October 19, 2018


Throughout Aristotle's "Poetics" there's
an implied method he's used in working      There's a quasi-scientific air to
out the rules of dramatics-- you could      much of this-- Aristotle is
call it "introspection": he's watched       presenting his observations-- but
many performances and listened down         having observed what (supposedly)
inside himself to his own reactions to      works Aristotle is not shy about
decide what works and what doesn't.         making recommendations... you could
                                            take the Poetics as a kind of
But then, since these are public            esthetic manifesto.
performances, it could be he's also
listening to the crowd's reactions--                           POETIX
except that there are a number of
practices that he's critical of,       And actually, with public
despite the fact that they're          performances, the reactions of
evidently popular--                    others are bound to influence
                                       your own reactions...  you become
So he's favoring the reactions of      a part of the crowd, you're not
educated critics such as himself,      merely an independent observer.
over the reactions of the crowd: a
critical tradition we continue to
this day.

In Section XIII, there's a
reminder that Aristotle is          ARISTOTLE_DOUBLED
being more-or-less empirical:

  "The practice of the stage bears out our view."

And yet, Aristotle uses his nominally empiric doctrine to
criticize public taste:

  "In the second rank comes the kind of tragedy which
  some place first.  Like the Odyssey, it has a double
  thread of plot, and also an opposite catastrophe for
  the good and for the bad. It is accounted the best
  because of the weakness of the spectators; for the
  poet is guided in what he writes by the wishes of
  his audience. The pleasure, however, thence derived
  is not the true tragic pleasure. It is proper rather     There are hints like
  to Comedy, where those who, in the piece, are the        this throughout the
  deadliest enemies--like Orestes and Aegisthus--quit      Poetics which you
  the stage as friends at the close, and no one slays      might use to tease
  or is slain."                                            out what Aristotle
                                                           thought of Comedy.

In Section XVIII, Aristotle makes some
remarks here that might bear on the
puzzle of whether "popular==good" for         
Aristotle (his remarks on the                 RAYMONDS_FOLLY
spectacular suggest not, but these
suggest so, to my ear):

"The proof is that the poets who have
dramatised the whole story of the Fall of
Troy ...  either fail utterly or meet with
poor success on the stage."

In an aside, he compliments Agathon's
ability "shows a marvellous skill in the
effort to hit the popular taste,--to
produce a tragic effect that satisfies the
moral sense"