THE GLASS MENAGERIE
The Glass Menagerie is a memory play, and its action is drawn from the memories of the narrator, Tom Wingfield. Tom is a character in the play, which is set in St. Louis in 1937. He is an aspiring poet who toils in a shoe warehouse to support his mother, Amanda, and sister, Laura. Mr. Wingfield, Tom and Laura’s father, ran off years ago and, except for one postcard, has not been heard from since.
Amanda, originally from a genteel Southern family, regales her children frequently with tales of her idyllic youth and the scores of suitors who once pursued her. She is disappointed that Laura, who wears a brace on her leg and is painfully shy, does not attract any gentlemen callers. She enrolls Laura in a business college, hoping that she will make her own and the family’s fortune through a business career. Weeks later, however, Amanda discovers that Laura’s crippling shyness has led her to drop out of the class secretly and spend her days wandering the city alone. Amanda then decides that Laura’s last hope must lie in marriage and begins selling magazine subscriptions to earn the extra money she believes will help to attract suitors for Laura. Meanwhile, Tom, who loathes his warehouse job, finds escape in liquor, movies, and literature, much to his mother’s chagrin. During one of the frequent arguments between mother and son, Tom accidentally breaks several of the glass animal figurines that are Laura’s most prized possessions. Continue reading →
LORD OF THE FLIES
In the midst of a raging war, a plane evacuating a group of schoolboys from Britain is shot down over a deserted tropical island. Two of the boys, Ralph and Piggy, discover a conch shell on the beach, and Piggy realizes it could be used as a horn to summon the other boys. Once assembled, the boys set about electing a leader and devising a way to be rescued. They choose Ralph as their leader, and Ralph appoints another boy, Jack, to be in charge of the boys who will hunt food for the entire group.
Ralph, Jack, and another boy, Simon, set off on an expedition to explore the island. When they return, Ralph declares that they must light a signal fire to attract the attention of passing ships. The boys succeed in igniting some dead wood by focusing sunlight through the lenses of Piggy’s eyeglasses. However, the boys pay more attention to playing than to monitoring the fire, and the flames quickly engulf the forest. A large swath of dead wood burns out of control, and one of the youngest boys in the group disappears, presumably having burned to death.
At first, the boys enjoy their life without grown-ups and spend much of their time splashing in the water and playing games. Ralph, however, complains that they should be maintaining the signal fire and building huts for shelter. The hunters fail in their attempt to catch a wild pig, but their leader, Jack, becomes increasingly preoccupied with the act of hunting.
AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
The town in which the play is set has built a huge bathing complex that is crucial to the town’s economy. Dr. Stockmann has just discovered that the baths’ drainage system is seriously contaminated. He alerts several members of the community, including Hovstad and Aslaksen, and receives generous support and thanks for making his discovery in time to save the town. The next morning, however, his brother, who is also the town’s mayor, tells him that he must retract his statements, for the necessary repairs would be too expensive; additionally, the mayor is not convinced by Dr. Stockmann’s findings. The brothers have a fierce argument, but Dr. Stockmann hopes that at least Hovstad’s newspaper will support him. However, the mayor convinces Hovstad and Aslaksen to oppose Dr. Stockmann.
The doctor holds a town meeting to give a lecture on the baths, but Aslaksen and the mayor try to keep him from speaking. Dr. Stockmann then begins a long tirade in which he condemns the foundations of the town and the tyranny of the majority. The audience finds his speech incredibly offensive, and the next morning the doctor’s home is vandalized. He and his daughter are fired. The mayor insinuates that the doctor’s actions were merely a scheme to inherit more of Morten Kiil’s money, and Kiil himself soon arrives to suggest just such a plan to Dr. Stockmann. However, the doctor refuses all such suggestions and decides to defy authority and remain in town. His family is supportive, and he says that the strongest man is the man who stands alone. Continue reading →
Shantinath Desai (1929-1998) was one of the most gifted writers to emerge from the Navya movement in Kannada. Though he began his literary career as a poet, he son realised that the medium most suited to his genius was fiction. He published in all eight collections of short stories- Manjugadde (1959), Kshitija (1966), Dande (1971), Ayda Kategalu (1977), Rakshasa (1977), Parivartane (1984), Kurmavatara (1988), and Samagra Kategalu (2001); and seven novels- Mukti (1961), Vikshepa (1971), Srishti (1979), Sambandha (1982), Antarala (1983), Bija (1993), and Om Namo which won the Sahitya Akademi Award, posthumously in 1999.
