Saturday, October 3, 2009

Poetry: Profit & Delight

Art or drama is without a doubt an important part of life. It is apparent that through art (of any kind) one can converse feelings, thoughts, uncertainties, anxieties, beliefs, values and much more. It is a medium where one is free to express feelings and ideas about personal and global issues and concerns. The aim of drama is something a huge number of theorists and dramatists has been arguing about for a long time now. In fact, considering the amount of different views and outlooks on the subject, it became very hard to determine what the aim of drama is or even narrow it down to one or two aspirations.
However, there have been a great number of views regarding whether the aim of drama is to entertain or instruct or both as well as debates on what brings pleasure to people. There have also been views on what drama reflects and if the reality it reflects can educate; if it is able to shape reality and if it has the power to change a person. One of the imminent theorists triggered a very interesting debate specifically on this subject. Horace argues in the Art of Poetry (The Epistle to the Pisos) that the poet’s aim when writing a dramatic piece is either to profit (instruct or teach) or please (delight or charm) or a good combination of the two.

“The poet’s aim is either to profit or to please or to blend in one the delightful and the useful” (Horace, pg. 74).
The first seperate two aims (profit or please) that Horace is referring too and the idea that drama might exist to accomplish one of these aims alone implies that pleasure and learning are two very different things and that they not associated to one another or even combined as one, thus proposing the idea that there is a contradiction between pleasure and learning. Therefore, it is important to analyze this contradiction.

“It is not just a matter of art presenting what needs to be learned in an enjoyable form. The contradiction between learning and enjoyment must be clearly grasped and its significance understood-in a period when knowledge is acquired in order to be resold for the highest possible price, and even a high price does not prevent further exploitation by those who pay it. Only once productivity has been set free can learning be transformed into enjoyment and vice versa”, Bertolt Brecht said.
When Horace triggered the debate of “profit or pleasure” a lot of questions relating to the relationship between pleasure and learning were immediately raised. The question of whether a relationship between them exists in the first place was also raised. According to Brecht, it is possible for learning to be consequently transformed into enjoyment unless the efficiency of the drama itself is set free. Therefore, even if learning and enjoyment are two different things, the possibility of them transforming into one another is tangible if set in the suitable environment (i.e. a good drama). One of the questions that the problem raises is: is it possible to instruct in a pleasurable form and consequently accomplish both aims of teaching and amusement? In fact, the solution can’t rely solely on this. Even if it is possible, it is not enough to transform learning into enjoyment and vice versa, it will only achieve both but there will be no transformation.
Brecht is actually referring to a certain class in society when he’s saying: “in a period when knowledge is acquired in order to be resold for the highest possible price..” , this makes us think about Horace possibly referring to a certain class in society, a class considering learning the useful and pleasure the useless thus creating the distinction between them. So this proposes the idea that the issue really depends on the audience.

Some theorists like Lodovico Castelvetro argued that drama and poetry is only created to amuse and delight; when people are presented with subject matters that they understand and are familiar with, they feel happy. This in fact is very true of the nature of drama and its effect on the audience. One of the main reasons why drama gives people pleasure is the fact that it is observed that it reflects and shapes reality and might actually cause change in who you are and what actions you choose to do. But does this amusement and entertainment educate you in any way is the question.
Some theorists like Diderot gave primacy to the knowledge one gets out of drama; Diderot claims that if pure amusement (even if incited by tragedy) doesn’t add something to the knowledge of the audience then it is simply useless and hollow. Some theorists like Juilius Ceasar Scaliger says drama can do both, but also gives primacy to the education poetry brings people. Scaliger supports his argument by saying that when poetry tells of tempests and wars; all is for the purpose of to teach and the way poetry is told is what’s pleasurable. John Dryden too believes that drama can achieve both instruction and pleasure.
“a just and lively image of human nature, representing its passions and humors, and the changes of fortune to which it is subject, for the delight and instruction of mankind”, (John Dyrden).

In order to answer the questions relating to learning and pleasure and if they can consequently lead to each other, it is important to identify what gives people pleasure. According to Aristotle the audience experience pleasure through “Catharsis”/”Katharsis” which is a dramatic term that refers to the purgation of emotions or an emotional climax that evokes the feelings of pity and fear in the audience. For example, in a tragedy the audience is relieved at the end because they detach themselves from the hero’s misfortune that they greatly identified with throughout the play. There is a certain pleasure that comes with the knowledge that you can actually detach yourself from the hero’s misfortunate situation so this could be an example of drama that amuses you through instruction and learning from the hero’s fault or basically making things clearer thus making the message more deep.

We also need to know what does drama really reflect and if what it reflects teaches people or not. Drama reflects the beliefs, issues and events of societies past and present. The subjects for theatrical representations include family, hard work, children, social struggles, war, disasters, the market…etc. These subjects come from the reality around us which when seen in front of our eyes in a theatrical work enlightens the audience and identifies right from wrong actions. The aim behind these representations is not only to explain and show the world as we see it but also to change it, which can force us as human beings to change in order to do that. So as a result we had instruction. The distinction that was created between learning and amusement is not set by an unbreakable rule; in fact it wasn’t always there and shall not continue to be. According to Brecht, knowledge is just a product. It is obtained in order to be resold.

