Aristotle's Literary Aesthetics

Phronesis 44 (3):181 - 198 (1999)
Against the consensus that Aristotle in the "Poetics" sets out to give tragedy a role in exercising or improving the mature citizen's moral sensibilities, I argue that his aim is rather to analyse what makes a work of literature successful in its own terms, and in particular how a tragic drama can achieve the effect of suspense. The proper pleasure of tragedy is produced by the plotting and eventual dispelling of the play's suspense. Aristotle claims that poetry 'says what is universal' not in order to suggest that poetry achieves anything of the effect of philosophy, but to explain how in creating his plots the poet takes into consideration what, in general, could be expected to happen. Chapter 4 of the "Poetics" is not a theory of mimesis but an analysis of the lowest common denominator of the pleasure we take in fictions. The inevitability or likelihood by which events in the tragic plot are to be connected has an aesthetic rather than a moral function. Doing away with the irrationality of chance and increasing the human intelligibility of the action is not its point; the point is to furnish the plot with the second half of the formula for successful suspense: that events in the plot should happen 'against expectation because of one another'. The first half of the formula is examined under the rubric of peripety or reversal. The formula as a whole describes the pivotal moment when the pieces of the plot suddenly fit with a configuration that only in retrospect can we see to have been falling into place all along. Pity and fear are the emotions on which Aristotle focusses because they are the emotions engaged by the tightening-towards-release of literary suspense. And the pleasure of catharsis is the pleasure of that release
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1163/15685289960500024
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history
Request removal from index
Download options
Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 27,590
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
The Desire-Frustration Theory of Suspense.Aaron Smuts - 2008 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 66 (3):281-291.
The Paradox of Suspense Realism.Christy Mag Uidhir - 2011 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 69 (2):161-171.
Tragic Error and Agent Responsibility.Charlotte Witt - 2005 - Philosophic Exchange 35 (1).
Aristotle on the Philosophical Nature of Poetry.J. M. Armstrong - 1998 - Classical Quarterly 48 (2):447-455.
The Poetry and the Pity: Hume's Account of Tragic Pleasure.Elisa Galgut - 2001 - British Journal of Aesthetics 41 (4):411-424.
Wonder, Nature, and the Ends of Tragedy.Ryan Drake - 2010 - International Philosophical Quarterly 50 (1):77-91.
Aristotle's Literary Aesthetics. Ferrari - 1999 - Phronesis 44 (3):181-198.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

56 ( #93,541 of 2,168,553 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

1 ( #346,836 of 2,168,553 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.

Other forums