Though Desai is remembered chiefly for his first novel Mukti which started the vogue of the Modernist novel in Kannada, his finest work in fiction is undoubtedly his last novel Om Namo.
All of Desai’s novels have a strong ideological base but they are powerful narratives as well. Om Namo tells two interrelated stories. The first of these which may be called a ‘love story’ is about two young British citizens, Adam Desai and Ann Eagleton, who come to India on a research project in social anthropology. The relationship between the two which begins in friendship based in friendship based on common interest matures into a strong commitment to each other during their stay in India. Ann’s serious involvement in Jaina religion and Adam’s reluctance to enter into a long term commitment create some obstacles but these are finally overcome. The second elates to an old family belonging to a place called Krishnapur located in the northern parts of Karnataka. This story which begins in the last decades of the twentieth century progresses into the seventies and the eighties. In the India context this story may be characterised as a story of modrnisation. The family undergoes drastic changes because of its exposure to English education and involvement in business and politics and gradually loses its feudal character. The phenomenon gives rise to new problems which demand new solutions.
Desai’s interest in the novel, however, is not limited to the telling of these stories. The novel acquires significance through its ideological content, the exploration of man-woman relationships and the inquiry into the nature of the process of modernisation in a specific Indian context. Adam and Ann are products of Western culture and civilisation. Adam has Indian connections through his father but his upbringing has been entirely Western and there are no cultural differences between him and ann. Both are committed to the ideal of individual freedom and share liberal attitudes towards matters like sex. The Desai family, in contrast, is at least outwardly committed to the Indian values of family and community. But it is also undergoing a process of modernity. The entry of Adam and Ann into the family adds momentum to the process. Adam kin his turn experiences change through his involvement with the Desai family which receives him warmly. Ann’s researches in Jainism result in her serious involvement with Jaina religion and Jaina society, but her relationship with the Desai family is superficial.
Through Ann, the foreigner, the novelist creates a new perspective for looking at India, in particular Jaina religion and society, from the outside, there is also the insider’s perspective provided by Dr. Nirmalkumar who teaches philosophy in college and his daughter Roja, a committed Marxist. Bharatkumar, a younger member of the Desai family who has lost his faith in Jainism but lacks the courage to rebel against it provides an ironic perspective as well. Details like descriptions of places of pilgrimage, observations on Jaina rituals and references to Munis and Bastis combine to create an authentic Jaina environment. Philosophical discussions about Jainism from the Indian as well as the Western points of view add and intellectual dimension to the narrative.
We may now examine then two interrelated narratives in some detail. First the Adam-Ann story. Though both of them study in the same University and share many interests, their family backgrounds are different. Adam’s father, Dr. Neminath, is an academic working in a British University. He is married to an English woman and has broken off his relations with his Indian family which includes a former wife. Adam is half Jaina and half Christian but he identifies himself as a British citizen and a Christian. Ann’s family background is more problematic. She hates her stepmother and India is a kind of escape for her. India affects Adam and Ann in two ways. The warmth and affection with which Adam is received by his ancestral family awaken in him a new sense of belonging and responsibility. It is he who settles difficult problems in the family after Appasaheb’s death. His temporary attraction to Roja springs probably from this new feeling. Ann too drifts away from Adam because of her involvement with Jainism. But Adam soon disxovers that Roja is looking elsewhere for a companion and Ann is disenchanted with Jainis,. Shie has deep respect for Jaina values but she finds that she does not fit into the Jaina community. India which initially separates Adam and Ann brings them together in the end and the narrative closes with their commitment to each other.
