At next week’s Cardiff Philosophy Cafe on Tuesday 20 January, Mike Picardie introduces us to Aristotle’s seminal work Poetics, its account of what gives value to dramatic art, and asks whether this account still holds for modernist theatre

Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a ...
Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek bronze original by Lysippos from 330 BC; the alabaster mantle is a modern addition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Aristotle’s Poetics is about classical Greek aesthetics applied broadly to poeisis – creativity as it is manifested in in music, painting, poetry, drama, even in the writing of scientific accounts in biology. To be aesthetically satisfying the work of art or science has to observe the rules of mimesis and anagnorisis – that is, it must represent nature or history in a way which is accurate, and also creates recognition, thus producing pleasure as a result of the skill and accuracy manifested by a work. But is this a necessary feature of any work of art, or is it simply a feature of ancient Greek (and subsequently, Western European) aesthetic values that is projected onto aesthetic experience? Mike will look at tragic drama as an example of Aristotle’s vision of aesthetics, and ask whether modern drama places his assessment in question.

On Aristotle’s account, tragedy as the highest manifestation of dramatic art should feature peripeteia (reversal), subjecting virtuous people to pathos (suffering), leading to catharsis (purging) of eleos (pity) and phrike or phobos (terror). But the greatest modern drama – say Waiting for Godot – arguably represents the pity and terror of a pleasurably poetic fracturing of meaning and we experience catharsis through watching cruelty and participating in humour. Does Aristotle’s account of art still speak to us today?

We will as usual be in the Cafe Bar at The Gate, from 8.00pm. Hope to see you there.

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