Fear in Writing: Plato and Art (folo to yesterday's post)

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Plato and Art (folo to yesterday's post)

We'll start with Plato today.

For the ancient Greek philosopher, art and the Forms (Beauty, Justice, the Circle) are perfect Ideals, more real than even physical objects.  "The world of the Forms is rational and unchanging; the world of physical appearances is changeable and irrational" (Plato).

Understanding this basic concept is essential to understanding Plato's views on art.  According to his dialogue in The Republic, Plato believed that, "since art imitates physical things, which in turn imitate the Forms, art is always a copy of a copy, and leads us even further from truth" (Plato).  In the philosopher's other theory, found in both Ion and Symposium, he states "the artist, perhaps by divine inspiration, makes a better copy of the True than may be found in ordinary experience. Thus the artist is a kind of prophet" (Plato).

Think of it in terms--literally, in terms.  The word 'music' derives from the Greek 'Muse'--demigods who inspired artists.  'Genius' is similar--one's personal inspiration of guiding spirit.

But...the theory falls apart when you begin to talk about abstract art.  Jackson Pollack, Robert Motherwell, etc.  (One could argue that the emphasis of AE artists on the inspiration by instantaneous, subconscious creation [surrealism] as well as the admittedly anarchic nature of the product, is another way of inspiration by Form--though Forms as Ideas, not as the more specific Beauty, Justice, etc.)  Plato believed music imitated natural sounds.  Similarly, he believed in art imitating life, nature.  Is it impossible to stretch the theory for the modern world, to encompass war, machinery, and nihilism?

So...based on the theory that Art is a copy of a copy, imitation of the Forms or Ideas, do you still believe the same as you did after yesterday's post?  Do the subjects you would or would not take on have a different meaning?  Does crime as a subject for art make it more real?  Are we advertising and creating an atmosphere for rape and murder by placing these as the subjects of our Art?

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  1. Interesting thoughts here, Michele!

    There has been some discussion on the blogosphere lately in regards to some of this--a mystery writer who makes sure that she doesn't DETAIL the method of poisoning in her books, etc.

    I think that people who read our books (cozies especially) are probably not the most hardened types to start out with. But do our books contribute to the desensitization of violence? I don't know. I'd like to think not.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. I'd like to think not as well, but either way it is again a reflection of life. Those events exist because we continue to talk about them, and then we write about the events again and again...So art is imitating life AND art...

    Hmmm...I really wasn't a philosophy major.


  3. Your question of whether I still believe the same today as I did yesterday made me stop. And the answer is no. Already this morning, I've read two blog posts that have changed my thinking. One that gave me pause about the way I write.

    Straight From Hel

  4. Helen- I am glad that you change every day, absorb what you read. That means someone out there is successful!
    Just for clarification purposes, I was refering to yesterday's post on Crime in Literature. But I love new interpretations!

  5. I don't consider anything off limits, but having said that I am often taken back by many of the things that I read in stories. Sometimes the raw brutality of the scene can make it more real and more emotional for the reader.

  6. It did make me pause as well. I'll still write the way I write though.
    Copy of a copy seems rather shallow...

  7. I too stand by what I wrote yesterday. Nothing is off limits. Doesn't mean I have to like it. It is almost our duty as writers to record the world as we experience it today. I believe that life influences art a lot more than vice-versa. A truly deviant mind is capable of things that no writer (no mater how zany) can come up with. As crime writers, we may take something up a notch or two, but we almost always heard about it somewhere else. I'm almost afraid to use the word inspiration.

    Are we copying? Indeed. Just imagine how limited our knowledge of the 14th century would be if there were no journals or any other writing except those sanctioned by the catholic church at the time? Look how much knowledge was lost from pre-colombian civilizations because the incoming missionaries deemed that the local writings were inappropriate. i understand those things were likely NOT works of fiction, but they might have been. Could've been amazing tales that we will never know about. We shouldn't censor ourselves. If people are doing these things (crimes, etc...) today, the generations of tomorrow should know. it can't hurt if they are enthralled or at least entertained while they are at it.

    And Michelle, Thanks for stopping by. I'd missed your comments :) I've been absent for a while, I'm glad to see you've posted some great stuff. Got some catching up to do!