The novel pays equal attention to the other narrative which traces the gradual impact of modernity in the Desai family. The family which was once a large joint family when Adappa was the head has already broken up into three units. Shrenik, the youngest of Adappa’s sons, has moved out of Krishnapur with his share of the property. Devendrappa, the eldest, is educated but continues to be strictly orthodox in his beliefs and practices. But modernity has crept into his familty through his son Neminath who has migrated to England and settled there. Appasaheb, Adappa’s second son, is a keader of the local Jaina community who has gained prominence by earning wealth and power through his business activities and participation in politics. He takes pride in his feudal origins and has retained many of the old feudal ways. Appasaheb’s son, Bharatkumar, represents the new generation of Jaina youth. He has lost his faith in the Jaina religion but maintains a hypocritical relationship with it with an eye on social propriety and personal interest.
The phenomenon of modernisation is not limited to the Desai family in the novel. It can be observed in the lives of Dr. Nirmalkumar and his daughter Roja and the institutional canges in the Jaina maths. Nirmalkumar is the prototype of the colonial intellectual. He is a fairly good scholar in the traditional mould but his eagerness for recognition abroad makes him slightly ridiculous. Roja, his daughter is totally lost to Marxism.
Modernisation, in the context of this novel, is not a totally positive development. It has, for example, commericialised and vulgarised many of the Jaina customs and practices. Ann’s description of the great Mahamastakabhisheka as a big Indian fair is not completely mistaken. But the novel discovers real value in Devendrappa’s orthodoxy and catholicity. Modernity has hardly touched the older women in the family –Lakshumbayi and Padmavati.
Shantinath Desai was an experimental novelist and paid great attention to matters of technique. He has said that he could not make much progress with his first novel mukti till he discovered Durrell’s Justine. An innovative feature of the technique he adopts in Om Namo is the dialogue the ‘novelist’ Conducts with his readers and critics at crucial stages in the narrative. Desai had used this technique in Srishti, and earlier novel but here it is more effective. Apart from guiding the reader through the novel, the ‘novelist’ as an insider provides valuable insights into his craft. The self-reflectiveness in Om Namo suggests that it is a conscious postmodern experiememnt.
THE NECKLACE -Guy de Maupassant
The girl was one of those pretty and charming young creatures who sometimes are born, as if by a slip of fate, into a family of clerks. She had no dowry, no expectations, no way of being known, understood, loved, married by any rich and distinguished man; so she let herself be married to a little clerk of the Ministry of Public Instruction.
She dressed plainly because she could not dress well, but she was unhappy as if she had really fallen from a higher station; since with women there is neither caste nor rank, for beauty, grace and charm take the place of family and birth. Natural ingenuity, instinct for what is elegant, a supple mind are their sole hierarchy, and often make of women of the people the equals of the very greatest ladies. Continue reading →
The Gift of the Magi
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.
In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”
Continue reading →
Reason and Judgement
The Neo-Classical Age is also called the Age of Reason because the classical ideals of order and moderation inspired this period. This period has limited aspiration and its emphasis is on the common sense of society rather than individual imagination. All this can be characterized as rational. Reason had traditionally been assumed to be the highest mental faculty, but in this period many thinkers considered it a sufficient guide in all areas. Both religious belief and morality (judgement) were grounded on reason: revelation and grace were de-emphasized; morality consisted of acting rightly to one’s fellow beings on this earth. The most famous philosopher of the age, John Locke, analyzed logically how our minds function. He argued for religious tolerance and mentioned that government is justified not by divine right but by a ‘social contract’ that is broken if the people’s natural rights are not respected. As reason should guide human individuals and societies, it also directs artistic creation. Neo-Classical art is not meant to seem a spontaneous outpouring of emotion or imagination. A work of art should be logically organized and should advocate rational norms.
