Poetics: Chapter 25 - Full Text

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SECTION IV

CRITICAL ISSUES

Chapter 25

Solution to Critical Objections: Essential and Unnecessary

      As regards Problems (critical objections) and their Solution (refutation) one may see the number and nature of the assumptions (sources) from which they arise by viewing the matter in the following way. (1) The poet being an imitator just like the painter or other maker of likenesses, he must necessarily in all instances represent things in one or three aspects, either as they were or are, or as they are said or thought to be or to have been, or as they ought to be. (2) All this he does in language, with an admixture, It may be, ot strange (untamiliar) words and metaphors, as also of the various modified forms of words, since the use of these is conceded in poetry. (3) It is to be remembered, too, that there is not the same kind of correctness in poetry as in politics', or indeed any other art. There is, however, within the limits of poetry itself a possibility of two kinds of error, the one directly (essentially), the other accidentally, connected with the art. If the poet meant to describe the thing correctly, and failed through lack of power of expression, his art itself is at fault. But if it was through his having meant to describe it in some incorrect way (e.g., to make the horse in movement have both right legs thrown forward) that the technical error (one in a matter of, say medicine or some other special science), or impossibilities of whatever kind they may be, have got into his description, his error in that case is not in the essentials of the poetic art. These, therefore, must be the premises of the Solution (answers) to the criticism involved in the Problems (objections).

      First, the matters relating to the poet's art itself. Any impossibilities there may be in his description of things are faults. But from another point of view they are justifiable, if they serve the ends of poetry itself - if (to assume what we have said to that end) they make the effect of some position of the work more striking. The Pursuit of Hector is an instance in point. If, however, the poetic end might have been a well or better attained without sacrifice of technical correctness in such matters, the impossibility is not to be justified, since the description should be, if it can, entirely free from error. One may ask, too, whether the error is in a matter directly or only accidentally connected to the poetic art; since it is a lesser error in an artist not to know, for instance, that the hind has no horns, than to produce an unrecognizable picture of one.

      Further, if the poet's description is criticized as not true to fact, one may urge perhaps that the object ought to be as described - an answer like that of Sophocles who said that he drew men as they ought to be, and Euripides as they are. If the description, however, is nether nor of the thing as it ought to be the answer must be then, that it is in accordance with opinion (or tradition). The tales about Gods, for instance, may be as wrong as Xenophane' thinks; neither true nor the better thing to say; but they are certainly in accordance with opinion. Of other statements in poetry one may perhaps say, that they are better than the truth, but that the fact was so at the time; e.g. the description of the arms: their spears stood upright, butt-end the ground' for that was the usual way of fixing them then, as it is still with the Illyrians. As for the question whether something said or done in a poem is morally, right or not, in dealing with that one should consider not only the intrinsic quality of the actual word or deed, but also the person who says or does it, the person to whom he says or does it, the time, the means, and the motive or the agent whether he does it to attain a greater good, or to avoid a greater evil.

      Other criticisms one must meet by considering the language of the poet by the assumption of a rare or unfamiliar word in a passage or a word or metaphor used in an unusual sense or punctuation.

      Speaking generally, one has to justify (1) the Impossible by reference to the requirements of poetry, or of the higher reality? or of opinion. For the purposes of poetry, a convincing possibility is preferable to an unconvincing possibility; and if men such as Zeus's depiction be impossible, the answer is that it is better they should be like that, as the artist ought to improve on his model. (2) The Improbable (irrational) one has to justify either by showing it to be in accordance with opinion, or by urging that sometimes the irrational does not violate probability for there is a probability of things happening contrary to probability. (3) The contradictions found in the poet's language one should first test as one does an opponents's confutation in a dialectical argument, so as to see whether he means the same things, in the same relation, and in the same sense, before admitting that he has contradicted either something he has said himself or what a man or sound sense assumes as true. But there is no possible apology for improbability of Plot or depravity of character, when they are not necessary and no use is made of them, like the improbability in the appearance of Aegeus in Medea and the baseness of Menelos in Orestes.

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