Pharmakon for us all...

"Medication" – Queens of the Stone Age

Medication for us all…
It’s a new way,
And we're gonna take it cause we love it
Don't you know?

Is this the dose you've been dreamin' of?
A revelation from a gun…
Doesn't matter,
Overtaken, mine was yours, now overthrown.

It’s copulation in a song.
I'm so contagious, can I come?
In a new way,
All of us cast aside became what has become.

Medication for us all…
You think you know me, well you're wrong.
Doesn't matter,
All of us cast aside became what has become.

Using Derrida as a lens, this simple, to-the-point rock song can described as an anthem, parading the ideas present in "Plato's Pharmacy." The binary of pharmakon being both a cure and a poison is depicted in the second verse. "[T]he dose you've been dreamin' of" seems to pinpoint Socrates himself in his search for Phaedrus and his books: the cure. Although, the "revelation" comes "from a gun," pinpointing the dangers of pharmakon immediately. Even the idea of pharmakon as an addictive substance presents itself in the line: "I'm so contagious, can I come?" The contagion in this context would be the text, and the viscous process of reading being writing, over and over.

Additionally, I would like to add a link to "Feel Good Hit of the Summer", the first song I played in class today. It's a pretty crazy video in itself; there's a lot to talk about there as well... but we'd have to stray from Derrida to cover all of that.

-Chris D.

the Pharmakon


“One and the same suspicion envelope in a single embrance the book and the drug, writing and whatever works in an occult, ambiguous manner open to empiricism and chance, governed by the ways of magic and not the laws of necessity.”

What is writing? Is it a curse or a gift? Does it hold medicinal qualities, or is it a toxic drug? Derrida addresses these questions over and again, while attibuting actual “writing” to be a source of life. Writing is a shameful act if done incorrectly, but can be made honorable if the writer is careful to act in a strictly honorable manner. The myth which is writing can be applied as a well brewed medicine or just as easily as a fatal poison. Derrida will separate and explain the difference.


Precis-Owning Up and Manning Up

Derrida seems to be of two minds about the concept of writing. His statements range from disdain to those who fear the idea of owning up to their own words ("The men who are most free feel ashamed a 'speechwriting.'") to a general dislike towards writing at all. ("Is writing seemly?... Is it proper to write? Is it done? Of course not.") Despite these two radically different views of the concept of writing, Derrida still makes the attempt to make himself heard through his views. The reading is more of a caution to writers, outlining exactly how he feels that writers should go about their business. He seems to impart that a writer should not shirk from their views. They should be well-read and educated on that which they write about, and they must not back down from this task, despite what society may look upon them as. A writer must write and own up to their work.

Word: autognosis

Merriam-Webster online defines "autognosis" as,

Main Entry: au·tog·no·sis
Pronunciation: secondarystressodott-schwag-primarystressnomacr-sschwas
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -no·ses /-secondarystresssemacronz/
: an understanding of one's own psychodynamics

This word, describing with self-knowledge, struck me as particularly interesting in the Derrida reading, because of its prevalence in other recent readings for class. Autognosis is perhaps the first assumption of an priori knowledge, a Cartesian flaw. It is, as Lacan illustrated, based in projections of that which isn't on to that which is, and therefore, a fallacy.

Precis: Sarah Knoth

Derrida’s “Plato’s Pharmacy: Pharmacia” is an interesting debate between reading and writing and the significance of each as a part or a whole. Derrida continues to discuss a common theme in this course, which is imitation. There is a bit of a debate as to the authenticity of and the component of necessity of writing in that it is essentially just copying. He paraphrases Plato in saying that “writing can only repeat (itself), that it ‘always signifies…the same’ and that it is a ‘game’” (65).  With this argument, I think it is a matter of the reliance of the author’s ownership of truth or lack thereof. Derrida speaks of the “incompatibility between the written and the true” (68). Derrida also talks about how writing is a drug (pharmakon) of sorts; too much can cause damage but just the right amount can assist the mind in understanding. This whole argument made me think about the differences between non-fiction and fiction; a certain trust is given to the authors of the respective genres. This trust stems from certain types of knowledge and the validity of the knowledge of reality. For example, a lot of attention was given to the book A Million Little Pieces. Many people felt like they were fooled out of a reality when they found out much of it had been fabricated. This whole idea goes along with the themes in Derrida’s piece in that how much knowledge is too much knowledge, how much of that knowledge is copied, and can we trust the knowledge and reality we read? 

