Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana (1863-1952)
What luck for the rulers that men do not think.
Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
If we ignore the first quote, we will get the second. History may be defined as what a culture considers worthy of recollection. Of course the operative word is WORTHY!! How do we define what is worthy?
Traditionally, what is worthy may be viewed from at least four perspectives:
1--THEOCENTRIC--Hamlet tells us "There is a Divinity that shapes our ends..."
We may not always know the plan, but it does exist.
2--HUMANISTIC--Protagoras noted that "Man is the measure of all things." We chart our own destiny.
3--NATURALISTIC--Rousseau said in the Emile that a natural education, that is one shaped by the proper environment, will produce moral individuals.
4--ECONOMIC--We may argue with Marx that the great revolutions of history are products of class struggle in which the 'have-nots' struggle to dispossess the 'haves' who naturally will fight to keep what they own.
Which is correct? All? None? Some synthesis? Who determines? In the words of Martha Nussbaum,
The central task of education...is to confront the passivity of the pupil, challenging the mind to take charge of its own thought. All too often, people's choices and statements are not their own...Words come out of their mouths, and actions are performed by their bodies, but what those words and actions express may be the voice of tradition or convention the voice of the parent, of friend, of fashion. This is so because these people have never stopped to ask themselves what they really stand for, what they are willing to defend as themselves and their own...They are like instruments on which fashion and habit play their tunes, or like stage masks through which an actor's voice speaks.
from: Martha Nussbaum. Cultivating Humanity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000. pp. 28-29.
I hope in this course to apply Nussbaum's perspective to the study of literature, history, philosophy and... (Can the list ever end?)
We will begin by examining ideas most fundamental to the study of literature--why do it? (See Abrams, M.A. The Mirror and the Lamp. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1971 for more details.)
From the worst TV movie every directed to King Lear , we turn to...
I. THE CLASSICAL BASE / THE MIMETIC THEORY:
A. All literature stems from the mimetic theory developed during the "Golden Age" of Greece by Plato and Aristotle. From that base comes the Pragmatic and Expressive Theory,.
- What is the mimetic theory? See: Plato's REPUBLIC, Books III and X and Aristotle's POETICS. Click here to find the texts on line. (You may obtain a print copy instead.) Note that Aristotle's modification of Plato makes literary criticism possible. We know that "Mimetic" means to imitate, but to imitate what?
- Poets and novelists well knew that "All subsists by elemental strife, / And passions are the elements of life." (Pope's, Essay on Man). Ironically, the hallmark of the neoclassical age is often dramatized as the suppression of passion by reason. Pope and his mentor knew better. A Modest Proposal and Gulliver could never have been written otherwise. Look at Plato's view of the soul (microcosm) and state (macrocosm):
- Why does Plato have his persona Socrates use verbs of passion to express the most sublimely cognitive thoughts?. See: (Republic 490b.). Note that the classical concept of harmony and balance must work for all three elements; not just the top one. The macrocosmic correspondence likewise applies.
B. ASSIGNMENT: construct a definition of human nature from the classical perspective that has a gothic potential. Sources:
II. THE RENAISSANCE / THE PRAGMATIC THEORY became popular in England in the literary criticism of the Renaissance. Read the following excerpts from Sidney's Defense of Poetry and note the debt to, and modification of Aristotle: Click here.
- What Sidney adds has important implications for the gothic temperament in its Romantic period context. Who judges whom and what?
III. THE ROMANTIC PERIOD / THE EXPRESSIVE THEORY:
- The expressive theory defines the Romantic temperament. Rooted in paradox and the simultaneous rejection and acceptance of dialectical opposites., the romantics defined themselves by accepting no definitions at all. Confusing as that sounds, one must approach the romantic and gothic spirit by accepting all contradictions.
