FIRST ESSAY: Historical Criticism: Theory of Modes

Fictional Modes: Introduction

In the second paragraph of the Poetics Aristotle speaks of the differences in works of fiction which are caused by the different elevations of the characters in them. In some fictions, he says, the characters are better than we are, in others worse, in still others on the same level. This passage has not received much attention from modern critics, as the importance Aristotle assigns to goodness and badness seems to indicate a somewhat narrowly moralistic view of literature. Aristotle's words for good and bad, however, are spouddos and phaulos, which have a figurative sense of weighty and light. In literary fictions the plot consists of somebody doing something. The somebody, if an individual, is the hero, and the something he does or fails to do is what he can do, or could have done, on the level of the postulates made about him by the author and the consequent expectations of the audience. Fictions, there fore, may be classified, not morally, but by the hero's power of action, which may be greater than ours, less, or roughly the same. Thus:

1. If superior in kind both to other men and to the environment of other men, the hero is a divine being, and the story about him will be a myth in the common sense of a story about a god. Such stories have an important place in literature, but are as a rule found outside the normal literary categories.

2. If superior in degree to other men and to his environment, the hero is the typical hero of romance, whose actions are marvellous but who is himself identified as a human being. The hero of romance moves in a world in which the ordinary laws of nature are slightly suspended: prodigies of courage and endurance, unnatural to us, are natural to him, and enchanted weapons, talking animals, terrifying ogres and witches, and talismans of miraculous power violate no rule of probability once the postulates of romance have been established. Here we have moved from myth, properly so called, into legend, folk tale, marchen, and their literary affiliates and derivatives.

3. If superior in degree to other men but not to his natural [33] environment, the hero is a leader. He has authority, passions, and powers of expression far greater than ours, but what he does is subject both to social criticism and to the order of nature. This is the hero of the high mimetic mode, of most epic and tragedy, and is primarily the kind of hero that Aristotle had in mind.

4. If superior neither to other men nor to his environment, the hero is one of us: we respond to a sense of his common humanity, and demand from the poet the same canons of probability that we find in our own experience. This gives us the hero of the low mimetic mode, of most comedy and of realistic fiction. "High" and "low" have no connotations of comparative value, but are purely diagrammatic, as they are when they refer to Biblical critics or Anglicans. On this level the difficulty in retaining the word "hero," which has a more limited meaning among the preceding modes, occasionally strikes an author. Thackeray thus feels obliged to call Vanity Fair a novel without a hero.

5. If inferior in power or intelligence to ourselves, so that we have the sense of looking down on a scene of bondage, frustration, or absurdity, the hero belongs to the ironic mode. This is still true when the reader feels that he is or might be in the same situation, as the situation is being judged by the norms of a greater freedom.

Looking over this table, we can see that European fiction, during the last fifteen centuries, has steadily moved its center of gravity down the list. In the pre-medieval period literature is closely attached to Christian, late Classical, Celtic, or Teutonic myths. If Christianity had not been both an imported myth and a devourer of rival ones, this phase of Western literature would be easier to isolate. In the form in which we possess it, most of it has already moved into the category of romance. Romance divides into two main forms: a secular form dealing with chivalry and knight-errantry, and a religious form devoted to legends of saints. Both lean heavily on miraculous violations of natural law for their interest as stories. Fictions of romance dominate literature until the cult of the prince and the courtier in the Renaissance brings the high mimetic mode into the foreground. The characteristics of this mode are most clearly seen in the genres of drama, particularly tragedy, and national epic. Then a new kind of middle-class culture introduces the low mimetic, which predominates in English literature from Defoe's time to the end of the nineteenth century. In French literature it begins and ends about fifty years earlier. During the last hundred years, [34] most serious fiction has tended increasingly to be ironic in mode.

