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Plato, Bernard Beckett, poetic imitation

November 26, 2012

Just reading a (really good) introduction to ‘literary theory’ by Mary Klages (Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed) and came across a section on Plato that put me in mind of Bernard Beckett’s Genesis. She is describing his theory of forms… then writes:

“Philosophers use logic and reason to discover truth. Artists, by contrast, evoke emotions by making representations of the world we can perceive through our senses. For Plato, all art was representational; whether in words or colors, poetry or painting, art created pictures of the material perceivable world, which Plato called ‘nature.’ But since ‘nature’ was itself only a reproduction, a copy, of what exsisted in perfect form in the realm of the ideal, any art that reproduced nature was merely copying from a copy. For Plato, an artist’s work was always twice removed from the world of truth and ideal perfection. …Plato worried that art and artists might threaten social order, because they might distract citizens from the pursuit of the eternal truths which were the only unfailing source of goodness. In Book X of the Republic Plato points specifically to poets and poetry in warning that ‘all poetic imitations are ruinous to the understanding of the hearers, unless as an antidote they possess the knowledge of the true nature of the originals.’ Though Plato in other dialogues tries to salvage poetry by urging poets to write about the lives of exemplary statesmen to encourage citizens to emulate their virtues in the Republic he reluctantly but firmly banishes all poets as too dangerous to remain in his ideal society.” (Klages, p.13)

What interests me about this is not just Bernard Beckett’s use (in his YA novel, Genesis) of Plato and of certain of Plato’s arguments and premises (as put forward in the Republic), but how Beckett also writes the text to engage the reader in a double reality in which their perception of what is happening is played upon… these different levels are what I most enjoyed about the novel – that and how they are created by intertextuality that is at once overt and covert, …even a little subversive…

Ref: Mary Klages (2006) Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed. Continuum: London, New York.

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