Aristotle and the Poets: Truth, Fiction, and Tragedy
Aristotle’s Poetics offers an account of imitative art and its pleasures that stands at the origins of Western aesthetic theory. In response to Plato’s critique of poetry as twice-removed from reality, Aristotle defends—and theorizes—imitation as an essential component of human education and of the “discovery of form in things.” Fiction is false in its particulars, but somehow true in its universality. What does drama teach us that history and philosophy cannot?
In this class, we will explore the unique power of drama by reading Aristotle’s Poetics, as well as a different Athenian tragedy each week (Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides)—testing, as it were, Aristotle’s account against our direct experiences of reading tragic drama. What, according to Aristotle, are the rules, purpose, and unique power of tragedy? Why is representation essential to drama? What is the role of aesthetic experience in shaping an ethical life? We’ll evaluate Aristotle’s principal claims and arguments: on imitation and its universality, the interplay between self and circumstance and between character and action, the fragility of happiness, the work of the emotions, especially pity and fear, and the effect of katharsis, or “purification,” through artistic experience.
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:45-9:45pm
January 30 — February 20, 2019