Between Philosophy and Poetry: Writing, Rhythm, History

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Between Philosophy and Poetry examines the complex and controversial relation that has informed literary theory since ancient times: the difference between philosophy and poetry. The book explores three specific areas: the practice of writing with respect to orality; the interpretive modes of poetic and philosophical discourse as self-narration and historical understanding; how rhythm marks the differential spaces in poetry and philosophy. The book brings together some of the most prominent international scholars in the fields of philosophy and literature to examine the differences between orality and writing, the signs and traces of gender in writing, the historical dimension of the tension between philosophical and poetic language, and the future possibility of a musical thinking that would go beyond the opposition between philosophy and poetry.

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In the final instance, rhythm is the force to be reckoned with and is the essential element in an understanding of philosophy and poetry. Rhythm in effect provides a musical ethics of philosophy, for musical thinking goes beyond the metaphysical opposition between philosophy and poetry and sets the frame for post-philosophical practice. Poetry finds a place in Aristotle's general scheme of human activity.

Between Philosophy and Poetry: Writing, Rhythm, History (Continuum Collection)

Poetry and the arts he includes under the head of imitation mimesis which is one of the divisions of production. Both the Rhetoric and the Poetics can be considered --to be expansions of this view. Poetry may have its own internal laws, but "for Aristotle as much as for Plato, it is an art to be praised or blamed, only in its relation to the whole human being of whom it is both the instrument and the reflection.

That is what Aristotle does with "teaching". As to "pleasure," he doesn't accept it at face value either. He rather makes an organic combination of the two theories: pleasure in literature is not to be understood as an hedonistic satisfaction, but rather as the result of an underlying intellectual activity or experience. He avoids facile and rigid assertions on the matter, but one thing is clear: for him, literature is a rational and beneficial activity, and not an irrational and dangerous one, as it was for Plato.

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Not as historical processes, though. Aristotle's approach, like the Greek approach in general, seems to us too categorical, essentialist and ahistorical. We must take into account the agent , the matter, the form, the and also the final cause, the end to which a process is directed.

This is to be taken not only in the sense of "intention", but also in the sense of an intrinsic development of natural phenomena towards their greatest possible perfection.

Here Aristotle is in strong opposition to the sophistic conception of cultural phenomena. For the sophists, they were conventional grounded on nomos, mere custom , while for him they are natural, grounded on physis, a driving force within natural phenomena, which encompasses and goes beyond human will.

This view of natural and cultural processes as having an end inherent in their nature we call teleology. The main body of the Poetics is concerned with the material and above all the formal causes of literature. There is very little to be found in it about the agentive or efficient causes of literature, very little about the poets themselves or the history of literature. Whatever views we find on that matter are teleologically rather than historically oriented; Aristotle explains how the different poetical genres have developed toward the highest point in the discipline of poetry, which is tragedy.

The origins of poetry had been grounded on the instinct of imitation which is natural to man. The first poetical works were spontaneous improvisations. The origins of the different genres is justified by Aristotle thus:. The more serious-minded among them represented noble actions and the doings of noble persons, while the more trivial wrote about the meaner sort of people; thus, while the one type wrote hymns and panegyrics, these others began by writing invectives. Poetics II. The development goes through serious or comic epic poems such as those written by Homer to comedy and tragedy; "these new forms were both grander and more highly regarded than the earlier" Poetics II.

Aristotle does not, however, decide on whether tragedy and by implication, literature has already developed as far as it can; but he does assert that it has come to an standstill. The undertone in the Poetics seems to point to the work of Sophocles as representing the highest point in literary achievement: later tragedians, such as Euripides and Agathon, are sometimes criticised. The standstill has sometimes the aspect of a decadence in Aristotle's account, and a kind of past classicism is therefore established as a critical norm.

Aristotle makes a brief outline of the history of tragedy, from its origins in the dithyramb, through the work of Aeschylus, to that of Sophocles and Euripides:. Aeschylus was the first to increase the number of actors from one to two, cut down the role of the chorus, and give the first place to the dialogue. Sophocles introduced three actors and painted scenery.

