“Here, the lofty and highly much praised artistic achievement of Attic tragedy and the dramatic dithyramb presents itself before our eyes, as the common goal of both artistic drives, whose secret marriage partnership, after a long antecedent struggle, celebrated itself with such a child, simultaneously Antigone and Cassandra.” (Friedrich Nietzsche on the relationship between the Apollnian and Dionysian) How do both reason and imagination shape poetry?
Reason and Imagination are two concepts that seem opposed to one another. Reason is the ability of humans to make sense of things, and is grounded in reality while Imagination is a more abstract concept that is variously described as recreating experiences without them physically occurring, as well as bringing an artistic touch to these experiences. There is a general agreement that while Reason and Imagination work best in conjunction with one another, Imagination is a stronger driving force for Poetry since it is a more abstract art form. Those who argue for Poetry driven by Reason also seem to believe it should be done away with altogether. The distinction between Reason and Imagination and the effect both have on shaping Poetry is perhaps best summarized by Percy Shelley who theorized that “Reason is the enumeration of quantities already known; Imagination is the perception of the value of those quantities”. Shelley believes that “Reason is to Imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance”. Therefore, Reason is already present, but it is the job of the poet and their Imagination to breathe life into it. Though Shelley believes that Poetry “may be defined to be ‘the expression of the Imagination’” it is also clear he believes finer Poetry uses the two in conjunction. Yet when Reason takes precedence over Imagination, the result is generally seen as more damaging to the art form. Shelley goes on to relate that “It is admitted that the exercise of the imagination is most delightful, but it is alledged that that of reason is more useful”, and therefore the argument is made that Reason is a more useful inspiration for poetry since it revolves around real world notions, while the Imagination is useless fantasy. Shelley argues against this, putting forth that “whatever strengthens and purifies the affections, enlarges the imagination, and adds spirit to sense, is useful” defending Imagination as a basis for poetry since he is able to exemplify the positive effect Imagination has on art forms. Friedrich Nietzsche held similar views on how Reason and Imagination shape a literary work to Shelley (though Nietzsche’s views on Reason without Imagination are perhaps more extreme than Shelley’s), dividing them into his own unique categories: the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Reason is represented by the Apollonian as the “the art of the sculptor” in that it produces something ordered and tangible, much as reason does, while Imagination is represented by the Dionysian as something “with which we will become best acquainted through the analogy of intoxication”, in that it is chaotic and abstract. Like Shelley, Nietzsche believes the downfall of Greek Tragedy came when Reason began to surpass Imagination. For both writers, Reason must be the basis of the ideas, and Imagination must “colour them with its own light”. Without Imagination, or the Dionysian, Poetry and other literary works are a realistic mimicking of “thoughts and emotions devoid of any trace of the ether of art”. It is clear from this that while Nietzsche believes the Apollonian and Dionysian must work together to produce the best results, the Imagination is the real foundation for art, with Reason acting more as the driving force behind Imagination. Nietzsche is firmly opposed to the notion that “in order to be beautiful, everything must be intelligible” disputing this idea by positing that grounding something in intelligibility results in “a wilful and unpardonable...
Bibliography: Aristotle, Poetics trans./ed. Malcolm Heath (Penguin Classics,1996)
Burke, Edmund A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin or our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (Oxford World’s Classics, 1998)
Nietzsche, Friedrich The Birth of Tragedy trans. Douglas Smith (Oxford World’s Classics, 2008)
Plato, The Republic trans
[ 7 ]. Friederich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (Oxford World’s Classics, 2008) p.19
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[ 13 ]. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry (Oxford World’s Classics, 1998) p.54
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[ 21 ]. Aristotle, Poetics trans./ed. Malcolm Heath (Penguin Classics,1996) p.12
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[ 25 ]. Plato, The Republic, trans. Tom Griffith/ed. G.R.F. Ferrari (Cambridge University Press, 2011) p.313
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