Something of the same progression may be traced in Classical literature too, in a greatly foreshortened form. Where a religion is mythological and polytheistic, where there are promiscuous incarnations, deified heroes and kings of divine descent, where the same adjective "godlike" can be applied either to Zeus or to Achilles, it is hardly possible to separate the mythical, romantic, and high mimetic strands completely. Where the religion is theological, and insists on a sharp division between divine and human natures, romance becomes more clearly isolated, as it does in the legends of Christian chivalry and sanctity, in the Arabian Nights of Mohammedanism, in the stories of the judges and thaumaturgic prophets of Israel. Similarly, the inability of the Classical world to shake off the divine leader in its later period has much to do with the abortive development of low mimetic and ironic modes that got barely started with Roman satire. At the same time the establishing of the high mimetic mode, the developing of a literary tradition with a consistent sense of an order of nature in it, is one of the great feats of Greek civilization. Oriental fiction does not, so far as I know, get very far away from mythical and romantic formulas.

We shall here deal chiefly with the five epochs of Western literature, as given above, using Classical parallels only incidentally. In each mode a distinction will be useful between naive and sophisticated literature. The word naive I take from Schiller's essay on naive and sentimental poetry: I mean by it, however, primitive or popular, whereas in Schiller it means something more like Classical. The word sentimental also means something else in English, but we do not have enough genuine critical terms to dispense with it. In quotation marks, therefore, "sentimental" refers to a later recreation of an earlier mode. Thus Romanticism is a "sentimental" form of romance, and the fairy tale, for the most part, a "sentimental" form of folk tale. Also there is a general distinction between fictions in which the hero becomes isolated from his society, and fictions in which he is incorporated into it. This distinction is expressed by the words "tragic" and "comic" when they refer to aspects of plot in general and not simply to forms of drama.

Tragic Fictional Modes

Tragic stories, when they apply to divine beings, may be called [35] Dionysiac. These are stories of dying gods, like Hercules with his poisoned shirt and his pyre, Orpheus torn to pieces by the Bacchantes, Balder murdered by the treachery of Loki, Christ dying on the cross and marking with the words "Why hast thou forsaken me?" a sense of his exclusion, as a divine being, from the society of the Trinity.

The association of a god's death with autumn or sunset does not, in literature, necessarily mean that he is a god "of" vegetation or the sun, but only that he is a god capable of dying, whatever his department. But as a god is superior to nature as well as to other men, the death of a god appropriately involves what Shakespeare, in Venus and Adonis, calls the "solemn sympathy" of nature, the word solemn having here some of its etymological connections with ritual. Ruskin's pathetic fallacy can hardly be a fallacy when a god is the hero of the action, as when the poet of The Dream of the Rood tells us that all creation wept at the death of Christ. Of course there is never any real fallacy in making a purely imaginative alignment between man and nature, but the use of "solemn sympathy" in a piece of more realistic fiction indicates that the author is trying to give his hero some of the overtones of the mythical mode. Ruskin's example of a pathetic fallacy is "the cruel, crawling foam" from Kingsley's ballad about a girl drowned in the tide. But the fact that the foam is so described gives to Kingsley's Mary a faint coloring of the myth of Andromeda.

The same associations with sunset and the fall of the leaf linger in romance, where the hero is still half a god. In romance the suspension of natural law and the individualizing of the hero's exploits reduce nature largely to the animal and vegetable world. Much of the hero's life is spent with animals, or at any rate the animals that are incurable romantics, such as horses, dogs, and falcons, and the typical setting of romance is the forest. The hero's death or isolation thus has the effect of a spirit passing out of nature, and evokes a mood best described as elegiac. The elegiac presents a heroism unspoiled by irony. The inevitability in the death of Beowulf, the treachery in the death of Roland, the malignancy that compasses the death of the martyred saint, are of much greater emotional importance than any ironic complications of hubris and hamartia that may be involved. Hence the elegiac is often accompanied by a diffused, resigned, melancholy sense of the passing of time, of the old order changing and yielding to a new [36] one: one thinks of Beowulf* looking, while he is dying, at the great stone monuments of the eras of history that vanished before him. In a very late "sentimental" form the same mood is well caught in Tennyson's Passing of Arthur.

