Saturday, December 01, 2012

Eli Park Sorensen on Two Theories of Art . . .

Eli Park Sorensen

I always enjoy Professor Sorensen's column in the Korea Herald, for he jogs my memory on things that I've read about and motivates me to read up on them some more. Last Monday, in "The experience of continuity in an episodic age" (November 26, 2012), he reminded me of two antithetical theories of aesthetics, the first by Aristotle:
When Aristotle wrote his famous treatise on dramatic art -- the "Poetics" (ca. 335 BCE) -- he thought of "Oedipus Rex" as a play that contained all the necessary components of a well-designed work; mimesis (imitation or representation of life), catharsis (release of emotions), peripeteia (reversal of fortunes), anagnorisis (recognition or identification), and hamartia (the hero's tragic flaw or error). Aristotle's Poetics, however, makes references to a number of plays, many of which no longer exist. What singles out these plays -- including "Oedipus Rex" -- is according to Aristotle less originality and novelty; rather, it is the plays' extreme loyalty to a very specific set of rules.
Aristotle was a man who liked order -- a place for everything, and everything in its place. He wouldn't have had a place for modern aesthetics:
Modern aesthetics -- emphasizing originality, novelty, innovation, and singularity -- has always had a uniquely troubled relationship with the series; mass-produced art adhering to a strict set of rules. In the essay "Art as Technique" (1917), the Russian critic Viktor Shklovsky argues that modern art's task is to "defamiliarize" things; to show the world in novel, wondrous ways. For in everyday life our perceptions are often dulled by habits and routines.

"Habitualization devours work, clothes, furniture, one's wife, and the fear of war," Shklovsky writes; "art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known."
Shklovsky is clearly a man who believed in breaking rules. Yet in his Art as Technique, he cites Aristotle:
According to Aristotle, poetic language must appear strange and wonderful . . .
Perhaps Aristotle and Shklovsky might have been able to have had a decent conversation after all, though Aristotle might have found Shklovsky citation of his words disconcertingly unfamiliar.

But maybe that was Shklovsky's intention . . .

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