The literature of the Neo-Classical period marked the breaking of ties with the Elizabethan literature. The spirit of the Neo-Classical literature was very much different from the spirit of the Elizabethan literature. There was gradual change in the tone of literature and in the temperaments of writers. Literature became intellectual rather than imaginative or emotional. The new spirit was all critical and analytical instead of creative and sympathetic. The merits of new school were found in its intellectual force and actuality. Thus, with the ascent of Reason and Judgement (Proportion) some of the poetic qualities of English literature disappeared. The reason was dominant in the Neo-Classical period that emphasized correctness of rules and regulations. The writers of the age turned to the writers of ancient Greece and Rome. The imitative work of the new school was of a frigid and limited quality. Pope wrote: Those rules of old discovered, not devised, Are nature still, but Nature methodized. The precept ‘follow nature’ was the very centre of the Neo-Classical creed. To the writers of the age Nature meant human nature. They were more interested in human nature than mountains, forests, streams etc. They were interested in men and manners of society. They cared more for manner than matter. They sought to paint realistic pictures of a corrupt court and society. They emphasized vices rather than virtues. Later this tendency to realism became more wholesome. It led to a keener study of the practical motives which govern human action. It focused on social events and controversies of the day in their works. Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel and Pope’s Rape of the Lock are based on an actual incident in London society. In short, Neo-Classical writers wrote about kings and princes, lords and ladies, current fashions, fads, and controversies of the day. The Neo-Classical Age was essentially an Age of Reason and Good Sense and of prose. The emphasis was laid on ‘correctness’, ‘reason’ and ‘good sense’. The writer should follow the rules ‘correctly’, and any exuberance of ‘fancy’ or ‘emotion’ must be controlled by reason or sense. A balance must be maintained between Fancy and Judgement. The head must predominate over the heart. The need of ‘inspiration’ was recognized but it was to be held in check by reason and good sense. Moderation was the golden rule in life and in literature. The Rational opposed extravagant or imaginary.
Judging and condemning gave birth to the spirit of satire. As a result the Restoration Age became the age of satire. It was a period of bitter political and personal contention, of easy morals and subdued enthusiasm, of sharp wit and acute discrimination. For these reasons satire acquired a new importance and sharper edge. Satire in this period attacked the old religion of Puritanism, false spiritual authorities. With this age the old poetical spirits of oppositions sprang up giving rise to political satires. We will consider satire in detail later on. Reason was very important in the Neo-Classical era. The emphasis in this era was on formal finish and perfection rather than on content. Originality and perfection in respect of content was not possible because the universal truths were limited. In this age, the didactic function was considered more important than the aesthetic one. Much thought was given to the style and diction of poetry. Virgil was held out as the ideal to impart dignity and elevation to the diction. Common words were avoided. The use of compound words and epithets was also frequent for this very reason. As a result, there was the rise of the artificial poetic diction that Wordsworth condemned in his ‘Preface’. Judgement of the writers of this period was different. They avoided the technical words of arts and sciences, attention to minute details and use of far-fetched imagery and conceits. They emphasized the need of decorum. It was recognized that different kinds of poetry have different styles proper to them. For example, the diction proper to satiric poetry would be improper for the epic, and a poet must use the style proper to the genre in which he was writing. There was not only difference between the diction of prose and poetry but also a difference between the diction of different kinds of poetry. The heroic measure was considered as the right measure for poetry. Literature of this period differs from the earlier Elizabethan Age in three respects – versification, diction and subject matter. The striking feature of the poetry of Dryden and Pope was its external character and its limited range of subjects. Hence, this period became the period of reason and judgement. Pope was the well-known poet as well as critic who flourished in the Neo-classical age. He was against those critics who considered only the diction, style or verse apart from the sense. He warned the critic against judging by parts rather than by whole. He was also against those critics who attached undue value to the false brilliance of flashy conceits. He condemned judgements based on popular notions and without a proper understanding of the work itself. He also condemned extreme fastidiousness in criticism:
All seems infected to the infected spy,
As all looks yellow to the jaundic’d eye.
