Mimetology in Aristotle, Horace, and Longinus

I, no. 1 (June 1995)
Sacred Ambivalence: Mimetology in Aristotle, Horace, and Longinus
Matthew Schneider
Department of English
Chapman University
Orange CA 92666
schneide@nexus.chapman.edu

Almost from its very beginnings mimetology has looked to ancient Greece for its proof texts. For both René Girard's hypotheses surrounding the ethical and ethnological implications of mimetic desire and Eric Gans's identification of the part played by mimetic resentment in cultural evolution, the texts of Homer and the tragedians have served (in the words of Walter Burkert) as "a mirror in which the basic orders of life, lying far behind us, become visible with an almost classical clarity" ...

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how the writings of three of the classical age's most influential commentators on literary theory--Aristotle, Horace, and Longinus--manifest a debate on the proper place of the sacred in the aesthetic scene of representation. The debate begins with Aristotle's establishment, via critical fiat, of the aesthetic scene's formal and ethical self-sufficiency. Rather than following up the possibilities for artistic and anthropological discovery enabled by this bold gesture, however, Horace and Longinus display a curious reluctance to evacuate sacrality from aesthetic representation, as if they sensed that to do so was, at the very least, to run the risk of emptying the center of its attention-fixing capabilities.

For Aristotle's successors, in other words, the processes of aesthetic demystification came into inevitable conflict with the originary "power" the aesthetic scene retained as it emerged from ritual. Their writings can thus be seen as struggles to reconcile originary or ...

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encourage us to indulge in similar theatrics when "we are suffering ourselves" (338) so that we behave "like a child who goes on shrieking after a fall and hugging the wounded part" (336), Aristotle advances his famous theory of catharsis: tragedy "through a course of pity and fear complete[s] the purification of tragic acts which have those characteristics" (25).

The impatience with aesthetic representation that prompted Plato to question the place of poets and poetry in the ideal state is conventionally attributed to the problematic status of art within his "theory of forms"; teacher and pupil differ, it is said, in the degree to which they grant philosophical legitimacy to poetry. ...

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Added: 11/8/2013 01:11:33 PM
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