every woman adores a fascist -- sylvia plath

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An Immodest Proposal: Campbell-totle Part I

So, after writing a brief note on the problem with Joseph Campbell which explained why his psychological explanation of the Monomyth doesn't really work, I decided to take a leap and see how the Monomyth might be explained through Aristotle's theory of knowledge. It was just a guess, but let's play it out and see how the Monomyth works under Aristotle's guidance from The Poetics.

Before we begin, a few things to consider about how Aristotle's theory of knowledge operates in The Poetics:
  • For Aristotle, knowledge is the cause of pleasure in art (i.e. recognizing an object of to be what it is). We want to know what something is and when we recognize it, we are pleased.
  • Art is thus constructed by the artist for the sake of conveying what a thing is to an audience so they will know it: a painting is painted in such a way to convey who or what the subject of the painting is to the audience; tragedies are enacted in such a way to convey the kind of character suffering a kind of downfall. Art is constructed with the audience in mind as the ones knowing the art.
  • Exciting wonder in the audience is the goal of tragedy, and is done so primarily by conveying an unexpected (if not paradoxical) outcome to a character's intentions and actions, but also, secondarily, through plausible impossibilities: chance coincidences, supernatural interactions, etc. This makes us wonder about how it all happened. And wonder, as we know, is the desire to understand. Tragedy, in that sense, is constructed by the artist so that we know what is being conveyed to us (and is thus pleasing), but leaves us in wonder (and thus excites in us the desire to understand -- on our own -- what happened).
  • For Aristotle, the Epic Poem has two parts: the first part is a tragedy, and second part is a comedy.
  • By Comedy, Aristotle means the opposite of tragedy. It is a story where a lowly man is made greater, instead of an admirable man paradoxically made lesser. The object of the comedy, unlike the tragedy, is not to excite wonder in the audience, but to affirm their beliefs by making them feel inspired and hopeful. No paradoxes, no wonder, just feeling good.

Next, with those five points in mind, we'll take a look at Joseph Campbell's description of the monomyth and understand how they apply.