|What does Aristotle mean by Hamartia?|
What is this error of judgement. The term Aristotle uses here, hamartia, often translated “tragic flaw,”(A.C.Bradely) has been the subject of much debate. Aristotle, as writer of the Poetics, has had many a lusty infant, begot by some other critic, left howling upon his doorstep; and of all these (which include the bastards Unity-of-Time and Unity-of-Place) not one is more trouble to those who got to take it up than the foundling ‘Tragic Flaw’. Humphrey House, in his lectures (Aristotle’s Poetics, ed. Colin Hardie (London, 1956), p.94) delivered in 1952-3, commented upon this tiresome phrase: “The phrase ‘tragic flaw’ should be treated with suspicion. I do not know when it was first used, or by whom. It is not an Aristotelian metaphor at all, and though it might be adopted as an accepted technical translation of ‘hamartia’ in the strict and properly limited sense, the fact is that it has not been adopted, and it is far more commonly used for a characteristic moral failing in an otherwise predominantly good man. Thus, it may be said by some writers to be the ‘tragic flaw’ of Oedipus that he was hasty in temper; of Samson that he was sensually uxorious; of Macbeth that he was ambitious; of Othello that he was proud and jealous – and so on … but these things do not constitute the ‘hamartia’ of those characters in Aristotle’s sense.” Continue reading →
|Aristotle’s Theory of Catharsis|
As discussed in the explanation of the definition of tragedy (1.5.2), theory of Catharsis emerges as the function of tragedy. The last line of the definition -‘through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these and similar emotions’- substantiates the theory of Catharsis. His theory of Catharsis consists in the purgation or purification of the excessive emotions of pity and fear. Witnessing the tragedy and suffering of the protagonist on the stage, such emotions and feelings of the audience is purged. The purgation of such emotions and feelings make them relieved and they emerge better human beings than they were. Thus, Aristotle’s theory of Catharsis has moral and ennobling function.
But for the exact meaning and concept of catharsis, there has been a lot of controversy among scholars and critics down the centuries. The critics on catharsis by prolonged debated has succeeded only in creating confusion, not in clarifying the concept. Yet since Aristotle is vague in the usage of this word, critics have to interpret it on his behalf. Certain broad understanding of the term is necessary, though the attempts at deriving the doctrines regarding the functions of the tragedy from this are absurd and ridiculous.
|What are various interpretations given to the meaning of Catharsis?|
F.L.Lucas in his Tragedy: Serious Drama in Relation to Aristotle’s Poetics asks three pertinent questions, and answers very illuminatingly. The questions are:
(i) What was really Aristotle’s view?
(ii) How far is it true?
(iii) What let him to adopt it?
Let us consider the answers one by one.
- The meaning of Catharsis:Let us quote F.L.Lucas at length on the meaning of catharsis: “First, there has been age-long controversy about Aristotle’s meaning, though it has almost always been accepted that whatever he meant was profoundly right. Many, for example, have translated Catharsis as ‘purification’, ‘Correction or refinement’, ‘Reinigung’, or the like. It has been suggested that our pity and fear are ‘purifies’ in the theatre by becoming disinterested (impartial or without bias). It is bad to be selfishly sentimental, timid, and querulous; but it is good to pity Othello or to fear for Hamlet. Our selfish emotion has been sublimated. All this is most edifying; but it does not appear to be what Aristotle intended.”
There is strong evidence that Catharsis means, not ‘Purification’, but ‘Purgation’ – a medical metaphor. (Aristotle was the son of a Physician.) Yet, owing to changes in medical thought, ‘Purgation’ has become radically misleading to modern minds. Inevitably we think of purgatives and complete evacuations of water products; and then outraged critics ask why our emotions should be so ill-treated.
“But Catharsis means ‘Purgation’, not in the modern, but in the older, wider English sense which includes the partial removal of excess ‘humours’. The theory is as old as the school of Hippocrates that on a due balance … of these humours depend the health of body and mind alike.” (F.L.Lucas)
To translate Catharsis as purgation today is misleading owing to the change of meaning which the word has undergone. The theory of humours is outdated in the medical science. ‘Purgation’ has assumed different meaning. It is no longer what Aristotle has in mind. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to translate Catharsis as ‘moderating’ or ‘tempering’ of the passions. But such translation, as F.L.Lucas suggests, ‘keeps the sense, but loses the metaphor’. Anyway, when it is not possible to keep up both, the meaning and the metaphor it is better to maintain the meaning and sacrifice the metaphor in translating Catharsis as ‘moderating’ or ‘tempering’.
