Poetics: Chapter 25 - Summary

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Chapter 25

Objection of Critics and How to Offer a Defence Against These

      This chapter is also quite technical, like the chapter on diction. Here Aristotle is looking at creative work from the point of view of the critic or reader. He analyses possible critical problems, and the objection that critics could put forward against a work of art. He also puts forth answers for each critical issue. Hamilton Fyre calls the chapter one of 'critical casuistry'. The age of Greek creative literature was followed by the age of critics, "who flourished like gnats in the climate of Alexandria". These critics tended to make a literal to examination of poetic statement. Aristotle analyses the criticism which poetry is liable, and suggests the lines on which each issue may be solved, and each objection answered. The poet is an imitator, like any other artist. There are three ways in which he can represent objects. He can represent them as they were or are; as they are said or thought to be or to have been and as they ought to be. This imitation is done through the medium of words which include strange words, metaphors, modified forms of words and so on. Further, before criticizing a poetic work, it should be remembered that correctness in poetry is different from that in politics, for instance. Within poetry, there is possibility for two types of error. One comes out of wrong technique; the other out of not knowing correctly the object being described, i.e. a factual error. On the basis of these premises, Aristotle goes on to deal with critical problems.

      (i) Charge of Impossibility. Impossibilities should be in general avoided. But they are sometimes justifiable. They are justifiable if they support the end of imitation, or the purpose of art itself. The scene of the pursuit of Hector by Achilles in Homer's Iliad, is justified even though 'impossible', because it serves the purpose of art. Represented in drama it would be ludicrous, and hence unjustifiable. But in an epic, it becomes justified because it heightens the effect of grandeur.

      There are some 'accidental' impossibilities. These arise from the poet's imperfect knowledge of certain facts. Aristotle gives the example of presenting a deer without horns. This is impossible according to the facts of zoology but if it does not violate poetic truth, this drawback can be excused. A mistake arising from ignorance of some special field of knowledge can be justified if, at the same time, it does not violate poetic truth.

      The impossibility can also be justified if it arises from the poet's wish to represent a character, "as he ought to be", rather than "as he is". This is what Sophocles does, and it is justifiable because the poet is representing the ideal. Here, one remembers what Aristotle says regarding the tragic character: it is the poetic and which is most important.

      (ii) Charge of irrationality. Once again poetic truth serves to answer the charge of irrationality. The false is often believed by men. Accepted beliefs and opinions may be factually false. Homer's presentation of the gods as immoral may not be true or 'false' in the ordinary sense of those terms. But they are in accordance with accepted beliefs and opinion. In this case, the poet is not presenting things as they ought to be, nor as they are, but as they are accepted to or thought to be.

      If the thing, as represented by the poet, seems irrational, there could be another reason for this. It might have been so at the time the poet wrote of, and hence true. Many things may seem irrational in one age, but may have been the most common thing or practice in earlier times. Aristotle, as usual, cites an example. The statement that the spears stood upright butt-ends upon the ground, may sound irrational, as it seemed a ridiculous manner of standing the spears. But the practice was common a long time before. It was historically true, and hence justifiable.

      (iii) Charge of Moral Incorrectness. There may be a question raised whether what a person does or says in poem is morally correct or not. To this the answer is that we must examine any dubious word or act and see whether it is justifiable in the context. It is not only Che word that should be considered in isolation, but it should be considered in its context., i.e., who says it and to whom, and the motive of the person in saying it. It is of important to consider if the deed or word in question arose out of an intention to achieve a greater good, or to avoid a greater evil. This is a very valid point raised by Aristotle. Morality should be considered in the light of its Context, and not in isolation. Relevance is what matters, and the motive of the agent of the deed is to be considered. As has been Observed several times, to strike a person may not be good; but to strike a person who is going to commit murder may be justifiable.

      (iv) Charge of Incorrectness. This charge has to do with the technical aspects of the work of art. There may be a charge of incorrectness arising from the way the language has been used. It may be because the poet was using a rare or strange word or metaphor. A deeper understanding of these devices is required.

      The difficulty might have arisen because of mode of pronunciation, accentuation, or intonation, being different from what it should have been. The difficulty may arise from punctuation and can be solved by changing the punctuation. It could be caused by an ambiguous or equivocal expression used by the poet. Lastly, it could arise due to the misuse of standard words, which may happen in the common usage of language.

      (v) Charge of contradiction. If a passage seems to have contradictions, all the possible senses should be considered, and the most probable one selected. Aristotle censures the critics for accusing the poet of being absurd without first considering all probable alternatives.

      This chapter is highly technical. A knowledge of Greek is essential if one is to understand the example cited by Aristotle since examples of verbal criticism have to be left in their original language.

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