Tragedy in the central or high mimetic sense, the fiction of the fall of a leader (he has to fall because that is the only way in which a leader can be isolated from his society), mingles the heroic with the ironic. In elegiac romance the hero's mortality is primarily a natural fact, the sign of his humanity; in high mimetic tragedy it is also a social and moral fact. The tragic hero has to be of a properly heroic size, but his fall is involved both with a sense of his relation to society and with a sense of the supremacy of natural law, both of which are ironic in reference. Tragedy belongs chiefly to the two indigenous developments of tragic drama in fifth-century Athens and seventeenth-century Europe from Shakespeare to Racine. Both belong to a period of social history in which an aristocracy is fast losing its effective power but still retains a good deal of ideological prestige.

The central position of high mimetic tragedy in the five tragic modes, balanced midway between godlike heroism and all-too-human irony, is expressed in the traditional conception of catharsis. The words pity and fear may be taken as referring to the two general directions in which emotion moves, whether towards an object or away from it. Naive romance, being closer to the wish-fulfilment dream, tends to absorb emotion and communicate it internally to the reader. Romance, therefore, is characterized by the acceptance of pity and fear, which in ordinary life relate to pain, as forms of pleasure. It turns fear at a distance, or terror, into the adventurous; fear at contact, or horror, into the marvellous, and fear without an object, or dread (Angst) into a pensive melancholy. It turns pity at a distance, or concern, into the theme of chivalrous rescue; pity at contact, or tenderness, into a languid and relaxed charm, and pity without an object (which has no name but is a kind of animism, or treating everything in nature as though it had human feelings) into creative fantasy. In sophisticated romance the characteristics peculiar to the form are less obvious, especially in tragic romance, where the theme of inevitable death works against the marvellous, and often forces it into the background. In Romeo and Juliet, for instance, the marvellous survives only in Mercutio's speech on Queen Mab. But this play is marked as closer to romance than [37] the later tragedies by the softening influences that work in the opposite direction from catharsis, draining off the irony, so to speak, from the main characters.

In high mimetic tragedy pity and fear become, respectively, favorable and adverse moral judgement, which are relevant to tragedy but not central to it. We pity Desdemona and fear Iago, but the central tragic figure is Othello, and our feelings about him are mixed. The particular thing called tragedy that happens to the tragic hero does not depend on his moral status. If it is causally related to something he has done, as it generally is, the tragedy is in the inevitability of the consequences of the act, not in its moral significance as an act. Hence the paradox that in tragedy pity and fear are raised and cast out. Aristotle's hamartia or "flaw," therefore, is not necessarily wrongdoing, much less moral weakness: it may be simply a matter of being a strong character in an exposed position, like Cordelia. The exposed position is usually the place of leadership, in which a character is exceptional and isolated at the same time, giving us that curious blend of the inevitable and the incongruous which is peculiar to tragedy. The principle of the hamartia of leadership can be more clearly seen in naive high mimetic tragedy, as we get it in The Minor for Magistrates and similar collections of tales based on the theme of the wheel of fortune.

In low mimetic tragedy, pity and fear are neither purged nor absorbed into pleasures, but are communicated externally, as sensations. In fact the word "sensational" could have a more useful meaning in criticism if it were not merely an adverse value-judgement. The best word for low mimetic or domestic tragedy is, perhaps, pathos, and pathos has a close relation to the sensational reflex of tears. Pathos presents its hero as isolated by a weakness which appeals to our sympathy because it is on our own level of experience. I speak of a hero, but the central figure of pathos is often a woman or a child (or both, as in the death-scenes of Little Eva and Little Nell) , and we have a whole procession of pathetic female sacrifices in English low mimetic fiction from Clarissa Harlowe to Hardy's Tess and James's Daisy Miller. We notice that while tragedy may massacre a whole cast, pathos is usually concentrated on a single character, partly because low mimetic society is more strongly individualized.

Again, in contrast to high mimetic tragedy, pathos is increased [38] by the inarticulateness of the victim. The death of an animal is usually pathetic, and so is the catastrophe of defective intelligence that is frequent in modern American literature. Wordsworth, who as a low mimetic artist was one of our great masters of pathos, makes his sailor's mother speak in a flat, dumpy, absurdly inadequate style about her efforts to salvage her son's clothes and "other property" or did before bad criticism made him spoil his poem. Pathos is a queer ghoulish emotion, and some failure of expression, real or simulated, seems to be peculiar to it. It will always leave a fluently plangent funeral elegy to go and batten on something like Swift's memoir of Stella. Highly articulate pathos is apt to become a factitious appeal to self-pity, or tear-jerking. The exploiting of fear in the low mimetic is also sensational, and is a kind of pathos in reverse. The terrible figure in this tradition, exemplified by Heathcliff, Simon Legree, and the villains of Dickens, is normally a ruthless figure strongly contrasted with some kind of delicate virtue, generally a helpless victim in his power.

