CAT 1: Media SeductionsMedia Influence from the School of Athens to the Age of Sensibility Elizabeth Losh http://losh.ucsd.edu
Reading with Time and Place in Mind School of Athens, Greece 450 BCE – 325 BCE The Age of Sensibility in England 1750-1820 Pre-Civil War United States 1845-1860 U.S. Occupation of the Philippines 1899-1913 The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 Weimar and Nazi Germany 1919-1933 and 1933-1945 The McCarthy Era in the United States 1947-1957 Urban England: A Clockwork Orange 1962 and 1971 The Satanic Verses fatwa 1989-1998 The Post-9/11 World of digital media
The Thesis of the Week Plato cautioned that the “new media” of ancient Athens might corrupt the young with harmful images, erase traditional forms of memory, foster deception, and encourage blasphemous behavior among those who would copy the basest forms of representation. Aristotle argued against Plato’s theory of mimesis or imitation to assert instead that media experiences could trigger a positive catharsis that would purge the audience of negative emotions. Thus, for Aristotle, new media teaches rather than tempts. Although the Age of Sensibility introduced some new ideas about media reception, our cultural conversation about videogames in the United States shows that we have not moved far from the basic terms of debate that go back to Classical Athens.
The Doctrine of Impressionin The Republic “Do you not know, then, that the beginning in every task is the chief thing, especially for any creature that is young and tender? [377b] For it is then that it is best molded and takes the impression that one wishes to stamp upon it.” “Quite so.”
Plato on Censorship “Shall we, then, thus lightly suffer our children to listen to any chance stories fashioned by any chance teachers and so to take into their minds opinions for the most part contrary to those that we shall think it desirable for them to hold when they are grown up?” “By no manner of means will we allow it.” “We must begin, then, it seems, by a censorship [377c] over our storymakers, and what they do well we must pass and what not, reject.
The Story of Kronos “Even if they were true I should not think that they ought to be thus lightly told to thoughtless young persons.” Republic 378a
“but if any poets compose a 'Sorrows of Niobe,' the poem that contains these iambics, or a tale of the Pelopidae or of Troy, or anything else of the kind, we must either forbid them to say that these woes are the work of God, or they must devise some such interpretation as we now require, and must declare that what God [380b] did was righteous and good, and they were benefited by their chastisement.
How is emotion gendered?[387e] “’Then he makes the least lament and bears it most moderately when any such misfortune overtakes him’ ‘Certainly.’ ‘Then we should be right in doing away with the lamentations of men of note and in attributing them to women.’”
The Allegory of the Cave[514a] “’Next’ said I, ‘compare our nature in respect of education and its lack to such an experience as this. Picture men dwelling in a sort of subterranean cavern with a long entrance open to the light on its entire width. Conceive them as having their legs and necks fettered from childhood, so that they remain in the same spot, [514b] able to look forward only, and prevented by the fetters from turning their heads. Picture further the light from a fire burning higher up and at a distance behind them, and between the fire and the prisoners and above them a road along which a low wall has been built, as the exhibitors of puppet-shows have partitions before the men themselves, above which they show the puppets.’”
The Doctrine of Mimesis [595a]The Argument for Banishing Poets in X “’What about it?’ he said. ‘In refusing to admit at all so much of it as is imitative; for that it is certainly not to be received is, I think, [595b] still more plainly apparent now that we have distinguished the several parts of the soul.” “What do you mean?” “Why, between ourselves—for you will not betray me to the tragic poets and all other imitators—that kind of art seems to be a corruption of the mind of all listeners who do not possess, as an antidote a knowledge of its real nature.”
Couch-makers and Playwrights “’What will you say he is in relation to the couch?’ [597e] ‘This,’ said he, ‘seems to me the most reasonable designation for him, that he is the imitator of the thing which those others produce.’ ‘Very good,’ said I; ‘the producer of the product three removes from nature you call the imitator?’ ‘By all means,’ he said. ‘This, then, will apply to the maker of tragedies also, if he is an imitator and is in his nature three removes from the king and the truth, as are all other imitators.” ‘It would seem so.’ ‘We are in agreement, then, about the imitator.’”
