The Aesthetics of Mimesis: Ancient Texts and Modern Problems
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Mimesis is one of the oldest, most fundamental concepts in Western aesthetics. This book offers a new, searching treatment of its long history at the center of theories of representational art: above all, in the highly influential writings of Plato and Aristotle, but also in later Greco-Roman philosophy and criticism, and subsequently in many areas of aesthetic controversy from the Renaissance to the twentieth century. Combining classical scholarship, philosophical analysis, and the history of ideas--and ranging across discussion of poetry, painting, and music--Stephen Halliwell shows with a wealth of detail how mimesis, at all stages of its evolution, has been a more complex, variable concept than its conventional translation of "imitation" can now convey.
Far from providing a static model of artistic representation, mimesis has generated many different models of art, encompassing a spectrum of positions from realism to idealism. Under the influence of Platonist and Aristotelian paradigms, mimesis has been a crux of debate between proponents of what Halliwell calls "world-reflecting" and "world-simulating" theories of representation in both the visual and musico-poetic arts. This debate is about not only the fraught relationship between art and reality but also the psychology and ethics of how we experience and are affected by mimetic art.
Moving expertly between ancient and modern traditions, Halliwell contends that the history of mimesis hinges on problems that continue to be of urgent concern for contemporary aesthetics.
permitting different interpretations of artistic representation, it has precluded any such clean detachment and has persistently kept open 27 Tolstoy is among those to have stressed some radical differences between ancient and modern categories of aesthetics: see Tolstoy 1930, 91, 136–39. But Tolstoy had his own (religious) reasons for not looking to antiquity for a richer conception of the subject as a whole. 28 Bosanquet 1892, 11 (though note the more qualiﬁed view of mimesis on 12). MIMESIS
cannot be reduced to a “mathematically” strict set of requirements.27 Whether this should count as a positive or negative recognition, however, is less easy to decide. It is certainly compatible with an appreciation that the nature of mimetic representation will vary according to (among other things) the materials and techniques of individual arts, as well as the cultural traditions that grow up around these arts; and other passages in Plato manifest an awareness of these factors.28 But it might
(note his revealingly antimimeticist slant at 106–7); cf. Markowitz 1998 for some discussion. Ferrari 1989, 138, seems to me misleading in claiming that Rep. 10 involves an attack on aesthetic distance: the kind of dissociation indicated at 606b is embedded in an emotional experience radically different from what is normally understood by aesthetic distance. Cf. note 35. 43 Nehamas 1988: but where he sees a metaphysical view of the nature of mimetic objects (219–20), I would prefer to say that
8. Scruton 1997, 119, ﬁnds Plato “insensitive” to the distinction between representation and expression (which Scruton strangely thinks does not predate Croce); I would prefer to say that Plato has a stronger sense than Scruton permits of some of the overlaps and connections between phenomena that might be covered by these two concepts (cf. my introduction, note 31). 40 Note here also the force of Rep. 3.402b–c, which refers to the need for future Guardians to be able to recognize the virtues
phainomena, eido¯la, phantasmata (the realm of mimetic artists, mime¯tai). The status of the top tier of this scheme has often embarrassed Platonic specialists, both because it appears to posit metaphysical forms of general classes such as “couch,” and because it appears to give even a carpenter mental or conceptual access to such forms (596b7).51 Now, it is 50 Janaway 1995, 119–20, states this second point forcefully, apropos 598a1–3; others, including Gombrich 1977, 83; Annas 1981, 336; D.