The passions to be moderated are these of pity and fear. The pity and fear to be moderated are, again, of specific kind. There can never be an excess in the pity that results into a useful action. But there can be too much of pity as an intense and helpless feeling, and there can be also too much of self-pity which is not a praise-worthy virtue. The Catharsis or moderation of such pity ought to be achieved in the theatre or otherwise when possible, for such moderation keeps the mind in a healthy state of balance.
Similarly, only specific kinds of fear are to be moderated. Aristotle does not seem to have in mind the fear of horrors on the stage which as Lucas suggests are “supposed to have made women miscarry with terror in the theatre”, Aristotle specifically mentions ‘sympathetic fear for the characters’. “And by allowing free vent to this in the theatre, men are to lessen, in facing life thereafter, their own fear of … the general dread if destiny.” (F.L.Lucas) There are besides fear and pity the allied impulses which also are to be moderated. “Grief, weakness, contempt, blame – these I take to be the sort of thing that Aristotle meant by ‘feeling of that sort’.” (Lucas).
- Then we are faced with the second question: How far is Aristotle’s view of Catharsis true?We may feel after witnessing a tragedy that certain tension in course of thee hours’ traffic upon the stage are built up and relaxed. We may feel release when certain emotions are worked up in the mind and are rinsed out as it were at the end which is more or less positive by implication, for death or calamity is explained and accounted for as arising from certain avoidable weakness or miscalculations of the hero. This sort of relaxation or release after a prolonged tension that is built up and maintained during the drama, though a welcome feeling, is not a purgation or moderation but fulfillment or satisfaction with the conclusion which is not only logical but also reasonable, which is not outrageously pessimistic but sadly positive and corrective of tragic errors to the spectators. They did not get rid of anything as in purgation they should; they gain something – a sort of artistic delight which tragedy gives. In fact, tragic delight is what they want and expect from tragedy, not moderation or proper balance of humours or purgation which has only ethical significance. Certain moral ends of Catharsis might be incidentally achieved. But it is not the chief end of tragedy. F.L.Lucas observes: “One could, of course, argue that these good folks were instinctively craving a catharsis. But I should have thought they were suffering in their daily lives, not from excess of emotion, but from deficiency; that they wanted, not to be ‘purge’, but to be fed – that they were hungry and thirsty for emotions that the dull round of their days denied.”
And again, he observes: “He (Aristotle) stands in the position of a person arguing with a fanatical Puritan about wine or dancing. The advocate of moderate indulgence is naturally driven to plead that wine is good medicinally and dancing as exercise; but, in fact, man do not usually drink wine as medicine, and only Socrates dances alone in his house for exercise.” But there are critics who find the theory of Catharsis profoundly meaningful. They do no deny that tragedy has as its chief end only tragic delight to serve. But in the anatomy of that delight they find the truth of psychology as elucidated by Aristotle in his theory of Catharsis. Aristotle, they say, makes us critically aware of complex psychological processes that contribute to the art-experience of tragedy; while enjoying this experience we are not aware of these processes.
Mr. W. Macneile Dixon, for example writes in his Tragedy (London, 1938) in defence of Aristotle’s theory: “A theory, we may unreservedly admit, as pretty as it is poplar, and of interest to us since something of modern psychology, which dwells upon the dangers of repressed desires, is here anticipated. Repression, it appears, leads to neurosis. The idea associated with emotional states may, some physicians tell us, if denied their natural outlet issues in instability and hysteria. Relief of the unconscious mind, whether of the community or the individual form physical tension is at times a necessity… The milder ailment cures severer, the external excitement draws off the internal, the fear without disperses the fear within, the cup of the sour brims over and tranquility is restored. … And if you care to add refinement you may think of this release as an escape from personal pre-occupations and anxieties into the larger life of sympathy with the whole human clan, the universal world, which embraces that great society of the living, the dead, and those yet to be born.” (Pg. 118).
