In The Paltos Ideal State The There Is No Place For Poets & Poetry
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Crucial indeed is the struggle, more crucial than we think – the choice that makes us good or bad – to keep faithful to righteousness and virtue in the face of temptation, be it of fame or money or power, or of poetry- yes, even of poetry
Platos theories of love and beauty have inspired thousands of poets, nevertheless the critics must not ignore Platos continual attacks on poetry, especially in his final and complete exclusion on of poets his great ÐRepublic X. Despite the fact that he often quotes poetry with obvious approval, in the ÐRepublic X he strongly condemns poetry, both for its confusing of the intellect and for its corrupting of the emotions
ÐGood in Platos terms which is bonded to what is Ðjust is closely allied with pure reason, and therefore the Ðemotional part of the state, or of the man, must be Ðpurified or eliminated if the state or the person is to be as Ðgood as possible. In the end, what is Ðgood is beyond this material world: for the best we can do is only a hopeful reach towards the perfect goodness that exists in the changeless, eternal world of the forms that lies beyond our material existence. What Plato really wants to ask is the question of whether the pleasure produced by poetry is good for us. Plato finds poetry unsuitable as a vehicle for understanding, and thus as a means to approach or insure what is Ðgood or Ðjust of many reasons. The poet write not through understanding or reason but by inspiration. Poetry teaches the wrong stuff: for instance, Ðgod is by definition all that is Ðgood, thus the poets clearly do not represent the gods as they really are. Poets not only lie, says Plato, but Ðlie in an ugly fashion. Plato also thinks that poetry arouses emotions in a way that is not in accord with reason, for example poetry such as that in tragedy often has music, and we all know how irrationally affecting music can be.
As mentioned previously, in ÐBook X, Plato revisits the question of poetry in more detail, with astonishing results: for he finds poetry unacceptable altogether in his ideal Republic, and feels compelled to exclude poetry altogether. Poetry, as an imitation of a material world that already imitates the “really real”, is at a second remove from the truth, it does not teach us anything: no one is better governed, or knows more about generalship, because of a certain poet. Poets in general conveys no practical or theoretical information. Plato viewed poetry and rhetoric with suspicion and banned poetry from his Utopian Republic because it gives no truth of its own, stirs up the emotions, and thereby blinds mankind to the real truth.
Plato argues that poetry is not only ignorant, but also dangerous, because the spell of the rhythm and song is so convincing that this description, which in fact holds no truth but is simply an ignorant representation, seems like the truth itself. He says that poetry is ignorant and dangerous to the soul, since it produces the wrong emotions, and interferes with the striving towards pure reason that is the proper conduct of the Ðgood soul. For Plato, the experience of pity is directly pleasurable, and inappropriately so in the context of tragedy.
For Plato the Republic was more Ðreal then any state actually in existence, and in that state of being he banishes all kinds of imaginative poetry Ð- dramatic, lyric, epic. Platos refusal to accept anything less then absolute knowledge prevents any admission that beautiful language can lead to virtue. He also condemns his own dialogs to be seen as repositories of beauty. According to Plato everything must primarily contain the truth.
Platos theory of poetry is far more abstract and less applicable to the analysis of poetry than the one of Aristotle, however Plato never considers poetry by itself. He is always pressing towards some other conclusions, generally the ignorance of the rhapsodes or the education of the youth.. It is a bit ironical that Aristotle, Platos most famous student, was the first theorist to defend literature and poetry in his writing ÐPoetics.
Some contemporary approaches would consider that Plato has some reservation about art but would limit Platos attack to the abuse of art and, in particular realistic art. Others, considering that the Republic is an ideal state, a kind of utopia, and poetry dealing with the emotions of real and fallible men Plato dismissed art lest the portrayal of reality shatter the ideal like a grubby finger destroys a soap bubble. In other words in a perfect state no imperfections are allowed to exist.
Plato intends the Republic to describe a system better then any existing or foreseeable state, but his attack on poetry is not from a political standpoint, it is more from ethical standpoint. If Platos exclusion of the poetry form the ideal state means that it also should be banishes from any other less-then-ideal state. An evil is always an evil. One cannot send away the attack on the poetry in the Republic based on its presenting a perfect state. If a critic is justified in dismissing any part with which he happens to disagree there is no limit to the material he can ignore. The Republic is neither an impossible ideal nor a blueprint for a possible state, its contribution is both to politics and to ethics.
In ancient Greece traditionally, students studied Homer and the other poets. The Ðnew education of Platos Academy emphasized philosophy, rather than inspired poetry, as the correct means towards the truth. Plato argues that the Greek poets, (Homer to Euripides), who until Platos time had been not only the primary but the sole educators of the Greeks, are the enemies of truth and with their poetry spread a mental poison. The deeds expressed in Homer, Plato argues, are hardly things in which the youth should be educated: murder, incest, cruelty, treachery, uncontrolled passions, weakness, cowardice, and malice. He argues that among the Greeks, social prestige is exalted above morality, for immorality is often more rewarded. And it is the poets who are mostly to blame for this. But the problem of poetry is not restricted to its substance. For Plato, even the style of the poets is reproachable: pure narrative, he says, is tolerable, but drama is not, unless the characters in the drama are ethically superior. To him drama is the most dangerous form of literature because the author