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What is the soul of poetry? The most influential answer was probably suggested
by Aristotle, who in his Poetics regarded a particular instance of mimesis as constituting the soul of poetry: the construction of plot which he called mimesis of action, or muthos. However, he used mimesis in several different meanings without distinguishing clearly between them, and through tradition it has been interpreted in many ways and translated into a number of terms which do not always seem to have very much in common. The tremendous influence of his Poetics and the concept of mimesis may in fact be due to this elusiveness.
This book sets out to clarify the notion of mimesis in the Aristotelian tradition by demonstrating how interpretations of Aristotle’s Poetics have vacillated between two particularly dominating instances of mimesis, what the author labels mimesis-composition and mimesis-representation. The vocabulary may be the same, but the definition of the soul of poetry may differ substantially depending on which instance dominates at any given time. Since Aristotle’s poetological categories were inspired by those of rhetoric, the study begins with an analysis of Aristotle’s Poetics from a rhetorical point of view. Subsequent chapters then study exemplary reinterpretations of the soul of poetry within the Aristotelian tradition, from Averroës and receptions in the Italian Renaissance and French classicism to the influential launch of the “Fine Arts” by Charles Batteux and his German counterparts, such as Schlegel, in the 18th century. Concluding chapters apply the perspective on issues concerning the aesthetics of the sublime, the symbol and the role of emotions in the system of genres.
The Soul of Poetry Redefined is a significant contribution to, as well as continuation
of, one of the most prevalent debates within the reception history of Aristotle’s Poetics. It is important reading for anyone interested in tracing the influential concept of mimesis and its variegated – and often enriching – permutations, from Aristotle to the romantic period.
Mats Malm is Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Gothenburg.
"The ambition of this book is to be lauded ... I cannot help but admire
Malm’s book, which presents a significant effort in both
comparative literature studies and in the history (and philosophy) of
aesthetics. It is easy to begin to take for granted much of the material he
presents, and if my prior complaints are directed primarily towards his
exclusion of contemporary and twentieth century
riticism, this is probably accommodated for by his extensive use of obscure,
sometimes even forgotten, figures in the earlier history of
poetics. If it is understood as an effort primarily not of interpretation
but of excavation, an archeology of mimesis as the history of
poetics situated within the broader practice of aesthetics, it succeeds
remarkably. Any student of poetry can find much in this volume to
take as a jumping off point, and moreover it may be used in the classroom as
a concise and usually very readable primer or introduction
to the concept of mimesis. Many of the important sources he recovers, such
as the Schlegel-Batteux debate ... or the rhetoric (gender
trouble aside) of Saint Bridget’s revelations, are rich topics for scholarly
inquiry: inquiry that will hopefully extend efforts to
rapple not only with the Aristotelian past but also the continuing evolution
of aesthetic concepts in a period in which scholars across
disciplinary boundaries are returning with renewed attention to the question
of the formal."
- Nicholas Morgan, Comitatus, Volume 44, 2013 (UCLA, Center for
Medieval & Renaissance Studies).
"Mats Malm's The Soul of Poetry Redefined represents a welcome
attempt to clarify the various, ever-changing meanings attached
to some basic terms - most notably mimesis, diction, and verisimilitude -
amid the reception and interpretation of the Poetics
from the twelfth to the eighteenth century ... The transhistorical breadth
required of such a project makes it an ambitious undertaking;
the book's achievements arise from its narrow constraint of focus on the
traditional terms and categories of Aristotle's treatise ...
Written in a terse, lucid style, the book would serve well as an
introductory guide on the afterlife of the Poetics. Its relative
short chapters are subdivided into sections devoted to the reception and
interpretation of Aristotle's poetic categories. The author,
moreover, routinely makes good use of taxonomy, offering diagrams that track
the evolution of these categories across historical periods
... Malm's study offers a valuable and lucid account of the reception of
Aristotelian mimesis from Averroës through the end of the
eighteenth century. Its conclusions are suggestive, and will be of interes
to specialists in various fields."
- Joshua Swidzinski, Columbia University, Comparative Literature
Studies, Volume 52, number 3, 2015.
"The book is a valuable contribution to the study of mimesis and of
the long-lasting influence of Aristotle in Western aesthetics. Summing Up:
recommended, Graduate students and researchers."
- P. I. Vieira, CHOICE, april 2013
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