Precis: the truth about writing

Derrida's essay he talks about writing vs myth. He quotes, "The truth of writing, that is, as we shall see, (the) nontruth, cannot be discovered in ourselves by ourselves. And it is not the object of a science only of a history that is recited, a fable that is repeated"(74). Additionally he says the definition of writing is to repeat without knowing (75).
Basically I found his essay to be just pretty much completely playing on contradictions. This is shown most apparently when he discusses Pharmakon. Is it a poison or is it a cure. This question then stems from him questioning of Socrates attitude towards writing, for writing "is not in itself a shameful, indecent, infamous activity" however, "one is dishonored only if one writes in a dishonerable mannor" (68).

PHRASE: If a speech could be purely present...

"...unveiled, naked, offered up in person in its truth, without the detours of the signifier foreign to it, if at the limit an undeferred logos were possible, it would not seduce anyone"

Jacques Derrida has taken writing to a new level. But in what way? Well, I guess both. Writing is both writing and reading, good and bad, good and evil, seemingly and unseemingly, medicine and poison. Derrida offers that writing is seduction, but not just any old seduction. It's a seduction that can destroy or revive. But Derrida also says that if writing is present, it can't lure one into tomorrow. If writing wasn't flawed with the perception of the reader and the writer one would not be led astray. Then no one would pine for it.

Precis- Henry McDonald

In this essay Derrida writes about the difficult of inserting truth into writing. As such, this idea about the slippery nature of writing bounces around in the head all the while while reading the essay, casting seeds of doubt, and causing the reader to double check the things he or she is reading for validity. It is true, writing is like a drug. It can control and distort the mind. However, it can also unlock the mind, open the mind to new ideas and perceptions. Plato was on a long time ago to the dangerous, yet tantalizing power of writing and philosophy. A part of particular interest is when Derrida deplores the act of speech-writing for another person. The person delivering the speech is being dishonest for speaking another's words as his own, yet the person writing is not being true either. For he is writing while conscious of the fact that the words are not his or her own, and may not write them as such. This point illustrates how writing can inherently be colored with dishonesty, regardless of intention.

Precis: No la-dee-da when it comes to Derrida

Derrida's Dissemination: Plato's Pharmacy

I find Derrida to be an intense read. His work is quite dense, but also informative and well-written. He takes us through the idea of text and what writing is, using Plato's "Pharmacia" for illustration.

I believe Derrida's final points in his paper summarize his main purpose in writing this piece. He states that, "the truth of writing...nontruth...cannot be discovered in ourselves by ourselves" (74). He then goes on to speak of writing as "history that is recited" or a myth. So, in a way, writing for a person is introspective, yet verbal history. If morality, truth, memory, and dialectics all revolve around the idea of writing, writing receives its power from what it is. Is writing cunning or simply a repetition? Does it have necessity?

Derrida speaks of Socrates' statement that, "there remains the question of propriety and impropriety in writing, that is to say the conditions which make it proper or improper.." (74). Derrida says that writing is of course improper, but that there are more complexities that Socrates does not cover with clarity, and instead speaks of writing's "truth" in round-about "rumors."

Phrase: "It discovers new chords, new concordances; it surprises them in minutely fashioned counterpoint..."

"It discovers new chords, new concordances; it surprises them in minutely fashioned counterpoint..." (p. 67)

Derrida uses Plato's Phaedrus to exemplify his "hypothesis of a rigorous, sure, and subtle form" in Plato's Pharmacy. Derrida has a thorough list of qualifications for good writing in the following lines; it must be "patiently interlacing the arguments" and must be filled with "suppleness, irony, and discretion." Derrida wants the writer to get his point across and to use irony to make opposing viewpoints look foolish, but he wants the writer to be sure to cover all his bases, and on top of that he has to tie the whole thing together, even throwing in a "more secret organization of themes, of names, of words." He is confident that Phaedrus is very good writing and illustrates how widely woven Plato's themes are in the work. Writing that Derrida would consider perfect under his hypothesis would surely cause instant death to a reader.


In the first half of the text, the word "texture" is thrown around in relationship with qualities of the text. In many instances, it is also referred to as having a "woven texture". This idea that the text is woven brings about many connotations. The first being that it is made up a variety of substances or meanings and that when they are combined together that they actually create something great. The second connotation that arises from the words "woven texture" is that the text isn't flat but that it is a substance. In life ideas that have a woven texture have a bulkier quality, so in the writing it means that there is something real and solid within it. When we looked at writings, it is important to not just look at what the overall material is, but to look at the individual weaves that when intertwined create a greater whole.


Askoxford.com defines the word paradigm as:



  • noun 1 a typical example, pattern, or model of something. 2 a conceptual model underlying the theories and practice of a scientific subject. 3 Grammar a table of all the inflected forms of a word, serving as a model for other words of the same conjugation or declension.

