After our conversation in class yesterday, we decided to rearrange the course schedule to allow more time to work on progress reports and the final project. Our schedule has been updated on the Schedule page. This means that some of the Explorations will need to be rearranged: I’ll update this in the Slack channel.
I was very impressed with our work yesterday: we grappled with some difficult questions about how two very different authors (Jamie Bianco and George Puttenham) deployed language to make an argument. Here are a few of the conclusions we reached:
For Puttenham, who is concerned with beautiful language and how it advances the persuasive force of the orator, the argument comes to reside the beauty of the argument. Regardless of content, the argument is in the words: and the book’s argument is that the beauty of the argument is the most important part. Puttenham’s text is both instructional manual in rhetorical beautification and an enactment of how beautiful language persuades. Reaching this metalevel of literary argument led us to Bianco’s article in DHQ: written in HTML and requiring the reader to move her mouse and click over the text in order to reveal the next sentence and the supporting quotations, here form informs content; more, some content is hidden by the form. In fact, this raised the question, just what is hidden behind the word?? Hidden histories, playing with the interface to gain information. We harkened back to a previous discussion of Derridean linguistic theory: every word contains all of the meanings it has ever had. Behind Bianco’s HTML code, behind Puttenham’s gorgeous exargasia, hidden linguistic histories bolster how we understand present meaning.
One point where Sidney summarizes his argument is on page 18, where he states, “For conclusion, I say the philosopher teacheth, but he teacheth obscurely” while “the poet is indeed the right popular philosopher,” meaning that poets provide a much more accessible brand of philosophy than the philosopher’s themselves. He further explores this dynamic of the poet as a philosopher for the common man vs. inaccessible traditional philosophers when he writes how poets can illustrate concepts with “a perfect picture…[that] yieldeth to the powers of the mind” while philosophers are stuck with “wordish descriptions.” Specifically, he writes how, for a man who has never seen an animal such as an elephant in person before, a picture “well painted” would be much better at delivering its image than even the “most exquisite” of verbal descriptions, demonstrating the power of the “the speaking picture of poesy” (Sidney 16). Another moment of conclusion is on page 21 where Sidney discusses how poets are superior to historians through the fact that they “not only…furnish the mind with knowledge” but also teach and encourage good morality. He discusses this more specifically by showcasing how history actually is “an encouragement to unbridled wickedness” with figures like “the cruel Severus liv[ing] prosperously” and “the accomplished Socrates [being] put to death,” while poets “deviseth new punishments in hell for tyrants” in their work (Sidney 21). Lastly, Sidney concludes his thoughts again when he states, on page 25, that the poet’s ability to draw delight from even the most horrifying things allows him to “draw the mind more effectually than any other art,” and therefore the poet “is the most excellent workman.” Earlier, he elaborates on this by citing Aristotle’s proclamation that “those things which in themselves are horrible, as cruel battles, unnatural monsters, are made in poetical imitation delightful” (Sidney 23). He then states how even “hard hearted, evil men” will be able to draw delight from poetry, while “despis[ing] the austere admonitions of the philosopher” (Sidney 24).
These instances of general vs. particular knowledge allow Sidney to clarify his arguments at key points while still giving his Defence depth. By putting his more general statements after his more specific examples, he lets readers make sense of his work as they read on, bringing much needed summaries to the varied and dense examples that can sometimes get lost in his prose. In his Defence, the general knowledge provides the overall structure on which the piece rests, allowing the particular examples to fill in the body and flesh out the work. In addition, given that much of his general knowledge comes from Aristotle and not himself, his more particular examples allow him to contribute new knowledge to the discussion of poesy and make the Defence worth reading as a unique piece of work, even despite the large lack of originality in his general knowledge. With his Defence of Poesy, Sidney is able to take the general teachings of Aristotle in the Renaissance’s spirit of copying the classics, and provide an update with the particular knowledge he brings in his work.
