secrets of mimesis

Image: Antonio Lizarraga


The human being could only be a copy unlike the deity

Mimesis was fundamental in the Judeo-Christian tradition because of the belief that Jehovah had made man “in his image and likeness”. It could have been understood that man would have been made like himself, but he preferred to believe that he was like God. He didn't understand that the divinity could be similar to him, a cosmic projection. Descartes noted that God and man would be antithetical: one would be eternal, the other finite; one omniscient, another of little knowledge; one all-powerful, one of few strength; one omnipresent, the other being in one place. Vanity prevails over rationality.

The conception that “art is mimesis” serves, in Brazilian teaching, to pretend that history was what the canon tells and that reality is as it manifests it. It is said to be so, however, because it is not. The canon is part of a textual sacralization that serves to invent a vision of the past and the present as if it were reality itself, with a radical inversion of all values ​​and all events, but pretending to have a faithful reproduction. and accurate of all of them. It is an ideology that pretends to be science. He only wants “analysis” because he fears that the problematic “theory” underlying it will become explicit.

The doctrine that art is mimetic has been attributed to Aristotle, in poetics, but it was already in Plato, as well as its overcoming insofar as Socrates doubts the existence of a world of ideas, of which things would be copies, mimicry. The mimetic conception is already in the Genesis, when he says that man would have been created in the image and likeness of Jehovah. Now, the human being could only be a contrary copy of the divinity. In the first commandment of Moses, there is a ban on mimetics, when it is forbidden to make sculptures and images of any entity that is on earth, in water or in the air.

A Poetics Aristotle said that tragedy and epic belonged to the aristocracy, while comedy belonged to the lowest strata. Luther broke with this: he said that the life of the rich is a comedy, while that of the poor is a tragedy. Do the inversion. In Homer, the Greek aristocracy presented itself as it would like to be seen: determining the course of history, fighting supposed enemies, confabulating with gods and goddesses, experiencing conflicts and exemplary loves. Tragedy is a sort of later genre, in which it wanted to be admired even in disgrace. There is no break with this pattern in Greek literature.

When Euripides and Aristophanes beckoned a step further, the tradition ended. Although it has a reputation for being democratic, Greek culture was exclusive and repressive, it did not allow criticism of the gods, as they served to assert the dominance of the oligarchy, nor did it value people from the lowest strata of society. The “case study” in Greece shows how the parameter of a class structure, supported by religious and literary beliefs, by the system of cults and power, the way of thinking and proposing discourses, is preserved and repeated for centuries, without find an alternative that can be exposed to what is transmitted to posterity.

Ancient Greece as a reference went through four paradigms: the Roman vision, which revered it and tried to imitate it in the sciences and arts; the Christian vision of the year 100 AD, in which it was necessary to destroy and then ignore that world of naked statues, paganism and slavery; the Apollonian vision, which asserted itself with the Italian Renaissance and continued in European Hellenism, in which everything is clear, ideal, well-ordered; the Dionysian vision, proposed by Nietzsche, who discovers in antiquity passion, feeling, violence, the irrational. What Nietzsche did not do was place Christ on Olympus, that is, ask himself why a poor carpenter would not have a place among the deities, which would show the slavery, racist and bellicose character of the Greek oligarchy enshrined by them. He only criticized the Sermon on the Mount, in which there was a counterpart to the ethics of the Roman patriciate, with its preference for the poor in spirit, the destitute, the marginal, but he did not recognize the value of scientific, literary and artistic geniuses, he did not give importance to great athletes or to those who change the paths of history.

Today there are supposedly leftist variations, in which “good Christians”, even of Jewish origin (Marx, Chomsky), criticize the growing accumulation of capital in the hands of a few powerful people and the disregard for the democratic policies of a State that cares for education, health and jobs for everyone. As a counterpart, in the XNUMXst century, there is a new growth in neo-fascist discourse and practice. There are some who preach to care for nature, as it is man's shelter, and its destruction entails the shortening of his existence. More radical is the resumption of other topos of ancient sacred literature, Persian, Greek or Jewish: the human species as an error, the need for its extinction.

The “case study” of Greece allows one to see alternatives to the prevailing world. Hölderlin seems to have started something like this, but his main impulse was to recreate the Greek gods and lament that the world had been abandoned by them. Beneath the guise of criticism of the XNUMXth century, there was a deep reactionary spirit, a desire to go backwards. It was, however, the return to an idealized world, in which the slavery of the majority would be something natural. Nietzsche provoked the problem when he said that the wage-earner would be the modern form of the slave.

Lessing went on to revise, in Hamburg dramaturgy, the current versions of Aristotle's basic concepts about the tragic, such as catharsis, compassion, terror. The School of Jena began to emphasize, in Fragments of the Athenaeus and in Ideas, the figure of irony, as an inversion of the mimetic, because in it the meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning of the words. There is an appearance of mimesis, to end up having no mimesis at all or, at best, mimesis in reverse.

Kierkegaard returned to this issue and showed how irony is central to Socrates' speeches. He was not quite able to see how this would provide for a completely new reading of Plato, designed to overcome the tradition of Platonism as an idealist reading of the philosopher. On the other hand, the translation of Shakespeare by Tieck and Schlegel led to reflection on the concept of tragic irony, the individual's effort to reach a maximum of correctness in his existential decisions in order to end up, for that very reason, managing to have as a result exactly the opposite of what he had intended.

In the middle of the XNUMXth century, Baudelaire insisted on the figure of allegory, not only as the concrete representation of an abstract idea, but as a procedure in which the thing taken as a sign does not mean what at first sight it should mean: there is a social convention of the meaning in traditional allegory and, in modern allegory, a freedom for the artist to explore levels of meaning in scenes, characters and things that would not normally be seen in them. Benjamin did an incomplete theorization about this.

Victor Shklovsky postulated, in 1925, in the essay prose theory, the importance of the figure of oxymoron in structuring narratives: in Shakespeare's Macbeth, while at the beginning Lady Macbeth is tough, demanding that her husband kill the king, Lord Macbeth is not willing to do that, but, throughout the story, she cannot stand the screams of conscience, going mad, as he becomes harder and harder. Similarly, Don Quijote, a tall, thin figure riding a horse, represents bookish wisdom and fantasy, while Sancho Panza, short and fat, riding a donkey, represents popular wisdom and common sense. This type of structure can be seen in various types of narrative, from Tom and Jerry, where the mouse always manages to hit the cat, even action movies, in which the good guy manages to be stronger than the one who is fiercer than him.

Likewise, other rhetorical figures, such as synecdoche, could be explored as being more important than just mimesis for understanding the structure and functioning of works of fiction. None of them could, by itself and alone, be the whole explanation, and all of them would not eliminate the presence of mimetic elements in the constitution of the works. Neither is a necessary and sufficient explanation of art. Therefore, it is necessary to start from dethroning the figure of mimesis and understand that it is part of the metaphysical tradition and of different processes of ideological domination, from the colonial system to class domination.

* Flavio R. Kothe is professor of aesthetics at the University of Brasilia. Author, among other books, of Culture semiotics essays (UnB).


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