  — DERIVATIVES paradigmatic /parrdigmattik/ adjective paradigmatically adverb.

  — ORIGIN Greek paradeigma, from paradeiknunai ‘show side by side’

Derrida uses to to describe how everything that we do is a copy of a copy.  We have already said all that we know (63).   We all play in a game to try and change around what we already know and re-present it.  I think we can only go so far in our own "mastery" or words and knowledge (64).  We have said all that we know already so now we are subjected to just twisting and turning what we already know and saying it again.

Derrida, Jacques. “Plato’s Pharmacy.” Disseminations. Ed. Barbara Johnson. Chicago: University of Chicago Publishing, 1977. 63-75.

Word: Grapheme

The OED defines “grapheme” (dating to 1935) as:

The class of letters and other visual symbols that represent a phoneme or cluster of phonemes, as e.g. the grapheme f consists of the ALLOGRAPHS f, ff, F, Ff, gh, ph, and Ph which represent the phoneme /f/ in fun, huffy, Fingal, Ffoulkes, cough, graph, and Philip respectively; so, in a given writing system of a given language, a feature of written expression that cannot be analysed into smaller meaningful units.

This is basically the same as today’s definition from Merriam-Webster, which reads:

1 : a unit (as a letter or digraph) of a writing system
2 : the set of units of a writing system (as letters and letter combinations) that represent a phoneme

Derrida states that “only hidden letters can thus get Socrates moving” (71). Although he is referring to “the text” as Socrates’ pharmakon here, I found it interesting that he later mentioned graphemes. Though a text is actual letters/words on a page, a digraph (which is a kind of grapheme)is in a sense a set of “hidden letters.” Combined letters (\\t\\ + \\sh\\ = “ch”, as M-W.com puts it) that aren’t actually there create the sound of the ones that are.

What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger?

“Operating through seduction, the pharmakon makes one stray from one’s general, natural, habitual paths and laws.”

Like many things in life there is a fine between medicine and poison. Taken in moderation, sleeping pills can aid an insomniac; when abused, the same pills could have deadly results. In Pharmacia, Derrida defines pharmakon as “the drug: the medicine and/or poison” (70). What is important about this definition is that it illuminates an important aspect of duality, and pressed further, this duality is applied to the tricky business of writing. “Operating through seduction, the pharmakon makes one stray from one’s general, natural, habitual paths and laws” (70). This most certainly applies to writing, for in the best of cases, it forces the writer to look beyond themselves, beyond their own experience, and attempt to achieve in fact a greater sense of being. To abandon convention and press your own personal limits is to toy with the medicine/poison of the unknown, which, as Derrida states “the definition of writing, [...] is to repeat without knowing” (75).

Precis: Writing...writing

Writing can be either a “remedy or poison”, depending on the person doing the writing, or at least that is what we are led to believe as Derrida discusses Plato’s Phaedrus in his “Plato’s Pharmacy” (70). Derrida spends his time dissecting Plato’s work, trying to define for us what is truly at the heart of Plato’s argument, which relates to knowledge and its conflict with writing, and the assumption that it is “repeating without knowing” (74).The relationship between writing and myth, which Derrida spends the majority of his argument relating, is that which allows the text to become clearer the closer a reader comes to the end. Myths are typically thought of as stories that are used to justify something, especially in relation to existence; in this case, myth justifies writing. In the end, though, “repeating without knowing” leads us to repeat “without knowing,” which allows us the opportunity to understand (75).

Derrida, Jacques. “Plato’s Pharmacy.” Disseminations. Ed. Barbara Johnson. Chicago: University of Chicago Publishing, 1977. 63-75.


Logography is used in Derrida's Pharmacia as a way to express the futility in viewing the process of writing as a process of truth-telling, "The logographer, in the strictest sense, is a ghost writer who composes speeches for use by litigants, speeches which he himself does not pronounce, which he does not attend, (...) and which produce their effects in his absence" ( Derrida 68). Derrida is using this example to break down the walls of the preconceived ideas of pure, truthful writing. The Oxford English Dictionary defines logography as "A method of long-hand reporting, in which several reporters were employed, each taking down a few words in succession." This image falls in line with writing being a process of collective subjectivity rather than a single definite product. A president who gives a speech he or she didn't write is performing for an audience. They aren't speaking their own personal truth or any truth at all, they are merely adopting a collective of ideas that were written with his agenda in mind. The writer of the speech was forced to bypass his own ideas and put the text into the format of the speaker, which creates a loss of credibility through the dilution.

