Essay: Aristotle's Views on ImitationAristotle’s Views on Imitation
Aristotle had refuted Plato’s conception of imitation. Plato thought imitation to be a deviation from truth. Aristotle thought imitation to be the re-creation of something better than reality. Aristotle in Poetic says:
“Epic poetry and Tragedy, as also Comedy, Dithyrambic poetry, and most flute-playing and lyre-playing are all, viewed as a whole, modes of imitation.”
Aristotle does not bring all the types of art. He speaks only of Epic poetry, Tragedy, Comedy, Dithyrambic poetry and Music. Aristotle has equated poetry with music, while Plato has equated poetry with painting. Aristotle in his opinion said that Poetry and Music have a deeper significance than painting, which is concerned with what has actually happened and with what may happen; not as in Painting which cannot go deep into reality, it is always on the surface. That’s why Aristotle clinches the issue: “From what we have said it will be seen that the poet’s function is to describe, not the thing that has happened, but a kind of thing which might happen, i.e. what is possible as being probable or necessary.”
Poetry, therefore, is the better form of art. It deals with eternal varieties, and not mere facts. It deals with the permanent human thoughts, feelings and action – the eternal passion, the eternal pain. The poet should imitate men who are better than they are in actual life. A poet is not an imitator. He is a maker. The term ‘imitation’ is to be taken in the sense of creation making. It should be remember that the poet, who is maker, does not make anything in material terms. It has no substantial existence. Yet something has been made. Such a making is not perceptible; and it can only be realised.
“Hence Poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statement are of the nature of universal, whereas those of history are singulars. By a universal statement I mean one as to what such and such a kind of man will probably or necessarily say or do – which is the aim of poetry.....by a singular statement one as to what, say, Alcibiades did or had done to him.”
The passage above tells us that a poet deals with human thought and passions as they always are. The poet has, no doubt, observed human beings very closely. The poet is not concerned with the passions and action of a particular man. ‘Imitation’, therefore, has a deeper significance for Aristotle.
Aristotle says that a poet deals with the essence. He is not concerned with man’s passing moods of feeling or the transient emotions. Human life is the original of all art, and poetry is no exception. Human life – its mental processes, its spiritual movement, its outward acts issuing from deeper sources; in a word, all that constitutes the inward and essential activity of the soul is what a poet is concerned with.
Poetry becomes the idealised representation of life. It is interesting to note that Hegel, centuries later, said that art is the sensuous representation of the ideal. Imaginative sensibility and idealisation are the constituents of imitation. It may sound paradoxical, that a poet has to be subjective. Aristotle, the father of classical criticism, the doughty champion of objectivity, unconsciously perhaps justified subjectivity. The empirical world – the world of experience, is thus transmuted into an ideal world. Aristotle has nowhere used the term ‘Imagination’.
God has created man and natural phenomena. The poet has re-created them. The poet re-creates the universal element in human life. Art deals with the permanent and essential elements of the original. It may be noted that the real and the ideal are not opposed to each other. The poet with his creative vision can reproduce or re-create an ideal world. ‘Imitation’ is not a copy of the original. It is a creative act, and nature is an artist. She has many contradictions in her creation. She creates beauty as well as ugliness. The poet is nature’s rival, and he outshines her, he creates things not as they are, but as they ought to be. The conclusion is irresistible that a poet does not beguile us with the deceptive shows and illusions of life. He is a creator – a greater creator than nature herself.