Friday, May 22, 2015

One Death Lessens Us All

Some of my readers aren't going to like what I have to say in the following piece. I don't care. As I find myself growing into an old man, I have less tolerance for those who advocate wanton murder and mayhem -- even if it comes from the authorities. Especially if it comes from the authorities. We should not tolerate the taking of life either on our streets or on the battlefield of some trumped-up banker's war. It's not exactly a progressive notion and I find it antithetical to most conservative views. Live by the sword, die by the sword. Anyway...

There are many, both conservative and liberal, who think mass government-led executions could not happen in a "civilized" society. Well, it has happened and not in the distant past. It has happened in Africa, the Middle East, and in Asia. In World War II, it happened over multiple parts of the globe. Americans tend to believe it could not happen on their soil. Why not? All it takes is brute stupidity and a callous disregard towards life, both of which seem to be liberally bred in the good old USA.

There was a recent, well-publicized shoot-out between police and motorcycle gang members down in Waco, Texas. Some conservative web sites I visit applauded the police actions, citing justification for shooting and killing some nine gang members while no police were injured at all. One thing that was disturbing about the conservative comments were that it was generally agreed that the gang members deserved a summary execution without the assistance of a trial. Additionally, literally, hundreds of people were arrested -- people who had nothing to do with the incident at all. The entire incident sounded more like an ambush than a police action. For those who applauded the killing of these motorcycle gang members and the subsequent blanket arrest strategy, I'd like to remind them that the law of the land is supposed to work the same for everybody. Summary executions performed by police forces should never be tolerated.

Armed, dangerous, & out of control.
When I think of our out-of-control government, I usually think of the liberal-minded socialists; I think of Barack Obama, and Chuck Shumer, and Hillary Clinton (remember the bloodbath at Waco), and their mind-numbed zombie followers screaming to remove firearms from the hands of ordinary citizens. Yet, this recent incident down in Waco brought out plenty of bloodthirsty conservatives hiding behind pro-police and law and order philosophies. Hey, ladies and gents, murder is murder, whether the police commit it or whether it's committed by a citizen. It's scary to see the approved murder of anybody, much less nine individuals in blue jeans and riding motorcycles.

Pol Pot - seems pleasant enough.
Pol Pot was an official murderer as well, no less than any policeman or government official. He was a Cambodian Communist revolutionary who led the Khmer Rouge from 1963 until his death in 1998. From 1963 to 1981, he served as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. From 1976 to 1979, he also served as the prime minister of Democratic Kampuchea. Pol Pot became leader of Cambodia on April 17, 1975, and his rule was a dictatorship. During his time in power he imposed agrarian socialism, forcing urban dwellers to relocate to the countryside to work in collective farms and forced labor projects. The combined effects of executions, forced labor, malnutrition, and poor medical care caused the deaths of approximately 25 percent of the Cambodian population. In all, an estimated 1 to 3 million people (out of a population of slightly over 8 million) died due to the policies of his three-year premiership.

In 1979, after the Cambodian–Vietnamese War, Pol Pot fled to the jungles of southwest Cambodia, and the Khmer Rouge government collapsed. From 1979 to 1997, he and a remnant of the old Khmer Rouge operated near the border of Cambodia and Thailand, where they clung to power, with nominal United Nations recognition as the rightful government of Cambodia. Pol Pot died in 1998 while under house arrest by the Ta Mok faction of the Khmer Rouge. Since his death, rumors that he was poisoned have persisted.

Old Pol Pot was responsible for the deaths of millions of people. His police forces carried out those executions, choosing their victims from the educated population of Cambodia.

How do you feel about killing American citizens?
Do you honestly think it couldn't happen here? If we allow our police forces to ambush and execute individuals without trial, without due process, isn't that taking the same path that Pol Pot took? If the government system allows it, sooner or later it will happen. It has happened at Waco before and in other places and times in American history. The truth of these actions is most always swept under the rug. I expect no less from the recent shoot-out in Waco. I suppose the lesson is that barbarians can be either liberal or conservative.