Strawberry Fields Forever: Nothing is Real

Language and words are merely forms of expression. Writing is an art. It is intrinsically flawed in its distance from the ideal it symbolizes. The catch is that even the author doesn't fully comprehend the transcendent they are reaching for. Grounded on earth as mortals, we cannot embrace, but only blindly chase after these truths. The writer's self and morality seep into their writing, serving as a distortion they themselves create. The truth we glimpse in text and speech is the reflection found in a concave mirror. It takes cross-perspectives and opposing angles to piece the authentic together. We can close in on the truth and try to trap it by teamwork. Philosophers want to be challenged. By outstretching our hands we can feel around the borders and get an idea of its limits. By poking and prodding, the concept begins to find depth and solidity. It is an "infinitely regenerating" truth as complexities are added. Philosophers are marauders, picking up on the treasures another leaves behind, discarding the weaker aspects, continually tightening the circle of discourse closer around the truth. Several distinct interpretations, even if wrong, are needed to weed out the weaker aspects.

PHRASE: "...if you proffer me speeches bound in books, I don't doubt you can cart me all round Attica, and anywhere else you please"

In Derrida's "Plato's Pharmacia," Socrates is quotes as saying "A hungry animal can be driven by dangling a carrot or a bit of greenstuff in front of it; similarly if you proffer me speeches bound in books I don't doubt you can cart me all round Attica, and anywhere else you please" (71). This clearly exemplifies the message of books and writing as pharmacia, or drug-like. Just as an animal is need of food will work towards the goal of eating, a person (in this case Socrates) is driven by texts and the food for thought that these might offer. This suggests writings as power or escape, the same kind of effect that a drug could offer. But, this could be construed as positive or negative. "Pharmacia" can either be "medicine and/or poison" (70), helpful or deadly. The example of the driven animal compared to a human could suggest that this powerful drug, the "biblios," is leading while one mindlessly follows. Drugs, although an easy escape, also may lead to death, as the hemlock certainly would. Derrida writes "This charm...this power of fascination, can be--alternately or simultaneously--beneficent or maleficent" (70), saying that the drug of writing seduced Socrates from his natural path.

Derrida suggests that this shows Plato as not wholly dismissing writing itself (although speechwriting is frowned upon, as it is not truth and as myth it harms the writer). Plato, even in his era, knew to treat some myths as "archeological" (73), as non-truths. Socrates calls writings fables, handed down by tradition, and urges his people to "discover the truth" (74) for themselves and quit wasting time.

Presentation: Aristotle's Poetics--Sarah Knoth

Aristotle’s Poestics

"...to be learning something is the greatest of pleasures not only to the philosopher but also to the rest of mankind’s, however small their capacity for it; the reason of the delight in seeing the picture is that one is at the same time learning—gathering the meaning of things, e.g. that the man there is so-and-so; for if one has not seen the thing before, one’s pleasure will not be in the picture as an imitation of it but will be due to the execution or colouring or some similar cause.” (227)


·      Imitation, mimesis, art

·      the function of imitation and the value of discovery

·      In Poetics, Aristotle asks his readers to take into consideration three kinds of poetry: comedy, tragedy, and epic, and with these examples he tries to integrate his opinion about mimesis.

·      With any type of art, according to Aristotle, there is a certain kind of re-presentation of something

·      a new presentation of a work that is possibly in the need of examination or why imitate it?—in recreating something we want to discover something

·      Aristotle seems to say that discovery is the reason for exploration into art; through art we try to find a deeper meaning, a window into humanity or at least the artist’s intentions.

·      Art is sometimes the filter in which we can discover truth.

·      art can often times show us our limited, finite existence

·      with this feeling of finality we can begin to grasp the ideas of poetry and of art; we try to feel, or the feeling just comes to us naturally; this feeling of commonality with humanity.

·      Imitation is KEY: he says that humans innately enjoy imitation because we learn first by imitation (227). “Art imitates life.”

·      One of his main examples of art and his theory on mimesis comes with the example of the tragedy. Many critiques have said that a tragedy is not something that wishes to teach a lesson; instead it is a “purging” of emotion of pity and fear that occur when we watch a tragedy. Not necessarily leading toward one particular truth.

·      Aristotle said that “for pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune; fear by the misfortune of a person like ourselves” (55). It is at this moment of discovery that we find meaning in a piece of artwork

·      Poetics is that art’s purpose/it’s function is to help a person connect the dots---it’s the feeling we get when we find a connection to a piece of artwork. It’s the truth we have come to find---perhaps a sense of awe---we are presented to an unknown; there in lies the feelings of fear and pity---humankind

·      fear and pity are just two examples… it’s really whatever feeling you get when you connect the dots.