  8. Fact is always stranger than fiction, but art is sometimes more beautiful than reality.

  9. Very thought and soul provoking post Michele. I will have to mull this one over a little bit longer.

  10. I don't know...I don't think cozy mysteries without the graphic murder scenes would lead a reader to commit a violent crime, but I'm not so sure about some of the serial killer books and other stuff I've read over the years. And yet, those stories are in the newspaper. Should we censor the news and not report crime because someone else might mimic the act. That's probably a bad idea.

  11. Really interesting stuff, Michele. I don't think art of any kind is going to influence a person with a normal brain to do anything odd or criminal. A person with an abnormal/broken brain? Maybe.

  12. Ooh, a bit of philosophical discussion. I love it!
    As I said, I'm not too comfortable with murder/rape/etc in my own writing (at least not gratuitous stuff), but I don't think writing about it per se makes it any more "real". I've lived on a farm and butchered animals for food, and it's a far cry from reading about it. In terms of Plato, anything we create *is* but a pale imitation of the original. But it's a safe imitation that allows us to intellectually deal with these topics. Plato believed these pure Forms of everything existed somewhere (like heaven) and we were only seeing the shadows of them--not only in art but in life. Based on that reasoning, the murders that exist in real life are but shadows of something else we do not see clearly (maybe a higher purpose?). So, perhaps, looking at it through the eyes of the artist/writer allows us to see the shadow in another light and understand it better? Just a thought.

  13. This is a very thorny issue.
    In the past I have been very descriptive about violence in my work. Not I think just to be gratuitous but because it has been important to the story.
    But I am struggling with how to discuss the rape of on of my main characters in my WIP. I need realism but...


    Publish or Perish

  14. My opinion hasn't changed in regards to Wednesday's post, but this did give me some pause.

    Video games and the popular media are blamed for a lot of the crimes that go on in contemporary society. "Oh he played lots of violent video games" or "Oh he listened to violent music" or "Oh he watched violent movies" are all pointed to as causes for some of the more depraved crimes. I've yet to see someone blame novels for something, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time (feel free to correct me).

    But see here's the thing: The people who are going to commit violent acts will do so whether or not they see/hear/read about violent acts. The influence we as people have on each other is leagues stronger than anything seen/read/heard in media. Many serial killers or shooters were ignored/bullied/abused/take your pick, and that influenced their violence to a much stronger degree.

    Story matters in novels. If the violence you show is needed to further the story, then by all means include it. If you can get around it, and only refer to the act obliquely, then do that if you're more comfortable.

    We shouldn't be hamstrung as writers because a few people will be uncomfortable with our work. They don't have to buy the novel/watch the TV show/listen to the song if they don't want to.

    Anyway, to wrap up this lengthy comment (sorry Michelle!), write the story you want to write. If it's dark and terrible, then go that direction. Like Jm Diaz said, it's almost our duty as writers to record the world around us.

    Al -- Is it a rape that happened in the past? Or one that happens in the course of the WiP?

  15. Matthew, actually I can think of one book that has been blamed for some school shootings. The Stephen King/Richard Bachman book, Rage, was blamed in many instances of school violence. It is for this reason that King will never authorize another release of this book.

  16. Wow. I do not have time to respond to all of these comments at the moment, but I will try to in the next few days. This is heady stuff! Thank you ALL for joining in the discussion. You really spur me on.


  17. Your global challenge slide show is really cool! (And so is your blog, by the way).

  18. Jamie --

    Huh. Fascinating. I suppose King would be one of the few writers I'd expect that of. Not because he's an overly graphic writer or anything, but because he's a media empire all by his lonesome.

  19. I love the idea of artists as prophets. As for whether or not we're adding fuel to the fire by indulging our creativity, I really don't know. I'll have to give that one some thought.

    Wonderful post and incredibly thought-provoking. You've got a new follower in me - I look forward to reading more of your entries!

  20. Thanks, Dorte!

    Matthew-- Thanks for your contribution. You have been really interesting on this subject.

    B-- Glad to have you! I can't promise they'll all be philisophical, but I try for thought-provoking.