Better we all carry firearms and protect ourselves than to allow a police state to develop where citizens can be summarily executed on the streets. Fight on your feet or die on your knees.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The American mainstream media is filled to the brim with liars, frauds, partisans, cheats, plagiarists, and those who tolerate, defend and enable all of them. There is no American institution — not the NFL, not the tobacco companies, not any corporation or enterprise regularly targeted by the media — that engages in anywhere near the amount of fraud and dishonesty that serially oozes from Our Media Overlords. -- John Nolte

Monday, May 18, 2015

Aristotle's Poetics

Science tells us a great deal about how the world works, yet there is a vast ocean of human experience that science cannot begin to explain. And that is probably why we have the liberal arts. Drama, art, and literature, as well as the study of philosophy, explain human nature far better than science. So, consider drama in all its varied forms as the study of human nature.

Aristotle's Poetics is about the art of drama as it pertains to plays performed by actors in the presence of an audience. Aristotle's thoughts on the subject have proven to adhere not only to the stage through the centuries, but also to new performing arts media as well, such as movies and television. To some extent, also, the dramatic principles of Aristotle's Poetics can be applied to any fictional story.

To the student of drama, it is clear that the principles and structure of drama form an unbroken chain from the crudest mythological pantomime of primitive man down to the severest problems entertained by the modern stage. Yet, caution should be applied in the study of drama for it cannot be automatically assumed that what goes for drama according to Aristotle's Poetics also readily applies to novels and short stories, or for that matter to mythology.

With myth, though, it has to be decided to what extent it relates to oral tale, to written fiction and to drama. The answer is not always obvious.

Myths of central and cosmological nature were most likely orally transmitted, long before they were written down, and although they may have transformed greatly in that process from mouth to pen, they were certainly given their plot and structure already well before. As oral tales, they need to be much closer to the enacted drama than a written story must, or they would most likely have been forgotten through the generations. Also, it is commonplace in cultures past and present, to enact their central myths - if not in pantomime, so in performances with more or less of a ritual structure.

All the world is but a stage...
But the most firm indication of their dramatic nature is the structure of all those myths remaining with us, either in documents only, or in practice as well. A vast majority have clear signs of the same drama structure as can be found in most plays of the world, as well as in Aristotle's Poetics, and other literature on the construction of the drama. Definitely, the principles of drama are present in myths, at least to the extent that those principles are meaningful to apply to them.

In the case of drama, Aristotle's Poetics have set the standard to the extent that there has not been, at least in the western world, any theory of drama, or discussion of its structure and inner workings, without reference to Aristotle - in all periods when the Poetics was known. It is adequate to regard all western theory of drama as comments on Aristotle's Poetics.

In the Roman empire, on the stage of the Renaissance, through to the framework according to which every Hollywood movie is constructed, the dramatic rules expressed by Aristotle's Poetics are still obeyed. Why? Because they all deal with the same cause and effect sequences seen in the daily lives of men and women.

Aristotle's theories have never really been questioned, at least not dismissed, but some of the later interpretations of them have. When Aristotle and his Poetics can be doubted, this is usually because of a questionable later rephrasing of them, often in such a way that his words have been misinterpreted to be more categorical, more decisive, than they really are. Therefore, Aristotle has been questioned mainly when his rules of drama have been regarded as more restrictive than he himself would have them. The most significant example of which is in the doctrine of the unity of time and place - the idea that a drama should only encompass the time span it would take to enact it, and occupy only the space that would fit onto a stage.

Nonetheless, the influence of Aristotle's Poetics still has its gaps - one being the fact that it was unknown to the Christian Era of European thought, with minor exceptions, until the very end of the 15th century, when in 1498 the Giorgio Valla Latin translation of Aristotle's Poetics was printed in Venice. Several parts of the Poetics are missing, but what we have is enough for a reliable understanding of Aristotle's perspectives on drama and its principles.

It is clear that Aristotle's Poetics is written by someone who takes great delight in drama, but a playwright Aristotle is not. He knows, though, what it takes to write convincingly - the poet must have as much of it as possible "before his own eyes," in his own vivid imagination. To persuade the spectators of the play, it needs to be both written and enacted "under the influence of passion," since one needs to be agitated oneself, to agitate others, and so forth. Thereby Aristotle concludes that "poetry is the province either of one who is naturally clever, or of one who is insane."