One should understand that in the 16th century profit is greatly linked to values of a contemporary class of educated people while pleasure is linked to the values of the traditional aristocracy. If indeed enjoyment of learning depends on class situation then it is crucial to know what artistic appreciation depends on. Artistic appreciation can depend on one’s political stance for example. Artistic appreciation for a lot of people seems to be a product of extreme factors, like specific pressures, manipulations, popularity, exposure of a certain art, the like to follow the current going style, cultural bias and many other factors. I can’t deny that for a few it is due to a real desire to learn from art and appreciate it but unfortunately they are a minority. Some people actually do have a sense of like and dislike which they utilize when they are choosing art for the sake of their own pleasure. This is unfortunately missing or very weak in a lot of people and instead replaced by the factors I mentioned above. Prominence, taste and appreciation in art is totally subjective. It is almost impossible to establish a rule or an objective standard or norm to judge artistic greatness. Of course the consensus of critics is considered the common criteria. Therefore, the market is usually what determines what is great and what is not. It is apparent that there will never exist a work of a certain artist that everyone would like because the factors influencing their likes are very diverse.

Therefore, enjoyment of learning greatly depends on the class situation. There are at least two social groups. The conflict between the ability to entertain and instructive values in a piece of drama is constantly sharpened. The increase in instructive value means an immediate decrease in ability to entertain. Moreover, affecting the audience’s emotions directly means less chance there is of instruction. Conversely, the more instruction there is, the less artistic enjoyment you get.
Moreover, it depends of the age group you are targeting and the needs of this group. The older audience tends to want to be enlightened and educated while the younger audience wants to be entertained. Therefore, it all depends on the needs of the audience putting in mind their social class and age group.

Now we find an increasingly clear conflict between entertainment and instruction especially when the artistic factors were negatively affected by the instructive factors. This proves that sometimes instruction and entertainment fail to exist at the same time unless they succeed in not conflicting with one another. The rise of Expressionism benefited the theatre by enriching its means of expression but it failed to see the world as an object of human activity thus losing its instructive significance.

John Dryden was able to clarify why the two ends of drama should be well distinguished and how they are equally important. He says that the main end of the poet should be to please because at the end this is what establishes his reputation, which is very important to the welfare of the poet himself. The great end of the poet though is to instruct and that pleasure is only a tool to reach this instruction. He gives primacy to the ability to delight and gives instruction the second place because poetry’s ability to instruct is only there as long as it delights. He differentiates between the ends of tragedy and comedy by saying that the end of tragedy is instruction and the principal end of comedy is delight and that it is debatable if instruction should take part in the end of comedy at all. Comedy may instruct but it’s not the main purpose. He thinks that comedy should not be based on anything that is serious or has any moral principle. To conclude, Dryden believes that instruction comes unconsciously and that it comes through one’s admiration of what’s happening on stage (plot).

Another argument could support the opposite of what Dryden concluded. If a good dramatic piece was able to reach instruction, then pleasure is the thing that comes unconsciously because for many people education, instruction and the feeling that something new has been revealed to them brings them happiness. Therefore, the end of instruction should be happiness and happiness is nothing but another name for pleasure. Therefore, the end of instruction should be pleasure. This proves that pleasure and instruction are related and associated to one another because they automatically and unconsciously lead to each other thus inseparable.

Horace’s usage of poetry to “educate and delight” as he puts it, is to highlight the concept of the power of poetry on human thought and conduct. It is very important to be aware of the power of poetry and understand its significance. He wanted to focus on the likeability of poetry to positively influence human thought and conduct. Therefore, linking pleasure and learning together as the aim of a poet is a very smart way to achieve that. Horace’s idea to purposely utilize poetry in a didactic way identifies the need for poetry to be delightful and entertaining while simultaneously instructive and useful. Actually Horace was able to accomplish something more and bigger than that because merging the two ideas of education and entertainment/pleasure in a way founds a new vision of teaching.

Main Sources:

“Bertolt Brecht: The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre.” Dramatic Theory
and Criticism: Greeks to Grotowski. United States of America. Holt, Rinehart & Winston,inc. 1974.

“Horace: The Art of Poetry”. Dramatic Theory and Criticism: Greeks to
Grotowski. United States of America. Holt, Rinehart & Winston,inc. 1974.


“Artistotle: Poetics”. Dramatic Theory and Criticism: Greeks to Grotowski.
United States of America. Holt, Rinehart & Winston,inc. 1974.

“Denis Diderot: Encyclopedia”. Dramatic Theory and Criticism: Greeks to
Grotowski. United States of America. Holt, Rinehart & Winston,inc. 1974.

“John Dryden: An Essay of Dramartic Poesy”. Dramatic Theory and Criticism:
Greeks to Grotowski. United States of America. Holt, Rinehart & Winston,inc. 1974.

“Juilis Caesar Scaliger: Poetics”. Dramatic Theory and Criticism: Greeks to
Grotowski. United States of America. Holt, Rinehart & Winston,inc. 1974.

“Lodovico Castelvetro: On Aristotle’s Poetics”. Dramatic Theory and Criticism:
Greeks to Grotowski. United States of America. Holt, Rinehart & Winston,inc. 1974.

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