English 300 - Fall 2004

This is my class journal for Professor Sexson's Critical Theory class.

11.9.04

Journal #3

TOUCHSTONE

Ok, well the text I chose in the last journal assignment was Crime and Punishment, and the passage I'll pick (it's been a while since I've read this book, so it might not be the best passage) is on page 229 in the edition I've got.

"'People with new ideas, people with the faintest capacity for saying something NEW, are extremely few in number, extraordinarily so, in fact....'"

Not really the most uplifting quote, but it seems to be true. I mean even some of the greatest figures of literature/our time/whatever have not said anything truly new. Take the (worn-out) example of Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet is basically the old folktale of Pyramus and Thisbee. And so on.

Therefore, what is truly great? Is it the capacity to say something completely new? Is it merely the manner in which something, new or old, is presented? Or is it something else entirely?

Though somewhat discouraging, this passage is very true. So as people and as literature majors, what should we be striving for? To express something new? Or to find what already exists buried deep inside? I don't think I'll ever figure that out.

****

PLATO on LITERATURE/POETRY

As we discussed in class, Plato makes literature look like something Untrue, Useless, and Bad.

Untrue. Writers/poets are only representers of what is real. There are 3 categories of "stuff," (Reality, Product, and Representation) and poets create the representation. Therefore they are two levels away from reality. Furthermore, according the Plato, the writer/artist doesn't even really have to understand what it is he's representing as long as he can make it appealing to his audience! Plato demonstrates this with the example that a painter can paint a picture of a man making shoes, but does not have to understand at all how shoes are actually made. It's just a representation, which is based on appearance rather than reality.
So all this literature business is UNTRUE!!!!

Useless. Well, even though you use literature or poetry for entertainment, I guess that doesn't really count if you're Plato. Things that are useful are chairs or beds or REAL knowledge. An incorrect representation of something that isn't even real in the first place is totally useless. Illusions and lies do nothing beneficial for people.

Bad for you. Yes, poetry is actually BAD FOR YOU!!! Especially if it is by Walt Whitman!!! (Sorry, I really don't like him.) Seriously, though, Plato gets psychological on us at the end of Book X, and explains. There are two parts of the mind, the intellectual/rational and the emotional/irrational. The intellectual part is superior, because it prompts man to take the best actions for himself and allows emotions to be his subjects rather than his king (as Plato puts it.) The emotional part is inferior. It makes man a slave to transient feelings (whereas the rational is constant) and leads him to ultimate instability and unhappiness.

Poetry is bad because it stimulates the irrational emotional part of the brain and makes people more susceptible to allowing this part of the brain to take over when tragedy strikes in real life, thus rendering them less efficient and ultimately inferior, disrespectable human beings. This happens through a person's connecting with the story and experiencing actual emotions attatched to the fake illusions presented in literature or poetry. People grow accustomed to feelings that they should, in real life, master and stifle, and weaken themselves, giving in to pleasure and pain.

Aristotle gives a rebuttal to Plato's view of literature, and I'll write about that after I read it.... :)

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