- The third question is: What led Aristotle to adopt this theory?
It should be remembered that Plato, his master, has attacked poetry in general including tragedy form moral and philosophical point of view. So Aristotle had to defend poetry against his master’s attack on the moral and philosophical ground. He has to refute Plato’s charges. To quote F.L.Lucas: “Poetry, said Plato, makes men cowardly by its picture of the afterworld. No, replies Aristotle, it can purge men’s fears. Poetry, said Plato, encourages men to be hysterical and uncontrolled. On the contrary, answers his pupil, it makes them less, not more, emotional by giving a periodic healthy outlet to their feelings. In short, Aristotle’s definition of tragedy is half a defence.”(Pg. 57)
But it is only half a defense. That is to say that the other half of the theory is possibly the result of a serious, analytical inquiry of Aristotle’s into the nature of tragic delight and its psychological effects. His Catharsis forms the most important part of his concept of tragedy as a positive, not pessimistic, drama which leaves wholesome effect, not mere disturbance, in the minds of the spectators.
|How far Catharsis is relevant today?|
Since, Aristotle in Europe, tragedy has never been a drama of despair, causeless death or chance disaster. The drama that only paints horrors and leaves souls shattered and mind un-reconciled with the world may be described as a gruesome, ghastly play, but not a healthy tragedy, for tragedy is a play in which disaster or downfall has causes which could carefully be avoided and sorrow in it does not upset the balance in favour of pessimism. That is why, in spite of seriousness, even heart-rending scenes of sorrow, tragedy embodies the vision of beauty. It stirs noble thoughts and serves tragic delight but does not condemn us to despair. If the healthy notion of tragedy is maintained throughout the literary history of Europe, the ultimate credit, perhaps, goes to Aristotle who propounded it in his theory of Catharsis.
Catharsis established tragedy as a drama of balance. Sorrow alone would be ugly and repulsive. Beauty pure would be imaginative and mystical. These together constitute what may be called tragic beauty. Pity alone would be sentimentality. Fear alone would make us cowards. But pity and fear, sympathy and terror together constitute the tragic feeling which is most delightful though it is tearfully delightful. Such tragic beauty and tragic feeling which it evokes constitutes the aesthetics of balance as propounded for the first time by Aristotle in his theory of Catharsis. Therefore, we feel, reverence which Aristotle has enjoyed through ages has not gone to him undeserved. His insight has rightly earned it.
|What is his Theory of Mimesis?|
In his theory of mimesis, Plato says that all art is mimetic by nature; art is an imitation of life. He believed that ‘idea’ is ultimate reality. Art imitates idea and so it is imitation of reality. He gives an example of a carpenter and a chair. The idea of ‘chair’ first came in the mind of carpenter. He gave physical shape to his idea and created a chair. The painter imitated the chair of the carpenter in his picture of chair. Thus, painter’s chair is twice removed from reality. Hence, he believed that art is twice removed from reality. He gives first importance to philosophy as philosophy deals with idea. Whereas poetry deals with illusion – things which are twice removed form reality. So to Plato, philosophy is better than poetry. This view of mimesis is pretty deflationary, for it implies that mimetic art–drama, fiction, representational painting– does not itself have an important role to play in increasing our understanding of human beings and the human world. This implication would not be rejected by every lover–or indeed every creator–of imaginative literature. Ironically it was Plato’s most famous student, Aristotle, who was the first theorist to defend literature and poetry in his writing Poetics against Plato’s objection and his theory of mimesis.
|How did Aristotle reply to Plato’s Objection?|
Aristotle replied to the charges made by his Guru Plato against Poetry in particular and art in general. He replied to them one by one in defense of poetry.
