Pia Campeggiani


Pia Campeggiani

Title : The feel of the real: perceptual encounters in Plato’s critique of poetry


Abstract

 

Plato’s criticism of the value system conveyed by traditional (esp. Homeric) poetry is grounded on his conviction that the latter has an influence on people’s dispositions and beliefs. The reason why this influence must be resisted depends, first and foremost, on the morally corrupted nature of the values conveyed: poets are liars and have no knowledge of what they represent. What’s more, the way itself poetry exerts its influence on the citizens’ psychê is not less dangerous than its content: poets are also wizards and their imitations get hold even of ‘the best of us’ in such a way that ‘we surrender ourselves’ to them. How Plato thinks this happens is the question my paper seeks to air. The argument I will put forward is that, for Plato, the impact of poetry on real life is achieved by means of a mechanism of ‘transportation’, a psychological experience that entails the blurring of the boundaries between reality and fictionality. Specifically, I will address Plato’s concerns about poetic mimēsis by examining his claim that poetry appeals to a perceptual mode of cognition. I will argue that this claim is grounded on Plato’s insights into the similar phenomenal character of mental imagery and stimulus-driven perception. This, he thinks,  is how poetic transportation is achieved. By discussing the tripartite soul in terms of modes of cognition and types of life, I will shed light on the affective nature of our non-theoretical, perceptual encounters with both the real and the fictional world. Finally, I will show that the audience’s emotions for fictional characters also draw on embodied engagements and are pragmatically contextualized in the narrative framework: as a result of this, socio-cultural meanings and basic embodied re-enactments feed back on each other and contribute to the shaping of characters and dispositions that so worried Plato. By emphasising mimēsis not only in terms of representational content, but also of our imaginative and affectively charged perception of this content, my aim is to show that Plato’s criticism of the impact of poetry on education rests on the more fundamental criticism of the experiential ‘feel’ of poetic narrative.