November 25, 2020

Somewhat famously, Aristotle objected to
the "Deus Ex Machina", the resolution
supplied by divine intervention, in the     There's a Woody Allen play that
form of a flashy, spectacular bit of        makes fun of this, showing an
stage machinery.                            ancient greek stage producer
                                            chortling over how well his
   That phrase is so famous, even           nifty god machine is going to
   after going through Aristotle's          go over.
   Poetics carefully, it didn't
   dawn on me that is not actually
   used much there-- it occurs
   just this once in the S. H. Butcher
   translation from 1911:

     Section XV:     
     "It is therefore evident [from the law of         SPECTACULAR_ARISTOTLE
     probability and necessity] that the             
     unravelling of the plot, no less than the       
     complication, must arise out of the plot        
     itself, it must not be brought about by the     
     'Deus ex Machina'--as in the Medea, or in       
     the Return of the Greeks in the Iliad. The      
     'Deus ex Machina' should be employed only       
     for events external to the drama,-- for         
     antecedent or subsequent events, which lie      
     beyond the range of human knowledge, and        
     which require to be reported or foretold;       
     for to the gods we ascribe the power of         
     seeing all things. Within the action there      
     must be nothing irrational. If the              That point might
     irrational cannot be excluded, it should be     confuse-- he's saying
     outside the scope of the tragedy. Such is       the *action* must not be
     the irrational element in the Oedipus of        irrational, not that the
     Sophocles."                                     characters can not be.
                                                     Rationally, one must
        And that's the sole                          expect some irrationality
        reference to Machina.                        where human behavior is

        The text seems clear enough--
        the divine must be confined
        to set-up and breakdown, but
        the main plot on stage must
        flow naturally from premise
        to conclusion.

        Consider what's *not* stated here:
        Robeson's rule is that the hero must
        extricate himself by his own actions.
        No such constraint is imposed by Aristotle's       I missed this point for some
        "probabilty and necessity".  The hero's            time, I think, e.g.
        henchman can bravely take a bullet for
        the hero without being accused of being               ARISTOTELIAN_LINES
        a god machine in disguise.

            Our own heroic fictions would seem to
            have additional constraints beyond the
            Greek Tragedy-- the Western adventure     There are other Western
            story is a celebration of individual      fictions that differ
            agency, where the winning moves are       though, such as the
            grabbed by the leading man.               "romance", where
                                                      individual agency is
                                                      downplayed and nice
                                                      things are supposed to
            Something I've been wondering about       happen to the heroine
            lately: is there any reason we            just because she's nice.
            should take Aristotle as the oracle
            on the way fiction works?  Could it
            be that he was describing his own
            personal reactions and the fashions
            of his own moment in time?

              Consider that some of the tales in
              the Arabian Nights seem colorful
              but shapeless, they don't seem much
              like what we would call a story.

         It would seem that there are ways that
         "genre convention" can override any
         sense of Aristotelian probability.

            When Professor Plum goes on vacation
            and stumbles across yet another corpse
            murdered under oddly constrained              Then there's the form
            circumstances, fans of the Professor          of the Korean drama,
            Plum series do not object.                    with it's standardized,
                                                          insane plot twists that
            And okay, you can call that The Premise       the fans just get used
            from which all else must logically flow,      to...
            but one thing that might logically happen
            is Professor Plum doesn't find a way to             KOREAN_POETICS
            solve the mystery, and some police
            detectives do it while he's still failing

                       It would seem that Aristotle Fiction
                       might be just another genre.