The root idea of pathos is the exclusion of an individual on our own level from a social group to which he is trying to belong. Hence the central tradition of sophisticated pathos is the study of the isolated mind, the story of how someone recognizably like ourselves is broken by a conflict between the inner and outer world, between imaginative reality and the sort of reality which is established by a social consensus. Such tragedy may be concerned, as it often is in Balzac, with a mania or obsession about rising in the world, this being the central low mimetic counterpart of the fiction of the fall of the leader. Or it may deal with the conflict of inner and outer life, as in Madame Bovary and Lord Jim, or with the impact of inflexible morality on experience, as in Melville's Pierre and Ibsen's Brand. The type of character involved here we may call by the Greek word alazon, which means impostor, someone who pretends or tries to be something more than he is. The most popular types of alazon are the miles gloriosus and the learned crank or obsessed philosopher.

We are most familiar with such characters in comedy, where they are looked at from the outside, so that we see only the social mask. But the alazon may be one aspect of the tragic hero as well: the touch of miles gloriosus in Tamburlaine, even in Othello, is unmistakable, as is the touch of the obsessed philosopher in Faustus and Hamlet. It is very difficult to study a case of obsession, or even [39] hypocrisy, from the inside, in a dramatic medium: even Tartuffe, as far as his dramatic function is concerned, is a study of parasitism rather than hypocrisy. The analysis of obsession belongs more naturally to prose fiction or to a semi-dramatic medium like the Browning monologue. For all the differences in technique and attitude, Conrad's Lord Jim is a lineal descendant of the miles gloriosus, of the same family as Shaw's Sergius or Synge's playboy, who are parallel types in a dramatic and comic setting. It is, of course, quite possible to take the alazon at his own valuation: this is done for instance by the creators of the inscrutable gloomy heroes in Gothic thrillers, with their wild or piercing eyes and their dark hints of interesting sins. The result as a rule is not tragedy so much as the kind of melodrama which may be defined as comedy without humor. When it rises out of this, we have a study of obsession presented in terms of fear instead of pity: that is, the obsession takes the form of an unconditioned will that drives its victim beyond the normal limits of humanity. One of the clearest examples is Heathcliff, who plunges through death itself into vampirism; but there are many others, ranging from Conrad's Kurtz to the mad scientists of popular fiction.

The conception of irony meets us in Aristotle's Ethics, where the eiron is the man who deprecates himself, as opposed to the alazon. Such a man makes himself invulnerable, and, though Aristotle disapproves of him, there is no question that he is a predestined artist, just as the alazon is one of his predestined victims. The term irony, then, indicates a technique of appearing to be less than one is, which in literature becomes most commonly a technique of saying as little and meaning as much as possible, or, in a more general way, a pattern of words that turns away from direct statement or its own obvious meaning. (I am not using the word ironic itself in any unfamiliar sense, though I am exploring some of its implications.)

The ironic fiction-writer, then, deprecates himself and, like Socrates, pretends to know nothing, even that he is ironic. Complete objectivity and suppression of all explicit moral judgements are essential to his method. Thus pity and fear are not raised in ironic art: they are reflected to the reader from the art. When we try to isolate the ironic as such, we find that it seems to be simply the attitude of the poet as such, a dispassionate construction of a literary form, with all assertive elements, implied or expressed, [40] eliminated. Irony, as a mode, is born from the low mimetic; it takes life exactly as it finds it. But the ironist fables without moralizing, and has no object but his subject. Irony is naturally a sophisticated mode, and the chief difference between sophisticated and naive irony is that the naive ironist calls attention to the fact that he is being ironic, whereas sophisticated irony merely states, and lets the reader add the ironic tone himself. Coleridge, noting an ironic comment in Defoe, points out how Defoe's subtlety could be made crude and obvious simply by over-punctuating the same words with italics, dashes, exclamation points, and other signs of being oneself aware of irony.

