May 01, 2009

A beginning, a middle and an end

An early Islamic picture of Aristotle, courtesy of wikipedia.

El Cabrero has been drinking at the fountain of Hellas again lately. Specifically, I've been pondering Aristotle's theory of poetics, which is the Western world's oldest and most influential work of literary theory and criticism. The best known parts of it have to do with the nature of tragedy.

Its influence can still be felt today not only in the realm of theater but in movies, television shows, novels and short stories.

He believed that basically all forms of art are imitative and that a main difference between comedy and tragedy is that one favored and portrayed the lower aspects of human nature while the other portrayed the higher. (He was all about distinctions between lower and higher.)

(This might explain the difference between Beavis and Butthead and Amadeus.)

According to his definition,

Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete, and whole, and of a certain magnitude; for there may be a whole that is wanting in magnitude.

This may have been what Herman Melville was driving at in Moby-Dick when he wrote that

To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it.

Aristotle also laid out the elements that most people expect from any kind of story:

A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be. An end, on the contrary, is that which itself naturally follows some other thing, either by necessity, or as a rule, but has nothing following it. A middle is that which follows something as some other thing follows it. A well-constructed plot, therefore, must neither begin nor end at haphazard, but conform to these principles.

Clearly, the dude understood nothing about sequels...

YOU DON'T NEED A WEATHERMAN. Paul Krugman argues that addressing climate change is affordable and, done right, could even been good for the economy.

THE SKY IS FALLING. Business lobbying groups are going Chicken Little over the Employee Free Choice Act and the prospect of universal health care.

GOOD NATURED. Here's an interesting item from Newsweek on the evolutionary roots of morality.

MEDICAID. This AP story highlights a study that found serious flaws in WV's redesigned Medicaid program.

STATE REVENUES in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia look a little better than expected for April. The legislature has postponed dealing with budget issues until May due to uncertainty.



appleblossombeck said...

I can definitely see your thinking behind calling Beavis and Butthead high art as opposed to the low art of Amadeus. Since B&B serve many functions, chiefly that they act as clowns and social commentators, the jester if you will to their stodgy neighbors Privileged White Male (tm), while simultaneously lampooning the older generations perception of my own as utterly impossible and lacking curiosity or compassion, whereas Amadeus is merely a man's biography. Not to say that biographies aren't worthwhile, of course, but they rarely provoke the reflection and conversation of a Beavis and Butthead.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Perhaps Aristotle did know about sequels, since most sequels suck.