The Aesthetics of Mimesis: Ancient Texts and Modern Problems
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Mimesis is one of the oldest, most fundamental concepts in Western aesthetics. This book offers a new, searching treatment of its long history at the center of theories of representational art: above all, in the highly influential writings of Plato and Aristotle, but also in later Greco-Roman philosophy and criticism, and subsequently in many areas of aesthetic controversy from the Renaissance to the twentieth century. Combining classical scholarship, philosophical analysis, and the history of ideas--and ranging across discussion of poetry, painting, and music--Stephen Halliwell shows with a wealth of detail how mimesis, at all stages of its evolution, has been a more complex, variable concept than its conventional translation of "imitation" can now convey.
Far from providing a static model of artistic representation, mimesis has generated many different models of art, encompassing a spectrum of positions from realism to idealism. Under the influence of Platonist and Aristotelian paradigms, mimesis has been a crux of debate between proponents of what Halliwell calls "world-reflecting" and "world-simulating" theories of representation in both the visual and musico-poetic arts. This debate is about not only the fraught relationship between art and reality but also the psychology and ethics of how we experience and are affected by mimetic art.
Moving expertly between ancient and modern traditions, Halliwell contends that the history of mimesis hinges on problems that continue to be of urgent concern for contemporary aesthetics.
Lessing, “is admittedly not mine; but it can be reduced to mine, and it is only by reducing it to mine that it can be safeguarded against false application.”49 In fact, on my view, Aristotle’s reasons did anticipate the considerations that motivate Lessing here, insofar as both thinkers were concerned with the capacity of art forms, and more particularly their speciﬁc media and modes, to evoke aspects of imagined reality with a strong, quasi-enactive immediacy. In that sense, both were interested
central to the process by which “Platonism” has both dominated and blighted the history of Western thought.2 Derrida’s view of the matter rightly seeks to register that we are faced here with an aspect of Plato’s writings that has had immense and far-reaching historical signiﬁcance. But it also conspicuously illustrates a dangerous temptation to which many writers on this subject have succumbed, namely the assumption that it is feasible to identify a unitary, monolithic conception of mimesis at
a later dating would not explain book 10’s place in the work’s structure. 49 Burnyeat 1999, 289 n. 9, objects to such descriptions; but he understands “coda” to mean a distinct, nonintegral unit, where I understood a quasi-musical supplementation and drawing together of what has gone before. 50 See chapter 3; but cf. note 46 here. REPRESENTATION AND REALITY 57 The second critique’s point de de´part is a notoriously metaphysical argument, which applies the concept of a “form” (eidos, idea:
relationship stems, I suggest in conclusion, from two main roots, which are partly, perhaps inevitably, entangled. One is Plato’s critical attention to the workings and inﬂuences of cultural forces in his society, especially in the domain of the musicopoetic arts (with all their educational prestige) but also in relation to the images of ﬁgurative art forms. The other consists of his various and unending attempts to grapple with larger philosophical questions of representation and truth,
rooted in the intrinsic (if disordered) possibilities of the soul. Nonetheless, the focus of the argument at this point is not on the structure of the psyche as such but on poetry’s control over it, and this theme comes to a climax with the “greatest charge” at 605c6–606d. The greatest charge against poetry is just this, that it has the psychological power to “maim” or “impair” the souls even of the good,29 and to make 26 Gould 1990, esp. 22–69, discusses pathos from an interesting range of