Poetics: Chapter 2 - Summary

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The Objects of Imitation

      After having dealt with difference in medium of imitation in fine arts, Aristotle comes to the next difference, that of the object of imitation. The objects of imitation in poetry are human beings. Aristotle excludes landscape except as a background to the human action. The whole world is not conceived of as the raw material of art. Aristotle's theory is in agreement with the practice of the Greek poets and artists of the classical period.

      To us, the word imitation suggests an exact reproduction of visible objects, as in a photograph or in a realistic painting of a scenery. Aristotle uses' the word in a different sense. He is no more concerned with photographic realism than is the composer of a pastoral symphony who does not try to reproduce the noise of pigs and cattle, but tries to convey a mood of a special atmosphere ta his hearers. In dramatic art, the 'mimesis' that reproduces life's emotions is important.

      In general, the objects of imitation are human beings in action, men performing or experiencing something. The basic object of imitation is human nature acting or being acted upon. It is to be noted that human beings in action seem more appropriate to narrative poetry or dramatic poetry, where action is more obviously represented. In the sense that Aristotle uses action', everything that expresses the mental life or reveals a rational personality, falls under this larger sense of action. Such actions may be summed up in a particular mood, or a given situation. Human action implies all that constitutes the inward and essential activity of the soul.

The Agents of Action: Higher or Lower than Average

      These men, whose actions and experiences are the objects of imitation in poetry, may be either better (higher) or worse (lower) or the same as they are in real life. It is to be noted that, though Aristotle mentions the third alternative and gives an example from painting, he does not go into the details. He deals really with the first two alternatives. The poetry he is to discuss, imitates men either as being better than in real life or as being worse, Abercrombie remarks. It is clear from this, that Aristotle is not of the opinion that imitation is mere reproduction; it involves creative imagination. Poetry is thus made out to be a creative process which can represent men as ideal, or heroic; it may also represent men as ridiculous, by exaggerating their follies and weaknesses. In other words, they may be idealized or caricatured.

The Difference Between Tragedy and Comedy

      The distinction between Tragedy and Comedy lies in how the agents of action are represented: whether they are of the higher type, or the lower type. Tragedy idealizes, i.e., presents man as being better than average. Comedy presents men as lower the average, or caricatures them. Presenting men as above and below what is found in life, can only be done through the exercise of creative imagination. It is an imitation of the imaginative conceptions. Poetry is thus made out to be concerned with what the imagination can conceive of, and not with the exact reality of appearance.

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