At first the poets had used the tetrameter because they were writing satyr-poetry, which was more closely related to the dance; but once dialogue had been introduced, by its very nature it hit upon the right measure, for the iambic is of all measures the one best suited to speech. Another change was the increased number of episodes, or acts. It was a long time before the archon granted a chorus to comedies; until then the performers were volunteers.

Comedy had already acquired certain clear-cut forms before there is any mention of those who are named as its poets.

Writing, Rhythm, History

Nor is it known who introduced masks, or prologues, or a plurality of actors, and other things of that kind. Properly worked out plots originated in Sicily with Epicharmus and Phormis; of Athenian poets Crates was the first to discard the lampoon pattern and to adopt stories and plots of a more general nature.

As with tragedy, we can observe that Aristotle's interest lies in the development of form till it reaches its proper nature. Here that "proper nature of poetry" is defined as the adoption of plots which have a general value, as opposed to mere lampooning against individuals; as in tragedy, the direction goes from mere particularity to a cognitive generality. Comedy is then a more developed and more perfect genre than lampoon. The history of the literary genres had already been dealt with before Aristotle by Glaucus of Rhegium, of whose work only fragments have survived.

Between Philosophy and Poetry

Aristotle's approach, however, is original and of a piece with the rest of his philosophical system in its concern with essence and teleology. We will now proceed to deal with the essence of poetry, which is Aristotle's main interest and, in his view, the only possible explanation of the history of poetry. Aristotle sees poetry as something which has sprung from two causes, both lying deep in the nature of man. The first is the instinct of imitation, and the second is the instinct of harmony and rhythm.

The instinct of imitation is basic to all processes of learning. Imitation and recognition of imitations provide an intellectual pleasure:. We have evidence of this in the facts of experience. Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies.

The cause of this again is, that to learn gives the liveliest pleasure, not only to philosophers but to men in general, whose capacity of learning, however, is more limited. Poetics IV. There is an important principle involved here. Plato believed that art as such had no object of its own: its effects and its sole substance were those of the object of which it was an imitation.

Here we see that an imitation can provoke reactions entirely different from those caused by its object on its own: this implies that there is a substance peculiar to imitations which does not belong to their object, a substance of an intellectual nature. But what is exactly the intellectual value of poetry? Since much of it is fiction, it could be argued whether it does exist after all in those cases where the poet is not portraying actual events. So, we must determine what is the relationship of poetry to factual truth; we must define its essence as opposed to that of history.

On the other hand, if the discipline of poetry is of an intellectual nature, we must also determine its role and nature as distinguished from that of the intellectual discipline par excellence, philosophy. He distinguishes the proper function of the poet from that of the historian. While the latter must tell things as they have happened,.

Writing Lesson: Rhythm in Poetry

Poetics IX. Aristotle's point is related but not quite the same:. The poet and the historian differ not by writing in verse or in prose. The true difference is that one relates what has happened, the other what may happen. Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular.

It clearly follows that the poet or "maker" should be a maker of plots rather than of verses; since he is a poet because he imitates, and what he imitates are actions.

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  4. And even if he chances to take a historical subject, he is none the less a poet; for there is no reason why some events that have actually happened should not conform to the law of the probable and possible, and in virtue of that quality in them he is their poet or maker. For Aristotle the fact that some kinds of literature deal with real persons is not relevant to their status as poetical works. They may portray the universal and use real names to increase the illusion of reality, or they may fail to rise to the level of the universal because they aim at particular individuals.

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    Such are the respective cases of tragedy and lampoon. Poetry is not subjected to the rules of normal speech, or to the rules of logic and science. It is a discipline in itself, and it establishes its own rules to some extent. If possible, a poem ought to be faultless in all respects, even according to the laws of logic and science.

    But there are faults intrinsic to poetry, and faults external to this art. This rule may be applied to the arts in general: "For example, not to know that a hind has no horns is a less serious matter than to paint it inartistically" Poetics XXV.