·       Powerpoint: The Sistine Chapel---  we are presented, in the center of the ceiling, the initiation of life---God gives life to Adam. 9 scenes from the book of Genesis---illustrates literature--- both imitations recreations of an original.

·      What Aristotle is trying to say, at least in my opinion, is that no matter what kind of artwork you are looking at, the artist is trying to imitate/depict a moment that will conjure in you a sense of something greater that perhaps you haven’t experienced before----go to passage above. –what’s going to lead you to a higher truth than you had before

·      Famous photograph from the Vietnam War---  some may not even consider this art—what makes it art? in the documentary sense. it recreates/imitates/reproduces a single moment in history and with that a greater context---we are brought to the horrifying experience of these children. do we pity them do we fear them? is there a sense of awe?

·      through art, we try to connect to humanity. 


Tragic Form

Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii, 1784 

Aristotelian knowledge as taxonomy

From Raymond Lull, De Ascensu, early 14th c.

"nature rather of universals"

"Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars" (235).

Even though history is considered documented fact, Aristotle considers poetry a more important study. Poetry reflects human nature and thus will reveal to us more truth about ourselves than past events will. It is closer to who we are, closer to the origin of our actions. By understanding who we are, we can trace our actions to our thoughts and feelings, and than to the system of laws governing our moral sentiments (I just read Adam Smith, forgive me for the economics). Emotion is the rawest form of truth available to us, it is the purest state we know. Emotion is a universal truth, applicable to all. Regardless of the degree of emotion experienced or the person in question, we as humans all have the capability to relate to another, to sympathize with them, and project ourselves onto their experience.

We delight in the imitation of art because it allows us to experience aspects of life never opened to us before. Art allows us to project ourselves onto the scene and experience the action, arousing the appropriate sympathy. This is why the characters of a play are subordinate to the plot - in this way, we are able to project ourselves into the characters. In this way an infinite amount of situations and emotions are available to us. The wider range of reaction and emotion we are familiar with, the more complete we become in our sensibilities. This will allow us not only to understand the past events which history focuses on, but present and future ones as well.

Sorry this post is so late.... :-o



Aristotle uses the word IMITATOR as a way to describe poets, artists, actors, and other creative thinkers of his time. The OED defines IMITATOR as "One who imitates, copies, or follows another; one who produces an imitation of anything." Additionally, the OED defines the verb form of imitate as "[t]o do or try to do after the manner of; to follow the example of; to copy in action" and furthermore, "[s]ometimes with implication of incongruity or of specific purpose: To mimic, counterfeit." Similar to the definition of the noun, the transitive verb contains the negative connotation of counterfeiting. While keeping ourselves reminded of the famous proverb, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", it is important to note that Aristotle also taps into the more negative connotations when speaking of these IMITATORS, for they are not creating a pure replication of nature, merely imitations.

Imitation of the hypothetical


Aristotle begins his chapter on Poetics by explaining that there are three forms of art; Epic poetry, Tragedy/Comedy, and lyre and flute playing (music). "The differences in the imitation of these arts come under three heads, their means, their objects, and their manner." He maintains that art is the imitation of life, that man enjoys the highest pleasure in learning-this he does through imitation. "Man is the most imitative creature in the world, (p. 227) posits Aristotle, claiming this is the differing characteristic between men and animals.

The main thrust of the selected text is the definition of a proper tragedy, which Aristotle believes must be itself an imitation of a "thing that might be," whereas a history deals with what has been. History, even written in verse, would still not be poetry. Therefore, it is not form, but matter which constitutes poetry. "The life and soul of a tragedy is plot" (p.232), according to Aristotle. Converse to modern perception, the character (which reveals the moral purpose of the 'agents') is not of as much importance as the tragedy's containing peripety (that is, inspiring either fear or pity) discovery, and suffering.


While speaking of imitation, Aristotle uses the word to the effect that we can commonly accept it as meaning today:  an attempt to copy an object or experience as it commonly appears in reality.   However, in applying the concept of imitation to the creation and performance of the arts, he touches upon theories as to why humans enjoy such entertainment.  Comedy, for example is entertaining because it imitates in such a way as to portray things as worse than they actually are, so as to provide a relief from their reality.  Epic poetry, as another example is said to portray things as better, so as to provide excitement, enticement, and hope.  Imitation that, as Aristotle says, portrays things "on our own level" is perhaps best left, poignantly, to tragedy.

Sarah Knoth--Phrase--Discovery


“A Discovery is, as the very word implies, a change from ignorance to knowledge, and thus to either love or hate, in the personages marked for good or evil fortune” (237).