Tragic irony, then, becomes simply the study of tragic isolation as such, and it thereby drops out the element of the special case, which in some degree is in all the other modes. Its hero does not necessarily have any tragic hamartia or pathetic obsession: he is only somebody who gets isolated from his society. Thus the central principle of tragic irony is that whatever exceptional happens to the hero should be causally out of line with his character. Tragedy is intelligible, not in the sense of having any pat moral to go with it, but in the sense that Aristotle had in mind when he spoke of discovery or recognition as essential to the tragic plot. Tragedy is intelligible because its catastrophe is plausibly related to its situation. Irony isolates from the tragic situation the sense of arbitrariness, of the victim's having been unlucky, selected at random or by lot, and no more deserving of what happens to him than anyone else would be. If there is a reason for choosing him for catastrophe, it is an inadequate reason, and raises more objections than it answers.

Thus the figure of a typical or random victim begins to crystallize in domestic tragedy as it deepens in ironic tone. We may call this typical victim the pharmakos or scapegoat. We meet a pharmakos figure in Hawthorne's Hester Prynne, in Melville's Billy Budd, in Hardy's Tess, in the Septimus of Mrs. Dalloway, in stories of persecuted Jews and Negroes, in stories of artists whose genius makes them Ishmaels of a bourgeois society. The pharmakos is neither innocent nor guilty. He is innocent in the sense that what happens to him is far greater than anything he has done provokes, like the mountaineer whose shout brings down an avalanche. He is guilty in the sense that he is a member of a guilty society, or living in a world where such injustices are an inescapable part of existence. [41] The two facts do not come together; they remain ironically apart. The pharmakos, in short, is in the situation of Job. Job can defend himself against the charge of having done something that makes his catastrophe morally intelligible; but the success of his defense makes it morally unintelligible.

Thus the incongruous and the inevitable, which are combined in tragedy, separate into opposite poles of irony. At one pole is the inevitable irony of human life. What happens to, say, the hero of Kafka's Trial is not the result of what he has done, but the end of what he is, which is an "all too human" being. The archetype of the inevitably ironic is Adam, human nature under sentence of death. At the other pole is the incongruous irony of human life, in which all attempts to transfer guilt to a victim give that victim something of the dignity of innocence. The archetype of the in congruously ironic is Christ, the perfectly innocent victim excluded from human society. Halfway between is the central figure of tragedy, who is human and yet of a heroic size which often has in it the suggestion of divinity. His archetype is Prometheus, the immortal titan rejected by the gods for befriending men. The Book of Job is not a tragedy of the Promethean type, but a tragic irony in which the dialectic of the divine and the human nature works itself out. By justifying himself as a victim of God, Job tries to make himself into a tragic Promethean figure, but he does not succeed.

These references may help to explain something that might otherwise be a puzzling fact about modern literature. Irony descends from the low mimetic: it begins in realism and dispassionate observation. But as it does so, it moves steadily towards myth, and dim outlines of sacrificial rituals and dying gods begin to reappear in it. Our five modes evidently go around in a circle. This reappearance of myth in the ironic is particularly clear in Kafka and in Joyce. In Kafka, whose work, from one point of view, may be said to form a series of commentaries on the Book of Job, the common contemporary types of tragic irony, the Jew, the artist, Everyman, and a kind of sombre Chaplin clown, are all found, and most of these elements are combined, in a comic form, in Joyce's Shem. However, ironic myth is frequent enough elsewhere, and many features of ironic literature are unintelligible without it. Henry James learned his trade mainly from the realists and naturalists of the nineteenth century, but if we were to judge, for example, the story called The Altar of the Dead purely by low mimetic standards, [42] we should have to call it a tissue of improbable coincidence, in adequate motivation, and inconclusive resolution. When we look at it as ironic myth, a story of how the god of one person is the pharmakos of another, its structure becomes simple and logical.