- In THE PASSION OF THE WESTERN MIND, Richard Tarnas offers several very astute observations that suggest a gothic perspective:
1. Speaking of the rise of modern psychological theories of human cognition, Tarnas speaks of psychoanalysis as revealing, "...the mechanisms of resistance, repression, and projection, and bring [ing] forth a host of other insights laying open the mind's character and internal dynamics. Freud thereby represented a brilliant culmination of the Enlightenment project, bringing even the human unconscious under the light of rational investigation." ("The Changing Image of the Human from Copernicus through Freud, p. 328)
2, In the Chapter entitled, "Romanticism and its Fate," (p. 368) Tarnas continues: "...the Romantics' interest in human consciousness was fueled by a newly intense sense of self-awareness and a focus on the complex nature of the human self, and was comparatively unconstrained by the limits of the scientific perspective. Emotion and imagination, rather than reason and perception, were of prime importance. New concern arose not only with the exalted and noble but with the contraries and darkness in the human soul, with evil, death, the demonic, and the irrational. Generally ignored in the optimistic, clarified light of rational science, these themes now inspired the works of Blake and Novalis, Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard, Hawthorne and Melville, Poe and Baudelaire, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. With Romanticism, the modern eye was turned ever more inward to discern the shadows of existence. To explore the mysteries of interiority, of moods and motives, love and desire, fear and angst, inner conflicts and contradictions, memories and dreams, to experience extreme and incommunicable states of consciousness, to be inwardly grasped in epiphanic ecstasy, to plumb the depths of the human soul, to bring the unconscious into consciousness, to know the infinite--such were the imperatives of Romantic introspection.
The various Romantic writers have thus expressed paradoxes:
- Rousseau: "Man is born free, but exists everywhere in chains, "(The Social Contract), but: "Put the child in his place and keep him there." (The Emile). One might also recall what Rousseau did with his own (illegitimate) children (see The Confessions)
- Keats: "Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter." (Ode on A Grecian Urn.)
- Byron: "I have prayed / For madness as a blessing--'tis denied me." (from Manfred
ON LINE ASSIGNMENT:
SOURCE: RETURN TO THE SJC BRITISH LITERATURE PAGE INDEX AND SELECT A WORK FROM EACH LITERARY PERIOD. DETERMINE WHAT MAKES IT MIMETIC:
- HOW DOES THE WORK YOU SELECTED IMITATE LIFE?
- FROM WHENCE COMES ITS ENTERTAINMENT VALUE?
- WHY AND HOW IS DIDACTICISM ACCOMPLISHED?
- WHAT MAKES THE WORK CREATIVE AND IMAGINATIVE?
FROM A PHILOSOPHICAL PERSPECTIVE, YOU MIGHT NOTE THAT FOR QUESTION ONE, "LIFE" IS NOT THE BEST CHOICE. TRY SUBSTITUTING "REALITY." WHEN THAT HAPPENS, WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS?
- REALITY OF COURSE IS DIFFICULT...REMEMBER THE ONLY UNTELLIGENT QUESTION IS THE ONE NOT ASKED.
- WHEN WE STUDY CLASSICAL AND MEDIEVAL PHILOSOPHY, THE TERM WILL BECOME QUITE COMPLEX--METAPHYSICAL TERMS INCLUDING "REALISM" AND "NOMINALISM" WILL RENDER MIMETIC JUDGMENTS MORE COMPLEX.
FOR ADDITIONAL SOURCES, CONSULT:
Abrams, M.A. The Mirror and the Lamp. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1971
Bowra, C. M. The Romantic Imagination. London: Oxford University, 1969.
Doherty, F. Byron. N.Y.: Arco, 1969.
Lowes, J. The Road to Xanadu. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1964.
Marchand, L. Lord Byron: Selected Letters and Journals. Cambridge: Harvard U. , 1982.
Tarnas, R. The Passion of the Western Mind. N.Y.: Ballantine, 1993.
Thorslev, P. The Byronic Hero. University of Minnesota Press, 1962.
West, P. (ed.) Byron: A Collection of Critical Essays: Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice -Hall, 1963.