Featured Post


This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


'The spectacle, indeed, has an emotional attraction on its own, but of all the parts, it is the least artistic, and the least connected with the art of poetry."-- Aristotle's POETICS, Section VI,  trans.Francis Ferguson.

'The form of a poem, that to which every detail relates, is the same whether it is examined as stationary or as moving through the work from beginning to end, just as a musical composition has the same form when we study the score as it has when we listen to the performance. The mythos is the dianoia in movement; the dianoia is the mythos in stasis. One reason why we tend to think of literary symbolism solely in terms of meaning is that we have ordinarily no word for the moving body of imagery in a work of literature.'-- Frye, Second Essay, ANATOMY OF CRITICISM, p. 83.


I may keep the distinction of "combative" and "subcombative," because it addresses a quality of narrative that is related to neither plot nor character, but to that element that Aristotle called "spectacle."
Aristotle lists six elements of "poetry," which seems to mean all forms of art with which he was familiar, though he centers the POETICS upon the theater.  The three more integral elements of poetry are "plot," "character," and *dianoia,* which has often been translated as "theme."  The other three-- translated by Ferguson as "song," "diction," and "spectacle"-- are less essential to the composition of poetry and pertain more to its presentation to a public, which is why Aristotle also notes of "spectacle" that it "depends more on the art of the stage machinist than of the poet"-- thus foreshadowing thousands upon thousands of 20th-century film-critics cheesed off at the audience's enthusiasm for the art now called "special FX."

Addressing first those essential three:

It may be observed that in essays like RISING AND FALLING STARS, I've embraced only two of Aristotle's three essential elements: plot and character.  The reason is contained in the Frye quote above: for me *mythos* in the sense of "plot" is the mirror-image of the "theme," for generally it's through the movement of the plot, rather than the characters in the plot, that the poetic work's theme is disclosed.

Now, moving on to the less essential three:

I won't spend any time on spelling out how Aristotle's three theater-oriented categories can be translated to other media, but will assume that the categories do appear in some degree in all poetic works in all media, even those in which "diction" and "song" must be imagined, as in both prose and comic books.

Now, for me all three of the "less-essentials" can be regarded as appeals to sensation, what Joyce calls "the kinetic."  "Spectacle," whether one is talking about feigning Zeus' lightning bolts on an Athenian stage or the rampage of the Terminator on modern cinema-screens, concentrates on the faculty of sight, while "diction" and "song" appeal to the faculty of hearing.

However, like the phenomenon of fictional violence, analyzed at length in Part 1 and Part 2 of BATTLE OF THE MONSTER TERMINOLOGIES, any kinetically-oriented FX that enhances the audience's appreciation of the poetic work can be either "functional" or "spectacular."

One may well expect, given my previous context of discussing the manifestations of violence in fiction, that this is the category of "kinetic FX" I'll be addressing here.  Someone else will have to undertake "song" and "diction" in their modern manifestations.

Violence is certainly not the only appeal to sensation in works of fiction; in some quarters, sex or even family sentiment trump violence's frenzied furies.

But it is often the one that can best be used to trace the movements of plot and theme, and of the characters imbricated with the events of a given narrative.

More later.

No comments: