Friday, May 2, 2008

Open Question


I'm too busy and brain-dead to write an actual post, but I'd like your thoughts on the following question (based, of course, on the horrifying tenth book of The Republic):

What is the purpose of art?

Okay, so I won't leave it at that. Plato says art is horrible in part because it allows us to express the worst parts of ourselves. We appreciate it when grown men cry on the stage but GOD FORBID we ever do that at home; we laugh at jokes we'd never tell; etc. Aristotle, whom I've not read yet (this summer, depending on how the Summer of Hamlet and my Milton course go), says that that catharsis is good and necessary. Why? Does art serve a function beyond emotional manipulation? Is it meant to be a lesson? (Should we then censor all art with an immoral lesson?) Is beauty in and of itself good?

I feel like I'm teaching a Comp class here, but I wanted to post something, and I'm out of ideas for a week or so.

12 comments:

Nathan P. Gilmour said...

I'm actually reading John Gardner's Moral Fiction right now before bed (to decompress all that Renaissance text I'm taking in during the day reviewing for comps), so I might have something more to say in a couple days.

I will say that, unlike his discussions of marriage and duty and such, Plato leaves his section on poetry unusually open, inviting Glaucon (I think it's Glaucon there) to think on it a while and provide a defense of poetry later. And I think that there are resources interior to Plato's philosophy that can accommodate a more robust theory of art. Aristotle, as far as I'm concerned, is acting as a Platonic philosopher when he says that tragedy performs a cleaning (katharsis) function. All he did (that Plato failed to do) was to take the tragedy as a whole rather than isolating this or that character, so I don't see him as departing too far from Plato's vision of things.

Meredith said...

I can't answer all those questions, but concerning art...

this isn't it:

http://www.yaledailynews.com/articles/view/24513

Michial said...

OH THAT WOMAN IS SO *BRAVE*

Nathan: I did notice that Socrates is relatively gentle in his treatment of art--and elsewhere in Plato's corpus, he has some nice things to say about poets, particularly those who compose in divine madness. This was going to be a post on "Why do poets traditionally love Plato?" but I need to read Aristotle first.

I need you to explain your comments on Aristotle, as I don't quite get what you mean.

distractedblues said...

I'm trying to separate the difference between myself and the art I enjoy. As such, I am crying at home more, telling filthy jokes, and throwing my life down the drain.

Michial said...

I didn't mean to jumpstart your existential crisis, Joel.

distractedblues said...

My existential crisis began long before. I'm not sure if it began or conception or not, though.

Michial said...

Either way, we need to abort it.

Nathan P. Gilmour said...

Aristotle takes as his starting point for his katharsis theory the entire tragedy. So when one takes in a tragic drama, according to Aristotle, one watches not an isolated exemplar but an entire story arc, and the sum total of things brings pity and fear out. Plato didn't see the big picture, instead getting tunnel vision and thinking that an Oedipus or a Jason would himself be the vehicle for moral instruction. I think that, had someone proposed what Aristotle did in the Poetics, Plato could have said Amen. (If he knew Aramaic.) He was looking for a way that art might serve to make people better people, and Aristotle formulated just that.

Nathan P. Gilmour said...

Active link to Yale Daily News

Michial said...

Nathan:

I'm looking forward to reading "Poetics," then. Sounds like Aristotle will fill Plato in, even though the party line is that he goes 180 degrees against him.

I watched a special on the History Channel about comedy Friday night, and they claimed that Aristotle also thought humor was bad. Is that true? Can I believe Lewis Black?

Nathan P. Gilmour said...

He thought that comedy was inferior to epic and tragedy, but I don't remember clearly whether he straightforwardly condemned it.

Incidentally, I don't deny that one could read Aristotle as opposing Plato on the question of poetry, but one would have to take Plato's section on poets in Republic far more seriously than he seems to. (I tend to read the ancients as having more of a sense of humility and irony than some do; I just figure that they weren't inherently dumber than we are.)

Michial said...

Everyone is inherently dumber than us, Nathan. And by "us" I mean you and especially me.