February 6, 2017
“The aim of human life is doing something, not just being a certain sort of person. Though we consider people’s characters in deciding what sort of person they are, we call them successful or unsuccessful only with reference to their actions” – Aristotle, Poetics
Aristotle’s Poetics is the oldest example of literary theory in the West and still influences how literature is both taught and written today (ever heard of tragic flaw, reversal of fortune, or catharsis?). The Poetics is influential not only because it explains what makes a story work well (plot matters more than character), but also because it explains why reading literature is important, both in our private and our political lives.
In this Salon, we’ll discuss how Aristotle’s theory of literature emerges in response to his teacher Plato’s argument that art merely indulges our emotions, is a waste of time, and makes us politically irresponsible. In the Poetics, Aristotle closely analyzes how literature actually works, and in the process, shows that good literature is closer to philosophy than history because it presents what is “necessary” rather than “accidental.” Literature thus teaches us how “the real world” works and enables us to imagine “what might be possible,” thereby enhancing our ability to engage in political action and be responsible citizens.
Excerpts from the Poetics will be made available ahead of time. Students are asked to come to the Salon with favorite works of literature or film in mind that we can discuss in relation to Aristotle’s theories. We’ll use Aristotle’s ideas to discuss not only how specific novels, films, and TV shows work, but also what they teach us about “the real world” and how we might want to act in it.
To get the most out of the Salon, read this excerpt of Poetics before you attend.
RSVP Link: https://goo.gl/forms/3ZIHHiM8wmoCz1tC2