Comic Fictional Modes

The theme of the comic is the integration of society, which usually takes the form of incorporating a central character into it. The mythical comedy corresponding to the death of the Dionysiac god is Apollonian, the story of how a hero is accepted by a society of gods. In Classical literature the theme of acceptance forms part of the stories of Hercules, Mercury, and other deities who had a probation to go through, and in Christian literature it is the theme of salvation, or, in a more concentrated form, of assumption: the comedy that stands just at the end of Dante's Commedia. The mode of romantic comedy corresponding to the elegiac is best de scribed as idyllic, and its chief vehicle is the pastoral. Because of the social interest of comedy, the idyllic cannot equal the intro version of the elegiac, but it preserves the theme of escape from society to the extent of idealizing a simplified life in the country or on the frontier (the pastoral of popular modern literature is the Western story). The close association with animal and vegetable nature that we noted in the elegiac recurs in the sheep and pleasant pastures (or the cattle and ranches) of the idyllic, and the same easy connection with myth recurs in the fact that such imagery is often used, as it is in the Bible, for the theme of salvation.

The clearest example of high mimetic comedy is the Old Comedy of Aristophanes. The New Comedy of Menander is closer to the low mimetic, and through Plautus and Terence its formulas were handed down to the Renaissance, so that there has always been a strongly low mimetic bias to social comedy. In Aristophanes there is usually a central figure who constructs his (or her) own society in the teeth of strong opposition, driving off one after another all the people who come to prevent or exploit him, and eventually achieving a heroic triumph, complete with mistresses, in which he is sometimes assigned the honors of a reborn god. We notice that just as there is a catharsis of pity and fear in tragedy, so there is a catharsis of the corresponding comic emotions, which are sympathy and ridicule, in Old Comedy. The comic hero will get his triumph whether what he has done is sensible or silly, honest or rascally. [43] Thus Old Comedy, like the tragedy contemporary with it, is a blend of the heroic and the ironic. In some plays this fact is partly concealed by Aristophanes' strong desire to get his own opinion of what the hero is doing into the record, but his greatest comedy, The Birds, preserves an exquisite balance between comic heroism and comic irony.

New Comedy normally presents an erotic intrigue between a young man and a young woman which is blocked by some kind of opposition, usually paternal, and resolved by a twist in the plot which is the comic form of Aristotle's "discovery," and is more manipulated than its tragic counterpart. At the beginning of the play the forces thwarting the hero are in control of the play's society, but after a discovery in which the hero becomes wealthy or the heroine respectable, a new society crystallizes on the stage around the hero and his bride. The action of the comedy thus moves towards the incorporation of the hero into the society that he naturally fits. The hero himself is seldom a very interesting person: in conformity with low mimetic decorum, he is ordinary in his virtues, but socially attractive. In Shakespeare and in the kind of romantic comedy that most closely resembles his there is a development of these formulas in a more distinctively high mimetic direction. In the figure of Prospero we have one of the few approaches to the Aristophanic technique of having the whole comic action projected by a central character. Usually Shakespeare achieves his high mimetic pattern by making the struggle of the repressive and the desirable societies a struggle between two levels of existence, the former like our own world or worse, the latter enchanted and idyllic. This point will be dealt with more fully later.

For the reasons given above the domestic comedy of later fiction carries on with much the same conventions as were used in the Renaissance. Domestic comedy is usually based on the Cinderella archetype, the kind of thing that happens when Pamela's virtue is rewarded, the incorporation of an individual very like the reader into the society aspired to by both, a society ushered in with a happy rustle of bridal gowns and banknotes. Here again, Shakespearean comedy may marry off eight or ten people of approximately equal dramatic interest, just as a high mimetic tragedy may kill the same number, but in domestic comedy such diffusion of sexual energy is more rare. The chief difference between high and low mimetic comedy, however, is that the resolution of the latter [44] more frequently involves a social promotion. More sophisticated writers of low mimetic comedy often present the same success-story formula with the moral ambiguities that we have found in Aristophanes. In Balzac or Stendhal a clever and ruthless scoundrel may achieve the same kind of success as the virtuous heroes of Samuel Smiles and Horatio Alger. Thus the comic counterpart of the alazon seems to be the clever, likeable, unprincipled picaro of the picaresque novel.