In Poetics, Aristotle asks his readers to take into consideration three kinds of poetry: comedy, tragedy, and epic, and with these examples he tries to integrate his opinion about mimesis. With any type of art, according to Aristotle, there is a certain kind of re-presentation of something; a new presentation of a work that is possibly in the need of examination. The imitation of said piece of work is then in route to be discovered. Aristotle seems to say that discovery is the reason for exploration into art; through art we try to find a deeper meaning, a window into humanity or at least the artist’s intentions. In Aristotle’s argument, mimesis and art are synonymous. And, it is discovery, that we can finally understand why the imitation of an event, of an emotion, of a story makes sense. Art is sometimes the filter in which we can discover truth.

WORD - Discovery

A discovery is a revelation of something which was previously unknown. An unknown place, element or fact, the broad definition of a discovery can cover many different situations. According to Aristotle, Discovery is an important part of a story plot. Discovery is one of the two properties which Aristotle attributes to forming a complex plot (236). "A Discovery is, as the very word implies, a change from ignorance to knowledge, and thus to either love or hate, in the personages marked for good or evil fortune," (237). A discovery can lead to the revelation of truth and goodness, or the exact opposite.

Catch me if you can.


In the Oxford English Dictionary, imitation is defined as, “The action or practice of imitating or copying.” Aristotle establishes that poetry uses language to imitate real life (although he does state that it is "form of imitation [...] to this day without a name"), and that it is an art form all it’s own. A further definition of imitation is “a thing made to look like something else, which it is not.” What is it that poetry is looking like? In the use of our language we are able to interpret the world much as a dancer or musician might interpret their art. With language however the interpretation becomes clearer and yet remains an imitation of what is real, for once an event occurs, it becomes a thing of the past. It is this remainder that is the imitation, an attempt through words to capture something fleeting.

PRECIS: Plato gets a rebuttal in an "emotional" response by Aristotle

In the work we read by Plato, we were given a view of how Plato felt about art and imitation. Needless to say, Plato didn't place much stock in the representations and imitations found interwoven in art. Aristotle, in his Poetics, delivers a rebuttal to Plato's logical and emotionless world; the Poetics praises tragedies and comedies for the fact that they are imitations. Plays give people a chance to express and interact with their emotions evoked by the story unfolding on stage. Aristotle stresses the importance of plays being imitations because if the plays are representations of the world around us, the audience will find it easier to relate with the play. The audience will become engaged with the imitated lives being played out on the stage, whether it's from a death scene of one of the characters to a good ending for a hero. Representations in plays give people a chance to experiment with their emotions and learn the correct responses when real situations take place. In example, the feelings of anger can be learned and embraced while learning to control the emotions and respond in an appropriate manner. Though Plato's perfection might not be met, Aristotle states that imitation is natural and a part of learning, as long as one understands that it is imitation.

PHRASE: "...the life and soul...of Tragedy is the Plot; and that the Characters come second..."

"...the life and soul...of Tragedy is the Plot; and that the Characters come second..."

In "Poetics," Aristotle breaks down the necessities of Tragedy, along with characteristic action of imitation, similar to music. He covers not only Tragedy, but also epic and comedy, although not in nearly as much depth.
This particular phrase, where Aristotle is saying that the plot of a tragedy is by far more important than anything else, even characters, is quite a bold statement. He even compares the importance of plot over characters to the importance of order over color in a painting. Characters are like the added color that make paintings attractive, but the paintings are meaningless, (even in color), if they have no plot, represented by order (232).
This is an important phrase in representing, for one, Aristotle's incredible attention to the perfecting of such 'poetics' as Tragedy. This could also reflect his idea that the mimesis within these topics can be found within action, or plot. The plot is the main area of imitation, whereas, characters, props, etc. are just actors in that imitation.
Without this phrase, one of Aristotle's main points would be lost, along with the beauty of his painting comparison, which reveals his personal understanding and passion for his ideas on the elements of Tragedy.
This is definitely a bold claim, in that many would disagree that order is necessary in any poetic, even Tragedy. While Aristotle states this as an absolute, I feel he might have several critiques of the definitiveness of his claim.


WORD: Dithyrambic

Aristotle writes that "Dithyrambic poetry" is among the kind of poetry that combines "all the means enumerated, rhythm, melody, and verse" (224). The OED defines dithyrambic as "pertaining to" or "resembling a dithyramb in irregularity of style; wild, vehement, boisterous". Disecting the word even further (to dithyramb) the OED describes this as "a Greek choric hymn, originally in honor of Dionysus or Bacchus, vehement and wild in character". This type of poetry uses all of the elements that Aristotle considers important, as well as reflects the crazy character of the Greek god Dionysus. Aristotle later explains that the elements of rythym, melody, and verse in this type of poetry could be used all at once or separately to achieve the same effect.