Homer’s Real Calling[600c] “‘Why, yes, that is the tradition,’ said I; ‘but do you suppose, Glaucon, that, if Homer had really been able to educate men and make them better and had possessed not the art of imitation but real knowledge, he would not have acquired many companions and been honored and loved by them?’”
What Does the Poet Know? “’And similarly, I suppose, we shall say that the poet himself, knowing nothing but how to imitate, lays on with words and phrases the colors of the several arts in such fashion that others equally ignorant, who see things only through words, will deem his words most excellent, [601b] whether he speak in rhythm, meter and harmony about cobbling or generalship or anything whatever.’”
The Mob in the Theater “And shall we not say that the part of us that leads us to dwell in memory on our suffering and impels us to lamentation, and cannot get enough of that sort of thing, is the irrational and idle part of us, the associate of cowardice?’ ‘Yes, we will say that’ ‘And does not [604e] the fretful part of us present many and varied occasions for imitation, while the intelligent and temperate disposition, always remaining approximately the same, is neither easy to imitate nor to be understood when imitated, especially by a nondescript mob assembled in the theater?’”
Sontag Reads Plato: 96-97Leontius in Book IV of The Republic “He struggled for some time and covered his eyes, at at last the desire was too much for him. Opening his eyes wide, he ran up to the bodies and cried. ‘There you are, curse you, feast yourselves on this lovely sight.’” Weegee, “Their First Murder”
When are the bodies onstage?When is the violence offstage? The Lieutenant of Inishmore
Aristotle in the Poetics: Theatre and Catharsis The argument for an education that includes being exposed to the arts and new media He also thought a good education should include rhetorical training.
The Theatre as Civic Space The same location used for public meetings Theatrical performances as part of community festivals to celebrate particular gods The voting on best playwright was done by ten judges selected by lots from names placed in urns
Different Types of Imitation[Poetics 1148a] Since living persons are the objects of representation, these must necessarily be either good men or inferior—thus only are characters normally distinguished, since ethical differences depend upon vice and virtue—that is to say either better than ourselves or worse or much what we are. It is the same with painters. Polygnotus depicted men as better than they are and Pauson worse, while Dionysius made likenesses
Different Genres(Would Jane Austen Agree?) Comedy, as we have said, is a representation of inferior people, not indeed in the full sense of the word bad, but the laughable is a species of the base or ugly. [1449a] Tragedy is, then, a representation of an action that is heroic and complete and of a certain magnitude—by means of language enriched with all kinds of ornament, each used separately in the different parts of the play: it represents men in action and does not use narrative, and through pity and fear it effects relief to these and similar emotions. [1449b]
Sontag, 89 Even in the era of cybermodels, what the mind feels like is still, as the ancients imagined it, an inner space – like a theatre – in which we picture. [Illustrations from Renaissance memory theatres]
Aristotle’s Rhetoric [1.2.3] Now the proofs furnished by the speech are of three kinds. The first depends upon the moral character of the speaker, the second upon putting the hearer into a certain frame of mind, the third upon the speech itself, in so far as it proves or seems to prove.
Aristotle’s RhetoricMeans of Persuasion • Ethos – a speaker’s authority, credibility, and perceived expertise • Logos – a speaker’s logic, organization, and mastery of language • Pathos – a speaker’s ability to move an audience emotionally
Sontag, 83 They weep, in part, because they have seen it many times. People want to weep. Pathos, in the form of a narrative, does not wear out
Enlightenment Connection/DetachmentThe Age of Sensibility The period of English literature which covers roughly the second half of the eighteenth century is one which has always suffered from not having a clear historical or functional label applied to it. I call it here the age of sensibility, which is not intended to be anything but a label. This period has the “Augustan" age on one side of it and the “Romantic” movement on the other, and it is usually approached transitionally, as a period of reaction against Pope and anticipation of Wordsworth
How is Sensibility Defined? Adapted from the Oxford English Dictionary: • The ability to appreciate and respond to complex emotional or aesthetic influences • Sensitivity to material that might offend or shock • Sensitivity to sensory stimuli Origin: late Middle English (denoting the power of sensation) from Latin sensibilitas “that can be perceived by the senses”)
The Exercise of EmotionEdmund Burke 1729-1797 Member of Parliament – Whig Party Supported the American Revolution but opposed the French Revolution Irish statesman, author, orator, and political theorist Combined philosophy and a theory of psychology in On the Sublime and the Beautiful (1756)
The beautiful pleases the senses. The sublime overwhelms them.