- Plato says that art being the imitation of the actual is removed from truth. It only gives the likeness of a thing in concrete, and the likeness is always less than real. But Plato fails to understand that art also give something more which is absent in the actual. The artist does not simply reflect the real in the manner of a mirror. Art is not slavish imitation of reality. Literature is not the photographic reproduction of life in all its totality. It is the representation of selected events and characters necessary in a coherent action for the realization of artist’s purpose. He even exalts, idealizes and imaginatively recreates a world which has its own meaning and beauty. These elements, present in art, are absent in the raw and rough real. R.A.Scott-James rightly observes: “But though he (Poet) creates something less than that reality, he also creates something more. He puts an idea into it. He put his perception into it. He gives us his intuition of certain distinctive and essential qualities.”
This ‘more’, this intuition and perception is the aim of the artist. Artistic creation cannot be fairly criticized on the ground that it is not the creation in concrete terms of things and beings. Thus considered it does not take us away form the Truth, but leads us to the essential reality of life.
- Plato again says that art is bad because it does not inspire virtue, does not teach morality. But is teaching the function of the art? Is it the aim of the artist? The function of art is to provide aesthetic delight, communicate experience, express emotions and represent life. It should ever be confused with the function of ethics which is simply to teach morality. If an artist succeeds in pleasing us in aesthetic sense, he is a good artist. If he fails in doing so, he is a bad artist. There is no other criterion to judge his worth. R.A.Scott-James observes: “Morality teaches. Art does not attempt to teach. It merely asserts it is thus or thus that life is perceived to be. That is my bit of reality, says the artist. Take it or leave it – draw any lessons you like from it – that is my account of things as they are – if it has any value to you as evidence or teaching, use it, but that is not my business: I have given you my rendering, my account, my vision, my dream, my illusion – call it what you will. If there is any lesson in it, it is yours to draw, not mine to preach.” Similarly, Plato’s charge that needless lamentations and ecstasies at the imaginary events of sorrow and happiness encourages weaker part of soul and numbs faculty of reason. This charge is defended by Aristotle in his Theory of Catharsis. David Daiches summarizes Aristotle’s views in reply to Plato’s charges in brief: “Tragedy (Art) gives new knowledge, yields aesthetic satisfaction and produces a better state of mind.”
- Plato judges poetry now from the educational standpoint, now from the philosophical one and then from the ethical one. But he does not care to consider it from its own unique standpoint. He does not define its aims. He forgets that every thing should be judged in terms of its own aims and objective its own criteria of merit and demerit. We cannot fairly maintain that music is bad because it does not paint, or that painting is bad because it does not sing. Similarly, we cannot say that poetry is bad because it does not teach philosophy of ethics. If poetry, philosophy and ethics had identical function, how could they be different subjects? To denounce poetry because it is not philosophy or ideal is clearly absurd.
|How did Aristotle differ in his Theory of Mimesis from his Guru Plato?|
Aristotle agrees with Plato in calling the poet an imitator and creative art, imitation. He imitates one of the three objects – things as they were/are, things as they are said/thought to be or things as they ought to be. In other words, he imitates what is past or present, what is commonly believed and what is ideal. Aristotle believes that there is natural pleasure in imitation which is in-born instinct in men. It is this pleasure in imitation that enables the child to learn his earliest lessons in speech and conduct from those around him, because there is a pleasure in doing so. In a grown up child – a poet, there is another instinct, helping him to make him a poet – the instinct for harmony and rhythm.
He does not agree with his teacher in – ‘poet’s imitation is twice removed form reality and hence unreal/illusion of truth. To prove his point he compares poetry with history. The poet and the historian differ not by their medium, but the true difference is that the historian relates ‘what has happened?, the poet, what may/ought to have happened?- the ideal. Poetry, therefore, is more philosophical and a higher thing the history, which expresses the particular, while poetry tends to express the universal. Therefore, the picture of poetry pleases all and at all times.
Aristotle does not agree with Plato in function of poetry to make people weaker and emotional/too sentimental. For him, catharsis is ennobling and humbles human being.
So far as moral nature of poetry is concerned, Aristotle believed that the end of poetry is to please; however, teaching may be given. Such pleasing is superior to the other pleasure because it teaches civic morality. So all good literature gives pleasure, which is not divorced from moral lessons.