PHRASE: Learning, the great pleasure

"To be learning something is the greatest of pleasures not only to the philosopher but also to the rest of mankind, however small their capacity for it;" (227).
So, therein lies humans' attraction to art, the pursuit of learning something. Aristotle contends that we learn from art, mainly through imitation. The learning that takes place is "gathering the meaning of things..." (227), which is something that examining imitations allows us to do. So why do humans enjoy art, and why is art a worthy pursuit? Because the study of imitation is joyful to us and fosters a pure form of learning.

Henry McDonald


Although Aristotle continues throughout his essay Poetics to characterize poetry as imitative, I found his argument for the origin of poetry to be the most interesting. He says, "It is clear that the general origin of poetry was due to two causes, each of them part of human nature" (226). I have always viewed poetry as a natural art, so when Aristotle states that poetry originated from human nature it isn't difficult for me to agree. Aristotle then goes on to explain how poetry originates from human nature. He says, "Imitation is natural to man from childhood, one of his advantages over the lower animals being this, that he is the most imitative creature in the world, and learns at first by imitation" (227). This point is undeniably acceptable because no other animal is as imitative as humans. Furthermore, most animals follow instincts rather than learning by imitation. Aristotle then points out that humans are naturally delighted by imitation. He gives the example of people being delighted by depictions and imitations of grotesque things. A person wouldn't enjoy seeing a dead body in person, but delight at imitations of death and dead bodies in plays and paintings. Aristotle then ends by saying that through time, humans naturally began to create poetry because we are so obviously drawn to imitation. He says, "it was through their original aptitude, and by a series of improvements,...that they created poetry out of their improvisations" (227).

Precis: Imitation Portration

If Plato and Aristotle battled it out, who would win? Read Poetics - you decide!
Plato declared that representation (aka imitation) can never achieve can never reach perfection because it can never truly reach the entirety of a concept...
Aristotle has faith in imitation. More than that, he attributes learning, "the greatest of pleasures," to imitation. Because imitation is "natural to man from childhood," it seems obvious that it has been cultivated in countless forms which delight many. 
Aristotle does lay down some ground rules, though. Not all imitation is a perfect portrayal. But if it follows the basic human truths and relates to often felt life events, (such as tragedy without which we could not have poetry) then it's golden. 

Phrase: The Poet's Function

"...the poet's function is to describe, not the thing that has happened, but a kind of thing that might happen; i.e. what is possible as being probable or necessary." (page 234, ln 36-39)

To understand this phrase and why it is important to the reading, one must first understand "poet," as defined by Aristotle. When he speaks of poetry, he references epic poetry like the Odyssey. Therefore, since epic poetry was meant for performance, one could equate "poet" to "playwright." Aristotle tells us that the poet's purpose is to tell a story- not one that is purely a factual report of actions, but a tale that would touch the audience. Theatre, according to Aristotle, must transcend a simple story and become something that will impact those who hear or see it. It must impart a lesson and leave the audience with something more than what they had before they partook in the experience.


Aristotle attempts to make differences between three types of poetry: comedies, tragedies, and epics.  He says that imitation is prevalent in all of the different types.  Audiences don’t have to be afraid when horrific acts are demonstrated on stage because we understand that this is just an imitation of a human action and not the actual action.  One difference between tragedy and epics is the length of each.  Epics have one type of verse and are in narrative form and its action has no fixed limit of time (229).  All the parts of an epic are included in a tragedy but all parts of a tragedy are not in an epic (230).   Aristotle also says that there are six parts to every tragedy: a fable or plot, characters, diction, thought, spectacle, and melody (231).  He goes on to explain what each one means in a dizzying amount of words.  I think that Aristotle gets his point across about the differences between the three types of poetry but does so in a labor intensive way for the reader.  It was easier to pinpoint some of his more simple sentences to make sense out of his more complex ones.  It would be so much easier and friendlier to read if as a whole the chapters were simpler.  It’s too exhausting to read too much at one time.  I took a couple breaks and moved my way through slowly and think I will understand it better after having a conversation about its content.

Word: peripety

Peripety, or peripeteia, is defined in the OED thus: "In classical tragedy (and hence in other forms of drama, fiction, etc.): a point in the plot at which a sudden reversal occurs. In extended use: a sudden or dramatic change; a crisis." Aristotle defines it more simply as change "from one state of things within the play to its opposite." Aristotle stresses the importance of peripeteia and discovery ("a change from ignorance to knowledge") in tragedies, especially in conjunction.

