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ColoradoGuy
01-16-2007, 04:25 AM
Should the highest goal of writers be to write works that in some fashion imitate life?

Do works that construct a whole new world (in every sense of the word) only make sense to the extent they refer back to familiar experiences?

Or is all this merely semantic quibbling (with apologies to Robeiae and his friend Wittgenstein)?

robeiae
01-16-2007, 04:39 AM
Mimesis?

Mimes is annoying.

ColoradoGuy
01-16-2007, 04:49 AM
Mimes is annoying.
Because they never talk? Or because they've got those white faces?

greatfish
01-16-2007, 05:12 AM
I think most writers are attempting to capture their generation, but they can go about it in different ways. Some artists believe you have to stay as true to the world as possible to capture real life, while others feel you can only capture the true nature of the world by taking vast liberties with its depiction. So to answer your question, I think most writers are trying to create some representation from their own lives, but they don't necessarily have to take a realist approach in order to do it.

ColoradoGuy
01-16-2007, 05:15 AM
I think most writers are attempting to capture their generation, but they can go about it in different ways. Some artists believe you have to stay as true to the world as possible to capture real life, while others feel you can only capture the true nature of the world by taking vast liberties with its depiction. So to answer your question, I think most writers are trying to create some representation from their own lives, but they don't necessarily have to take a realist approach in order to do it.
So that would be mimesis -- yes?

sunandshadow
01-16-2007, 05:23 AM
Rather than referring to actual mimicry or literalness, I think mimesis usually refers to transmitting memes, which are kin of abstract units of knowledge: patterns of action, ethical systems, etc.

Medievalist
01-16-2007, 06:43 AM
No; mimesis means imitation; memes are quite other.

sunandshadow
01-16-2007, 11:05 PM
No; mimesis means imitation; memes are quite other.

The term meme comes from 'mimeme', a unit of imitation. A meme is that information which is conveyed through imitation.

Medievalist
01-17-2007, 12:00 AM
The term meme comes from 'mimeme', a unit of imitation. A meme is that information which is conveyed through imitation.

No kidding--the words are cognate. However, your initial response:


Rather than referring to actual mimicry or literalness, I think mimesis usually refers to transmitting memes, which are kin of abstract units of knowledge: patterns of action, ethical systems, etc.

Is simply inaccurate. Mimesis doesn't refer to the transmitting of memes; the word meme isn't even fifty years old--and its primary use is in the field of biology. Only in the last ten years has meme been used as a cultural reference.

Mimesis does mean imitation, both in terms of the Aristotelian and the Platonic understanding of life and art, that is, it is quite literally μίμησις.

MacAllister
01-17-2007, 12:08 AM
Ummm...pretty much any translation of Aristotle at all is very, very clear about this, Sunandshadow. This is old and well established lit crit stuff.

In fact, it's sort of freshman lit stuff.

sunandshadow
01-17-2007, 02:54 AM
Actually memes are not primarily used in the field of biology, they are largely irrelevant to biology - memes have been used in a social psychology context almost every time I have seen the word used. Maybe I was mistaken in assuming ColoradoGuy meant the modern literary theory or mimesis (which is less than 50 years old, just like the word meme) and not the ancient Greek meaning of the word? I read _The Meme Machine_ and a few books on mimesis in pretend play and fiction. From reading them, my impression was that the important aspect was mimesis as a type of teaching/learning/communication of concepts, and that the older more literal sense of the word was considered misleading/irrelevant in modern literary theory, because fiction is now realized to not be about representing reality in any sort of literal way.

MacAllister
01-17-2007, 03:02 AM
my impression was that the important aspect was mimesis as a type of teaching/learning/communication of concepts, and that the older more literal sense of the word was considered misleading/irrelevant in modern literary theory, because fiction is now realized to not be about representing reality in any sort of literal way.
Heh. Gonna be really, really fun teaching Aristotle and Plato without talking about mimesis...

Umm, no. Not that I've heard from anyone doing any serious critical theory.

Medievalist
01-17-2007, 03:10 AM
I am genuinely trying to be calm and patient, but you know, rank idiocy does kinda wear me down.

First, when I say that meme is primarily still used in biology, I'm not kidding.

There are 1200 instances of the word meme in the BNC, that is, in the single largest cross subject lexic corpora. All but 378 are in the fields of biology and genetics.