The very basis of Aristotle's definitions of drama and "how fables must be composed," is what he regards as its root: imitation (mimesis in Greek). Any kind of poetry, actually any art, is a form of imitation - what sets the art forms apart is merely with what means the imitations are made. Mankind imitates from childhood on, Aristotle states in his Poetics, and we take delight in it - contrary to the animals.

Aristotle states that mimesis is done primarily as a way of learning, of acquiring necessary knowledge and skills. We learn according to our individual stature: "men of a more venerable character imitated beautiful actions, and the actions of such men; but the more ignoble imitated the actions of depraved characters." This driving force of imitation is mighty, since learning "is not only most delightful to philosophers, but in like manner to other persons, though they partake of it but in a small degree." Even things upsetting or painful, "such as the forms of the most contemptible animals, and dead bodies," men enjoy imitating - in pictures or other ways - thereby learning about them.

Narrowing things down to the imitation made in poetry, in the construction of fables, Aristotle sees the major forms being the epic, the tragedy, the comedy, the choric hymn (dithyrambic poetry), and that accompanied by the flute and lyre, all being imitations but differing in three aspects: the means by which they imitate, the objects they imitate and the manner in which they do it. The epic is alone in imitating merely by words, whereas what fits on the stage imitates mainly by action.

For the drama, what is being done is absolutely essential, for which Aristotle takes an etymological support in his Poetics, comparing the word drama with the Dorian word dran, which means "to make." The word "fable" Aristotle defines as "the composition of incidents."

Now, after simply stating that "imitators imitate those who do something," Aristotle finds a choice to be made as to whom to imitate, and this is a question of vice and virtue, where there are but three possible choices according to the Poetics: "those who are better than we are, or those who are worse, or such as are like ourselves." Here is where Aristotle sees the major difference between tragedy and comedy - the former imitating the better, and the latter imitating the worse.

Comedy, which Aristotle regards as the lesser of the two, portrays the ridiculous, and not vices which terrify or disgust, since it is necessary with "a portion of turpitude," but not to the extent that serious damage is done or pain induced. That would be better fit for the tragedy. Aristotle's Poetics does not explore the reason for the necessity of this limitation of comedy, but certainly a play not conforming to it would find the audience hesitant to laugh.

As for tragedy, Aristotle states in that it is "an imitation of a worthy or illustrious and perfect action, possessing magnitude, in pleasing language." It must be acted, not narrated, "through pity and fear effecting a purification from such like possessions." The Poetics stresses that the imitation taking place in tragedy is actually not of the noble men portrayed, but of what deeds they do. The men have certain characters, which are according to their manners, but what lightens or darkens their emotions is none other than their actions, what happens to them.

The play must reach an end, "the greatest of all things," and in doing so it "embraces manners on account of actions." A tragedy can do without manners, although it is questionable how well received it will be, but without action not. Manners are defined as those elements which make up what we recognize as a person's character, and it is essential that the person acts and speaks according to his character all through the play, while sentiment is how the one speaking explains his meaning. By these two a person is described, but it is from his actions that his quality is derived.

So, what causes the actions? In the Poetics, Aristotle sees two causes: sentiments and moral habit, "and through these actions all men obtain or fail of the object of their wishes."

Aristotle concludes that a tragedy has six parts, or rather ingredients that make up its quality: fable, manners, diction, sentiment, spectacle and music. Of these, the fable is the principal part, "the soul of tragedy," followed by the manners, then the sentiments, to explain "what is inherent in the subject," then diction putting it all into words. Music is "the greatest of the embellishments," but to Aristotle the spectacle of scenic decorations and effects is the least important to the drama and its power.

The Poetics states that the fable (the combination of incidents which are the action of the play) should be cohesive and aim toward telling one story, which is not to say it has to be about only one person, since characters are not in the center of the tragedy, but action itself is. So, one action means what we would call one complete story, so arranged in its transactions, "that any one of them being transposed, or taken away, the whole would become different." A tragedy lacking in this respect, consisting of many fables instead of just one, Aristotle calls an epic system.

In the Poetics, this unity of action contains a beginning, a middle and an end.

Aristotle states that the chain of events has to be of such nature as "might have happened," either being possible in the sense of probability or necessary because of what occurred before. Anything absurd can only exist outside of the drama, what is included in it must be believable, which is something achieved not by probability alone, "for it is probable that many things may take place contrary to probability." Aristotle even recommends things impossible but probable, before those possible but improbable. What takes place should have nothing irrational about it, but if this is unavoidable, the Poetics suggests that such events should have taken place outside of the drama enacted.

