Monday, September 22, 2008

Notes on Aristotle

Life and Philosophy
Plato’s student, 384-322
Interested in natural phenomena
Founded Lyceum in Athens, a rival to Plato’s Academy
Had middle-class students
Substance—what it means for things to exist
The essence and the cause of it
What is substance (not what is being)
Central idea
Categories—ten items (scientific priniciple)
Individuation, underlying foundation
Only substance can exist separately (unlike Forms)
All primary substance is individual
Other qualities can be attached, but substance is basic
Universals, yes, but not forms
Universals depend on substance, don’t exist of themselves
Senses are the starting point and source of knowledge
Two visions, Plato’s and ARistotles
But not modern
Still, Aristotle says Universals are real (even though particulars come first). Universals explain the particular
Substance holds the whole system together

Rules of logic—syllogism
3 Laws—1. A is a
2. A cannot be both A and not-A
3. Something must be A or not-A
Need for middle ground? Complexities? Enemy or not enemy
Analytic and empirical
Unity? Well, dependent on various specialties
1. Poetry has a role to play
2. State exists to work toward a higher good
Good life
Achievement of virtue, noble actions
3. Principle of the middle way
Metaphysical and Ethical Context of the Poetics
Poetry participates in the knowledge of universals
Concept of utility
Stimulus to virtue
Delight is a sign that it’s right and good
Imitation and Action
Poetry is a form of imitation
But positive—basic human instinct and a way to truth and knowledge
Distance between the real and the imitation creates the source of pleasure
Virtue needs action, happiness is action
Moral nature of action
Poetry represents action, seeking virtue
Creation of someone who has impulses common to humans (unlike Plato’s idea)
Poet is part of society
Arts imitate men in action
As a component of action and character
Better, worse, or like the norm—genres
Poetry and history
Poetry deals in general truths, universals
Poetry has a unity of vision—a work singe, whole, complete, be comprehended “in a singe view”
Concentration on plots
Imitation of real and prior works
Can imitate things that were, that are, or things that ought to be
Imitation has a moral purpose
Character and action (p55)
Singleness of ACTION
Organic unity
Probability or necessity
Beginning, middle, end
Aesthetic dimension
Affective dimension
Fear and pity
Character and tragedy
1. Be good
2. Be appropriate
3. Be “like”

Monday, September 15, 2008

Questions for Plato

Literary Criticism
Key Questions on Plato
What is the distinction Plato makes between forms and reality?
How does Plato differentiate between the role of the poet and that of the philosopher?
How might it be said that the poet imitates imitations? Remember the bed, the carpenter, and the poet.
What is the basic connection between morality and poetry that Plato identifies as being a problem?
Why would Plato have the exemplary poet leave the city?
Habib makes a great deal out of the notion of unity in Plato. How is unity obtained in the city, in his view?
Plato uses Socrates as a figure in his dialogues. How?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Commentary on a Poem by Stuart Kestenbaum

Ted Kooser, the former US Poet Laureate, has a weekly column where he offers a poem and some brief commentary.  He says, "Stuart Kestenbaum, the author of this week's poem, lost his brother Howard in the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center." 

Prayer for the Dead

 The light snow started late last night and continued all night long while I slept and could hear it occasionally enter my sleep, where I dreamed my brother was alive again and possessing the beauty of youth, aware that he would be leaving again shortly and that is the lesson of the snow falling and of the seeds of death that are in everything that is born: we are here for a moment of a story that is longer than all of us and few of us remember, the wind is blowing out of someplace we don't know, and each moment contains rhythms within rhythms, and if you discover some old piece of your own writing, or an old photograph, you may not remember that it was you and even if it was once you, it's not you now, not this moment that the synapses fire and your hands move to cover your face in a gesture of grief and remembrance.

The poem is certainly expressive, as it offers some biographical information, and it's the poet speaking as the dead man's brother.  I notice that the poem begins with "I" but the pronouns shift to "we" in the middle and go to "you" at the end.  This progression seems to be an attempt to bring the reader into the situation and the emotional environment of the poem.  I'm thinking there's a kind of Platonic ideal here working in that there's a sense that the essential element of the brother, the "true" or ideal brother is somehow still out there, haunting his dreams, appearing in the wind.  

I don't think the poem has a very strong pragmatic value.  It doesn't tell us some moral truth or tell us how to do things.  Rather, it's an expression of grief and loss, an expressive poem that doesn't draw a lot of attention to its language or form (it doesn't even really have a formal poetic shape).  We're left seeing the speaker having a sudden and powerful memory of his brother and breaking into grief.