Sunday, January 6, 2013

Exercise in Evaluative Criticism

 LIT 365: Morrison

Rank the works we have read in class to date. Justify your ranking by explaining your criteria. Below is a brief explanation of Aristotle’s criteria for judging tragedy—one of the world’s first attempts at systematic aesthetic evaluation.

*Note: All aesthetic judgments are conditioned by history, culture, social class, individual taste, experience, genre, etc., and are thus inevitably arbitrary to a large degree. It is the duty of the critic to become as conscious as possible of all these factors that condition his/her judgments.)

Kōda Rohan, “Encounter With Skull” (1890)
Mori Ōgai, “Sanshō the Steward” (1915)
Natsume Sōseki, Botchan (1906)
Furukawa Hideo, “Neither Purity Nor Defilement Now” (2012)
Mori Ōgai, Vita Sexualis (1909)
Ishikawa Jun, Kajin (The Nymphs; 1935)
Ishikawa Jun, “Yamazakura” (The Wild-Cherry, 1936)
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, “Mr. Bluemound” (1926)
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, “The Secret” (1911)
Nagai Kafū, “The River Sumida” (1909)
Hagiwara Sakutarō, “The Town of Cats” (1935)
Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, “The Life of a Stupid Man” (1927) & “Spinning Wheels” (1927)
Kajii Motojirō, “Lemon” (1925) and “The Ascension of K” (1927)

Aristotle’s Elements of Tragedy (Poetics, Ch 6-9)

Tragedy: The imitation of action. It is serious, complete, of significant magnitude, depicted with rhythmic language and/or song, in the form of action (not narrative), and produces a “purgation” of pity and fear in the audience (also known as catharsis). The two causes of action are ethos (character) and thought. Plot is the arrangement of incidents (successes or failures) that result from character and thought giving way to action.

The Elements of Tragedy, as Ranked by Aristotle

1. Mythos (Plot): The “soul of tragedy.” Elements of plot are: completeness, magnitude (length), unity (of theme), determinate structure (of cause), and universality (applicability/believability).
2. Ethos (Psychology/Character): The attributes either ascribed or clearly evident in a given man—virtues which ultimately define a tragic hero’s flaw and the source of his redemption.
3. Diction: rhythmic language.

4. Thought: the ideas of a character, conveyed by speech.
5. Spectacle: the visual presentation.
6. Song: musical accompaniment.

Other elements you may consider as you rank the works …
*balance between showing/telling
*character depth/character agency/character interiority
*consistency of narrative voice
*innovative narrative technique
*tightness of plot (i.e. mostly constitutive events)
*structural cohesion
*sensibility (poetic or otherwise)
*ability to please/stimulate/hold audience
*ability to teach
*ethical stance (i.e. the “accuracy” of its “message” or ethical/political implications)
*difficulty, intellectually challenging
*possesses the quality of literariness
*free of coincidences in plot
*conceals (or reveals?) the narrative processes
* …
[add to this list as you see fit]

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