Secondly, mimesis is a transliteration of the Greek μίμησις, and it's a core concept in literary theory going back to Aristotle and Plato, and that's why it's used in discussions of contemporary critical theory.

Finally, mimesis first entered English as a term in rhetoric and literary theory in Sherry's Treatise on Schemes and Tropes, where it's used exactly as I and MacAllister and ColoradoGuy and pretty much every other marginally clued in humanist uses it, to wit: "Mimisis, that is a following eyther of the wordes or manoures whereby we expresse not onlye the wordes of the person, but also the gesture." That's from 1570, it's based very much on an understanding of Plato and Aristotle. Mimesis means imitation.

Here's another critical stance on mimesis, from my much-loved Philip Sidney:


Poesie therefore is an arte of imitation, for so Aristotle termeth it in the word Memesis, that is to say, a representing, counterfetting, or figuring foorth: to speake metaphorically.

And that is from 1586.

ColoradoGuy
01-17-2007, 03:27 AM
Maybe I was mistaken in assuming ColoradoGuy meant the modern literary theory or mimesis (which is less than 50 years old, just like the word meme) and not the ancient Greek meaning of the word?
Sorry if I was too oblique. I meant mimesis as Mac and Medievalist say -- Aristotle and following.
I read _The Meme Machine_ and a few books on mimesis in pretend play and fiction. From reading them, my impression was that the important aspect was mimesis as a type of teaching/learning/communication of concepts, and that the older more literal sense of the word was considered misleading/irrelevant in modern literary theory, because fiction is now realized to not be about representing reality in any sort of literal way.
Well, that's sort of the point of the thread. Because I really disagree with your last point, which you phrase in the passive voice. Who are these people who now realize fiction not to be about representing "reality in any sort of literal way"? I think often it is.

As far as older, outmoded critics go, I still think the best book about this (excluding Aristotle's Poetics), is Auerbach's classic Mimesis. Its only about fifty years old. If he's not highly regarded these days, I'd love to hear about who thinks so and why.

Oh, and memes have nothing to do with mimesis except etymology.

Medievalist
01-17-2007, 12:39 PM
As far as older, outmoded critics go, I still think the best book about this (excluding Aristotle's Poetics), is Auerbach's classic Mimesis. Its only about fifty years old. If he's not highly regarded these days, I'd love to hear about who thinks so and why.

I like Auerbach, I do, but I'm still keeping Sidney close to my heart.

robeiae
01-17-2007, 04:19 PM
Here is a good summary of the concept:

http://www.chicagoschoolmediatheory.net/glossary2004/mimesis.htm

Mimesis means imitation, sure. And there's a discussion to be had here, I think. And CG's apology notwithstanding, there are also a number of potential snares.

Plato and Aristotle were obviously at odds over this concept. But the concept goes well beyond literary theory for Plato. While it is, indeed, central to the epistemology of both thinkers, it is also a core feature of Plato's metaphysics. And, it informs his political theory, as well.

In that respect, Plato's use of term is at once more extensive, but also more mundane and less relevant to this discussion, I think.

Aristotle, on the other hand...(now would be a good time for a Hobbes quote, but I'll spare you all)

ColoradoGuy
01-17-2007, 06:13 PM
now would be a good time for a Hobbes quote, but I'll spare you all
So Hobbes wrote fiction? I knew he was just making up stories! Of course, if he was imitating reality, then that would be okay, I suppose.

robeiae
01-17-2007, 07:56 PM
Fine.

"Words are wise men's counters, they do but reckon by them: but they are the money of fools, that value them by the authority of an Aristotle, a Cicero, or a Thomas, or any other doctor whatsoever, if but a man."

ColoradoGuy
02-09-2007, 08:54 AM
I’ve always been intrigued by another, more slippery notion than mimesis – that of a simulacrum, writing as a stylized representation of reality, not an imitation of reality. The text, in effect, presents a copy for which there is no true original. The signifier becomes more important than the signified.

“The simulacrum is never that which conceals truth – it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.” (Jean Baudrillard)

Lyra Jean
02-09-2007, 10:17 AM
I think most writers are attempting to capture their generation, but they can go about it in different ways. Some artists believe you have to stay as true to the world as possible to capture real life, while others feel you can only capture the true nature of the world by taking vast liberties with its depiction. So to answer your question, I think most writers are trying to create some representation from their own lives, but they don't necessarily have to take a realist approach in order to do it.

Isn't that like the difference between a realist painter and an abstract painter?

That's what came to mind as I read your post.