(3)What is the difference between delight and laughter? Provide 2 quotations to support your answer, and explain how it connects to any of the reasons poesy is good.
It is common for people to think that delight can only be found in things that bring laughter, just like the comedians that Sidney writes about believe. However, Sidney wants to argue that delight and laughter are actually quite different. He says “For Delight we scarcely do, but in things that have a conveniency to ourselves…; laughter almost ever cometh of things most disproportionate to ourselves and nature” (46-47). What this means is that we take delight in things that are familiar to us, but we often laugh at things that are not familiar to us or opposite to us. Sidney writes “for example, we are ravished with delight to see a fair woman” (47) but we don’t laugh, while “we laugh at deformed creatures” (47), but we do not find delight in them. The point is, we often laugh at things that are delightful in any way, like the example of the deformed creature. However, it is something that is so different from us, that we cannot help but to laugh at it. Delight comes from something familiar that we understand and may even love. We delight in the beautiful woman because we recognize her to be beautiful and that is something that we like. I believe that Sidney also wants to say that poesy has the ability to product delight and laughter on their own, but also together.
I think the ability to delight and cause laughter relates to the idea that poesy is good because it is different from the philosophers. The ability to cause delight, which Sidney writes is a main goal of poesy, comes from creating things that the reader or listener is familiar with and line up with them and their nature. However, the philosophers were too abstract and, therefore, could not be understood and could not cause delight. However, poesy is not like philosophy, rather it is relatable and causes delight in the reader.
In Sidney’s “The Defence of Poesy,” his central focus is in addressing the relationship and conflicts between the philosopher, the historian, and the poet. Much of Sidney’s argument to this point not only subscribes to the Aristotelian view that poetry highlights universal truths, but treats much of Aristotle’s assertions themselves as truth, and uses them as a given jumping off point for Sidney’s own argument, particularly in his discussion of imitation and history. Sidney even begins one quotation: “Truly, Aristotle himself…”, as if accepting his word as this divine set of universal truth.
In the discussion of Poesy vs. History, Sidney declares that historians’ often obsessive focus on facts is detrimental to its form, instead arguing that poetry is far more reliable as moral instruction because of its emphasis on rational principles. Not only does this assume Aristotle’s assertion that “superiority” is a question of morals—like Aristotle, Sidney also maintains that the poet is superior in his (or her, though the possibility of her is a point ignored by both) ability to portray both moral guidance and instruction. Aristotle preaches a similar hierarchy, with similar reasoning, by placing the historiographer behind both the poet and the philosopher. He asserts that “it is not the function of the poet to relate what has happened but what may happen – according to the laws of probability or necessity.” Therefore, poetry has the ability and duty to express the universal rather than the situational, placing it over history in importance. Sidney extends this superiority by calling to question the historiographer’s desire to resemble the work of the poets, saying that “even historiographers…have been glad to borrow both fashion (form) and perchance weight of the poets.” (5)
Imitation’s ability to produce both pleasure and learning, according to Poetics, can also be seen as the basis for Sidney’s reference to poetry’s ability to “teach and delight” (10). In this way, Sidney’s theory of poetry is indirectly connected to the general Aristotelian idea of poetry as imitation. Aristotle’s argument however, I found to be more heavily based on educating a virtuous society, the central question of poetics beings: “How do I make people more virtuous with this book?” Sidney’s more masterfully evades the question of morals, instead remaining firmly based in the book’s title “The Defense of Poesy”, and its original title “An Apology for Poetry”, at times even relying on mimesis to continually defend poetry, saying: “there is no art delivered to mankind that hath not the works of nature for his principal object” (8). His reliance on Aristotle to make his argument was something that I saw as flawing Sidney’s argument, being perfectly encapsulated by a line on page 19: “Thus far Aristotle: which reason of his, as all his, is most full of reason.” In this sort of discussion, to accept completely another philosopher’s reason is to limit your argument to that person’s own reasonable limitations.