Critically discuss Aristotle’s theory of mimesis with reference to his Poetics
Or, Discuss Aristotle’s theory of imitation.
Introduction: Aristotle’s theory of imitation, popularly known as “Mimetic”, is the most iconic term in the Poetics. Aristotle did not invent the term “imitation”. Plato was the first to use the word in the Republic in connection with poetry. But Aristotle, in his Poetics, gives this term a more comprehensive and precise interpretation.
Plato’s concept of imitation :Plato in his Republic had distinguished between the imitative arts and useful arts. To him the useful arts such as medicine, agriculture etc serve our temporal needs. But the imitative arts such as painting, music, poetry etc, do not have any such utility. Poetry belongs to the category of the imitative arts. So, Plato has considered poetry to be a servile copy of the phenomenal world and poets have no idea of reality. It is an imitator of appearances or shadow of shadows.
Aristotle’s concept of imitation Though Aristotle was not the originator of the term imitation, but he added new dimensions to the term. According to Aristotle, Poetry though imitates like other fine arts, yet is not a mere slavish representation of surface reality. It imitates imaginatively and so gives us higher truth, deeper reality and the very basic elements of human nature. Thus, poetry, to Aristotle, is not an imitation of a shadow, but it is the imitation of the ideal reality. It is the rhythmic representation of the deeper elements of human nature. According to Aristotle, epic poetry, comedy, tragedy, dancing, music, flute playing, painting etc, are all the modes of imitation.
Poetry and music, inter-related: In Aristotle’s view, imitation is the common basis of all the fine arts. While Plato has equated” poetry with painting, Aristotle equates it with music. Music is not an imitation in the sense of mere copying of appearances. It is a representation of he inner feelings, moods and emotions of human nature. So poetic imitation is creative. It is also an imitation of deep Feelings and ideas of man. Thus, Aristotle, by his theory that poetry has close relationship with music, has enlarged the scope of imitation.
Medium of Imitation: According to Aristotle, all art is a mode of imitation. Yet there are differences between the various modes of imitation. One such difference lies in their medium of imitation. Like other forms of art, poetry is also a mode of imitation. There is a difference between the poet and the painter. While painter’s medium of imitation is colour and form, the poet’s medium like the musician, is rhythm and harmony.
Objects of imitation: The objects of imitation in poetry are “men in action”, and these men may be either higher or lower type than the average man in real life. The poet may represent men either as better than in real life or as worse or as they are. According to Aristotle, imitation in poetry is clearly distinct from photographic representation. It is obviously a creative process. Poetry imitates the inward faculty of real life.
Imitation; a process of re-creation: Aristotle says,
“Art imitates nature”.
By nature Aristotle does not mean the outward world of created things, he means, “the creative force, the productive principle of the universe. His nature is not the visible physical universe, but the creative principle operating in it. So, to Aristotle, imitation is a process of re-creation.
The manner of imitation : Poetry itself is of different kinds, because of the different manner of imitation. In this point. Aristotle lists three conditions. Firstly– There is the purely narrative poet, like Homer, who may use narrative method. Secondly-The poet may produce his imitation by speaking in dramatic method. Thirdly– The whole story may be represented by using both the methods.
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Imitation of Ideal possibilities: Poetry may imitate men as better or worse than they are in real life. Tragedy and epic represent men on a heroic scale, better than they are. On the other hand, comedy represents men of a lower type, worse than they are. Both are the imitation of ideal possibilities. So poetry does not aim at photographic realism.
Imitation of outward and inward activities: The poet imitates the creative process of nature, but the objects of his imitation are the action of men in all its manifestation. The action may be external or internal. It may be the action within the soul or human psyche.
Plato’s charge against poetry: Plato has accused poetry of telling lies and called “the mother of lies”. So he has wanted to banish poetry and poets from his ideal Republic. Aristotle by his theory of imitation answers the charge to Plato that poetry is an imitation of “shadow of shadows”. Aristotle tells us that art imitates not the mere shadows of things, but the “ideal reality” embodied in every object of the world. Poetry is a creative process. It imitates the ideal and the universal. Poetic truth is higher than historical truth. It is more philosophical, more conducive to understand than philosophy itself.
The universal truth of poetry: From the concept of imitation, Aristotle arrives at a new position that, his concept of poetry is a revelation of the permanent and universal characteristics of human life and thought. Poetry is not mere transcript of life. It is something more than pure illusion. Aristotle firmly says, poetry is concerned with the universal, not with the particular.
Conclusion: To conclude, Aristotle’s theory of imitation has generally been regarded as a concept, which is valid only in respect of the representational arts. Thus he has breathed new life and soul into the concept of poetic imitation, enlarged its scope, and showed that it is in reality, a creative process.