“How Pain Can Be a Cause of Delight”Burke’s “On the Sublime” “Now, as a due exercise is essential to the coarse muscular parts of the constitution, and that without this rousing they would become languid and diseased, the very same rule holds with regard to those finer parts we have mentioned; to have them in proper order, they must be shaken and worked to a proper degree.”
Burke’s “Exercise Necessary for the Finer Organs” “In all these cases, if the pain and terror are so modified as not to be actually noxious; if the pain is not carried to violence, and the terror is not conversant about the present destruction of the person, as these emotions clear the parts, whether fine or gross, of a dangerous and troublesome encumbrance, they are capable of producing delight; not pleasure, but a sort of delightful horror, a sort of tranquillity tinged with terror; which, as it belongs to self-preservation, is one of the strongest of all the passions. Its object is the sublime.”
The Exercise of RationalitySamuel Johnson 1709-1784 poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor, and lexicographer devout Anglican and committed Tory “He is forever finding fault with me, for some incorrectness of language, and now he is taking the same liberty with you. The word 'nicest,' as you used it, did not suit him; and you had better change it as soon as you can, or we shall be overpowered with Johnson and Blair all the rest of the way.” Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
Attacking The Unities • Unity of Time • Unity of Place • Unity of Action
Johnson’s “Preface to Shakespeare”How Fiction Presents Itself as Fact “The necessity of observing the unities of time and place arises from the supposed necessity of making the drama credible. The criticks hold it impossible, that an action of months or years can be possibly believed to pass in three hours; or that the spectator can suppose himself to sit in the theatre, while ambassadors go and return between distant kings while armies are levied and towns besieged, while an exile wanders and returns, or till he whom they saw courting his mistress, shall lament the untimely fall of his son. The mind revolts from evident falsehood, and fiction loses its force when it departs from the resemblance of reality.”
Johnson’s “Preface to Shakespeare” “The objection arising from the impossibility of passing the first hour at Alexandria, and the next at Rome, supposes, that when the play opens, the spectator really imagines himself at Alexandria, and believes that his walk to the theatre has been a voyage to Egypt, and that he lives in the days of Antony and Cleopatra. Surely he that imagines this may imagine more. He that can take the stage at one time for the palace of the Ptolemies, may take it in half an hour for the promontory of Actium.”
Johnson’s “Preface to Shakespeare” “Delusion, if delusion be admitted, has no certain limitation; if the spectator can be once persuaded, that his old acquaintance are Alexander and Cæsar, that a room illuminated with candles is the plain of Pharsalia, or the bank of Granicus, he is in a state of elevation above the reach of reason, or of truth, and from the heights of empyrean poetry, may despise the circumscriptions of terrestrial nature. There is no reason why a mind thus wandering in extacy should count the clock, or why an hour should not be a century in that calenture of the brains that can make the stage a field.”
Johnson’s “Preface to Shakespeare”“The Willing Suspension of Disbelief” “The truth is, that the spectators are always in their senses, and know, from the first act to the last, that the stage is only a stage, and that the players are only players. They came to hear a certain number of lines recited with just gesture and elegant modulation. The lines relate to some action, and an action must be in some place; but the different actions that complete a story may be in places very remote from each other; and where is the absurdity of allowing that space to represent first Athens, and then Sicily, which was always known to be neither Sicily nor Athens, but a modern theatre?”