Sunday, January 31, 2010

Plato v. Emerson

In the “Introduction” of Classical Literary Criticism, Penelope Murray states that the poets Aeschylus and Euripides “assume a direct connection between literature and life” (xix). Plato agrees as well on “the crucial importance of role models in literature, and the question of how far people’s behaviour is influenced by the depictions of art” (xix). In connecting this to the transcendental philosophy by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay Nature, he discusses the important role nature plays in understanding the “soul”. In “Chapter 1: Nature”, Emerson states, “The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are always inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence”. Even though Emerson is referring to nature and its ability to influence the mind, I wanted to connect this idea back to poetry or art. I think that every person that is listening or viewing an art form such as poetry can only be influenced by it when allowing the piece agency. Therefore, the power is in the individual to make the “connection between literature and life”. They cannot gather that the listener of great poetry will make this connection. They cannot suppose that all listeners are open to their influence. The transcendentalists would also argue with Plato in that emotions should be monitored and controlled by reason, so that they are not harmful. Transcendentalists like Emerson believed that the truth lied in our inner conscious, instead of relying on emotions that come after our intuition. They believed that the basic and most useful truths lies beyond the information and wisdom we gain through our senses. Intuition, which Emerson called the “highest power of the Soul,” is a power that “never reasons, never proves, it simply perceives…” I would have to argue with Plato as well, because I think that it is beneficial to “arouse emotion” through poetry. I believe that the beauty of art to be able to imitate nature in order to spark emotion into each individual. It allows not only for the individual to feel certain emotions, but possibly connect those messages to their lives. That is not to say that each person will be swayed towards the poet’s view. I think Plato needs to give more credit to the individual, and recognize that each person will understand that it is an imitation of life, and that they will give agency to where they choose to give it to. In this case, it comes down to perception, how each individual views the literature and the state of mind they are in when they are taking the literature in.

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