Word: Catharsis

The Oxford English Dictionary defines catharsis as, “The purification of the emotions by vicarious experience, esp. through drama (in reference to Aristotle’s Poetics.)” In fact, before Aristotle uses the word in his own definition of tragedy, catharsis was a medical phrase that meant the emission of waste from the body. “Aristotle is employing it as a medical metaphor” (Wikipedia). To Aristotle, there is a purifying function of tragedy. In order to best describe the sensation of tragedy and the emotion that quickly cycles though the body, he uses a physical metaphor:


A tragedy, then, is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself: in language with pleasurable accessories, each kind brought in separately in the parts of the work; in a dramatic, not in a narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish it catharsis of such emotions.     (Aristotle)


PRECIS: Poetics

In "Poetics," Aristotle states that there are six literary elements which are fundamental to the genre of tragedy. Of these six, he states that plot is the most important (232). To prove this point, Aristotle uses the analogy of painting, stating that if the most beautiful of colors were put onto a canvas without order, the effect would be less pleasing than a simple black and white sketch of a portrait. In this analogy the colors equate with characters and the order with plot.

In 335BCE, many people might have agreed with Aristotle, but in today's society people appreciate numerous forms of art, many of which are radically different than what Aristotle would have been exposed to in ancient Greece. For example, abstract painting. I doubt that Aristotle would have had much appreciation for such art, as it often lacks recognizable subjects and does not always 'imitate' anything in the external world. I don't believe that Aristotle could have ever predicted, or understood, that society might come to appreciate forms of art without 'form,' or enjoy works of literature, not because of a complex or ornate plot, but because of an investment in character, which is something that has been accomplished in post-modern literature.

Gladiator: Aristotelian Tragedy.

I chose the movie Gladiator to supplement Aristotle's idea of Tragedy and or Epic in his essay Poetics.

Here is a rough summary of the movie, for those who have not seen it or are unfamilure:

Maximus is a powerful Roman general, loved by the people and the aging Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Before his death, the Emperor chooses Maximus to be his heir over his own son, Commodus, and a power struggle leaves Maximus and his family condemned to death. The powerful general is unable to save his family, and his loss of will allows him to get captured and put into the Gladiator games until he dies. The only desire that fuels him now is the chance to rise to the top so that he will be able to look into the eyes of the man who will feel his revenge.

“A tragedy, then is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself; in language with pleasurable accessories, each kind brought in separately in the parts of the work; in a dramatic, not in a narrative form; with incident arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotion" (230).
I believe that the movie touches on all aspects of what Aristotle believes Tragedy is, however it is important to point out that there are 2 main differences between a Tragedy and an Epic: time and narration. Where a Tragedy is usually told within the span of a day, an epic has an unset or unlimited amount of time. The story of Maximus in the movie spans much longer than a day, yet I would till categorize it as a Tragedy.
This brings me to the second difference which is that an Epic is told in narrative form or from an omniscient narrator, while a Tragedy is more of a dialogue, which is more like the movie.
I want to explore why some elements of Epics can be found in Tragedy but not vice versa.
Additionally I want to explore why Character seems to come secondary to Plot when it is the Character the viewer or reader identifies with and is the cause of evoking pity or fear in the audience(236).
Lastly, since it pertains to the movie Gladiator, I wanted to discuss the demise of the Hero and why with an authentic tragedy must the death of the Hero always be the product of some fatal choice or action, for the tragic hero must always bear at least some responsibility for his own doom, when in the case of Maximus, it was not his choice.
Is this only reason of why the Hero dies found in poetry, or because we live in a time with so many variations of what a Tragedy and Epic could be in viewable formats instead of literature, has there been an evolution of Aristotle's Poetics?

PRESIS: Chalk one up for mimesis

Aristotle brings up the idea of mimesis. He argues that mimesis helps us to be more reflective and sensitive. In poetry, especially when acted out, the viewers are sometimes forced to watch very gruesome acts of violence. "The truth of this second point is shown by experience: though the objects themselves may be painful to see, we delight to view the most realistic representations of them in art, the forms for example of the lowest animans and of dead bodies" (227). Viewers do not run off and scream because they know that it is just an imitation. They understand it is an imitaion of a real act, but at that very point in time just an imitation. Seeing those acts performed can allows for reflection. Reflection into the acts of human violence, its reasoning, and its consequences. Who knew poetry could be so helpful?


WORD: Imitate

Aristotle's organizes the "genres" of the poetic arts under the banner of imitation. Painting to poetry builds its business of art on imitating. Aristotle says that what we call modern day theatre arts strive through action to show life, that is to imitate. The OED defines "to imitate" as "to make or produce a copy or representation of; to copy, reproduce." It is this representation or replica of life that entertains human beings. "We delight to view the most realistic representations...in art."(p. 227)