauty. It is the scientific method applied to art.

What results is a formula for tragic writing. The quantitative steps are mapped out as well as a general description of the tragic character. It’s a descriptive analysis that digests the plays of the time. Poetics is considered the first western writing of an in-depth literary critique.

Aristotle also finds value in art that escaped Plato. As mentioned in his Politics VIII, art and music can be used not only for educational purposes, but catharsis as well. Though not necessarily the intent of the poet, the idea of catharsis, it nevertheless helps stabilize the emotions of the audience. Which, in turn, helps them along the path of correct thinking.

It’s partly that Aristotle seeks to define such utility for art that left me rather uninspired after reading Poetics. It’s one thing to break something into it’s pertinent parts to understand it, it’s another to limit it’s value to those parts. We are not merely logical creatures and to miss what may speak to the irrational side of us seems to miss understanding what is truly human.