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NIETZSCHE AND MIMESIS by Mark P. Drost The phenomenon of imitation as it operates in Nietzsche's dieory of ecstasy is the central and most important element in his theory of tragedy and art in general. In Nietzsche's vision oftragedy we see diat this ecstasy is not limited to the individual artist, but it infects the tragic chorus and the spectators as well. Nietzsche's reinterpretation of the concept of imitation is presented through the Apollonian and Dionysian artistic impulses which express themselves as distinct tendencies in die arts. In order to understand Nietzsche's concept of imitation one must trace the artwork back to the artist whose activity is an imitation of the Apollonian or die Dionysian state. The fusion of these artistic impulses in their highest development occurs in the chorus. The ecstatic impulse of the chorus results in a paradoxical act of self-displacement: a vision which exceeds the boundaries of the stage and diminishes die distance which is normally secured through the theatrical conventions of distance. We shall see how Nietzsche's vision oftragedy can be understood as a reinterpretation ofthe classical concept of imitation by contrasting it with Aristotle's theory. The classical concept ofart as imitation (mimesis) is best expressed in die Poetics ofAristotle. Under the term "mimesis" there is included an array of artistic activity, e.g., epic poetry, "the poetry of tragic drama, and, moreover comedy and dithyrambic poetry, and most flute-playing and lyre-playing" (1447al4). Since tragedy has its roots in poetry, the causes from which tragedy arises are similar to (if not identical with) the causes from which poetry arises. Poetic imitation itself appears to have two causes. First, imitation is natural to man from childhood (1448b2). Man is the most mimetic of creatures, and in childhood he learns by imitating the 309 310Philosophy and Literature people, diings, and events around him. Second, because he learns through them, man takes delight in seeing die images of things and recognizing that they are imitative. Since the pleasure of such recognition is so great, one can in fact take delight in seeing images ofthings which are painful to see in their original (1448b12). The former cause yields pleasure from the knowledge of the original while die second cause yields pleasure because one knows it is not an original. Thus the knowledge that what is being witnessed is an imitation is required for the mimetic pleasure to be experienced. Ifone has not seen the original, the pleasure one experiences is somediing different from die pleasure one takes in imitation (1448b6). It is not that imitation can never merely reproduce or copy its original in the manner of a perfect imitation, but artistic imitation requires that diere always be a sufficient difference between the representation and the original to allow for knowledge and die mimetic pleasure subsequent to it. The paradox of imitation is this: the more perfect the imitation is, the less it is known as a work ofimitation. In general, the greater die degree of the realism ofthe imitation, the greater is the need for some indication that it is art and not reality. With respect to this Arthur Danto says, "Mimesis itself, providing diat the conventions of dislocation are clear to the audience , in fact inhibits just those beliefs that would be activated widiout those conventions."1 The spectator could not obtain mimetic pleasure from the "perfect imitation" if the illusion it generated were so effective as to render the artistic medium completely transparent. The causes of mimetic pleasure are die fact diat one is presented widi an imitation and that one is aware of die difference (and/or similarity) between an object and its representation dirough an artistic medium which is never completely transparent. Although by perceiving an imitation we learn of the thing imitated, it is not essential to die concept ofimitation that there actually and empirically exist an original event or figure which explains the content of die imitation . Though the concept ofimitation is a relational concept, it is not so in the sense that there must be an originally existing personage or state ofaffairs against which we may measure the accuracy ofme mimetic representation . The...


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pp. 309-317
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