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Continuing on the Poetics from around 335 BCE, on the structure of plot (every element must be essential!), the moral status of the heroes, Homeric poetry, the difference between tragedy and history, and how Aristotle's formula may or may not apply to modern media.
Wes maintains that tragedy does offer a unique, psychologically central benefit to us: Hanna Segal's "A Psycho-Analytical Approach to Aesthetics" (1947) describes how tragedy mimics the structure of human maturation, i.e., we lose the external trappings of parental care in the process of gaining internal autonomy, and engaging with this theatrical imitation feels good. So if this is so relieving, such a central aesthetic experience, we should see frequent use of it throughout history. Since modern entertainment doesn't seem to offer a lot of this (even our darker works don't tend to use quite this structure), this position entails that we (as a culture) have somehow lost touch with this central part of ourselves.
Alternately, maybe Aristotle's prescription is just unnecessarily narrow and elitist, and there are many ways to achieve catharsis through art that shows bad things happening, from the ubiquitous dystopian fiction that the kids love nowadays to the many tales of people being eaten by their bad actions (e.g., Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Parasite, Trainspotting), to the simple tragedy of people being beaten down by social structures, natural disasters, the malice of other men, or just bad luck. And however bad things get in these kinds of fictions, audiences tend to like when there is some sort of redemption or triumph or overcoming of the horrible things, some silver lining to the black cloud. Leaving things totally bleak is still considered edgy, perhaps appreciable only from the standpoint of dark comedy, which offers its own sort of catharsis.
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End song: "Structure of a Tragedy" written by Mark Lint specifically for this episode. Read about it.
Guthrie A Crull says
I feel like jurasic park fits the Aristotelian criterion for tragedy. All the characters are phds and wealthy, they have a very high minded ambition that not only goes terribly wrong but innocent life is lost and the main old mans vision causes loss pretty well for everyone involved.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Can you share the Psycho-Analytical Approach to Aesthetics (1947) paper?
Mark Linsenmayer says
It wasn’t on the web; I asked Wes about it…
Wes Alwan says
Frank Levi says
That was really interesting Wes, thanks for posting it! I’m in the middle of the (long) process of re-reading Proust right now and this was very helpful.
Awesome! Thanks a bunch guys, I really enjoy your podcast!