In this, Aristotle's Poetics warns that actual history is no guarantee, but rather a limitation risking to diminish the beauty and value of the tragedy, for "poetry speaks more of universals, but history of particulars." Still, Aristotle admits that tragedy tends to make use of actual events and persons, to make the fable more credible, since what has happened must be possible, but what has not would seem unlikely to ever happen. There is yet reason not to adhere too closely to historic events, since it is by no means certain that all of the audience is familiar with the facts. The poet had better make use of his trade, imitation, and put the story together so that it seems possible, be it with or without actual events.

Aristotle recommends that the writer should avoid making his plot episodic, where it is "neither probable nor necessary that the episodes follow each other." To Aristotle, this is merely a sign of bad poets, "through their own want of ability." The good poet, on the contrary, knows to make things happen in such a way as not to seem like pure chance, but on account of each other. Then, the events will "possess more of the marvelous," which is also the case if events out of fortune are such that they still give the impression of design, of things happening as they should.

To Aristotle, the most beautiful tragedy needs to be complex, and "imitative of fearful and piteous actions." Therefore, it is no good to have the play make worthy men go from prosperity to adversity since this is simply impious, nor to have depraved characters go from adversity to prosperity, which evokes neither fear nor pity, and much the same goes for a depraved man going from prosperity to adversity, though morally pleasing. Pity, says Aristotle in the Poetics, "is excited for one who does not deserve to be unfortunate; but fear, for one who resembles oneself." What remains is a person neither excelling in virtue nor being particularly vicious, who goes through a change of circumstances due to some error. This change should be from prosperity to adversity, not the opposite, to evoke pity. For the same reason, tragic events should not take place between two enemies, but rather between friends or relatives, like when a brother kills a brother, or a son his mother.

The turn of events that Aristotle's Poetics favors the most is when a terrible action is interrupted before completion, such as when someone discovers the mistake about to be made, and avoids it. Then the drama is accomplished with no damage. Next to best is when a deed is done in ignorance, because it is without wickedness, "and the discovery excites horror." The worst, then, is where someone intends to knowingly make a vicious deed, but does not commit it - which is wicked, yet not tragical, "because it is void of pathos."

As for the length of the play, Aristotle's Poetics recommends something that can be easily seen in its entirety and, one that can easily be remembered.

The time of the enactment of the play itself, certainly significantly shorter, even, than the limited time Aristotle's Poetics allows for its fable, he divides into the following parts: prologue, episode, exode, and chorus, the last one divided into parados (entry of the chorus) and stasimon (chorus fixed on stage). The first three, pretty much the beginning, middle and end discussed above, are intervened by the chorus. Another division of the tragedy made in Aristotle's Poetics, is that of complication and development, the first of which is from the beginning until the moment where there is a "transition to good fortune," and the second is from this point to the end.

Additionally, a drama should not occupy more space than what can realistically be arranged on a stage. This rule is not present in Aristotle's Poetics, but invented in the 16th century by Lodovico Castelvetro, the Italian translator of The Poetics, and by the French dramatist Jean de la Taille.

Aristotle's Poetics cites different conditions for the epic. Where it is essential for the tragedy to be enacted, the epic poem is a narration, following different laws from that of the drama. It is not necessary with the unity of action presented above, but there should be a unity of time, in such a way as "of such things as have happened in that time." What happens, though, is not tending toward any single ending. The epic story requires revolutions and discoveries, as much as tragedy does, and sentiments and a good diction as well. According to Aristotle's Poetics, the main difference between the two is that tragedy cannot imitate several actions taking place at the same time, which the epic, being a narration, has no problem doing.

At the same time as the epic can contain several possible tragedies, the tragedy does in no way serve as material for an epic. Curiously, Aristotle's Poetics states that "tragedy has every thing which the epic possesses," but the reverse is not the case. Raising the question of which imitation is the more excellent, the epic or tragic, Aristotle concludes that tragedy, "being crowded into a narrower compass," becomes more pleasing, it contains more unity, and can therefore attain its end "in a greater degree." The end being the greatest of all things, tragedy -- with its superior ending -- must be the superior form of imitation.