In studying ironic comedy we must start with the theme of driving out the pharmakos from the point of view of society. This appeals to the kind of relief we are expected to feel when we see Jonson's Volpone condemned to the galleys, Shylock stripped of his wealth, or Tartuffe taken off to prison. Such a theme, unless touched very lightly, is difficult to make convincing, for the reasons suggested in connection with ironic tragedy. Insisting on the theme of social revenge on an individual, however great a rascal he may be, tends to make him look less involved in guilt and the society more so. This is particularly true of characters who have been trying to amuse either the actual or the internal audience, and who are the comic counterparts of the tragic hero as artist. The rejection of the entertainer, whether fool, clown, buffoon, or simpleton, can be one of the most terrible ironies known to art, as the rejection of Falstaff shows, and certain scenes in Chaplin.

In some religious poetry, for example at the end of the Paradiso, we can see that literature has an upper limit, a point at which an imaginative vision of an eternal world becomes an experience of it. In ironic comedy we begin to see that art has also a lower limit in actual life. This is the condition of savagery, the world in which comedy consists of inflicting pain on a helpless victim, and tragedy in enduring it. Ironic comedy brings us to the figure of the scape goat ritual and the nightmare dream, the human symbol that concentrates our fears and hates. We pass the boundary of art when this symbol becomes existential, as it does in the black man of a lynching, the Jew of a pogrom, the old woman of a witch hunt, or anyone picked up at random by a mob, like Cinna the poet in Julius Caesar. In Aristophanes the irony sometimes edges very close to mob violence because the attacks are personal: one thinks of all the easy laughs he gets, in play after play, at the pederasty of Cleisthenes or the cowardice of Cleonymus. In Aristophanes the word pharmakos means simply scoundrel, with no nonsense about [45] it. At the conclusion of The Clouds, where the poet seems almost to be summoning a lynching party to go and burn down Socrates' house, we reach the comic counterpart of one of the greatest masterpieces of tragic irony in literature, Plato's Apology.

But the element of play is the barrier that separates art from savagery, and playing at human sacrifice seems to be an important theme of ironic comedy. Even in laughter itself some kind of deliverance from the unpleasant, even the horrible, seems to be very important. We notice this particularly in all forms of art in which a large number of auditors are simultaneously present, as in drama, and, still more obviously, in games. We notice too that playing at sacrifice has nothing to do with any historical descent from sacrificial ritual, such as has been suggested for Old Comedy. All the features of such ritual, the king's son, the mimic death, the executioner, the substituted victim, are far more explicit in Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado than they are in Aristophanes. There is certainly no evidence that baseball has descended from a ritual of human sacrifice, but the umpire is quite as much of a pharmakos as if it had: he is an abandoned scoundrel, a greater robber than Barabbas; he has the evil eye; the supporters of the losing team scream for his death. At play, mob emotions are boiled in an open pot, so to speak; in the lynching mob they are in a sealed furnace of what Blake would call moral virtue. The gladiatorial combat, in which the audience has the actual power of life and death over the people who are entertaining them, is perhaps the most concentrated of all the savage or demonic parodies of drama.

The fact that we are now in an ironic phase of literature largely accounts for the popularity of the detective story, the formula of how a man-hunter locates a pharmakos and gets rid of him. The detective story begins in the Sherlock Holmes period as an intensification of low mimetic, in the sharpening of attention to details that makes the dullest and most neglected trivia of daily living leap into mysterious and fateful significance. But as we move further away from this we move toward a ritual drama around a corpse in which a wavering finger of social condemnation passes over a group of "suspects" and finally settles on one. The sense of a victim chosen by lot is very strong, for the case against him is only plausibly manipulated. If it were really inevitable, we should have tragic irony, as in Crime and Punishment, where Raskolnikoffs crime is so interwoven with his character that there can be no [46] question of any "whodunit" mystery. In the growing brutality of the crime story (a brutality protected by the convention of the form, as it is conventionally impossible that the man-hunter can be mistaken in believing that one of his suspects is a murderer), detection begins to merge with the thriller as one of the forms of melodrama. In melodrama two themes are important: the triumph of moral virtue over villainy, and the consequent idealizing of the moral views assumed to be held by the audience. In the melodrama of the brutal thriller we come as close as it is normally possible for art to come to the pure self-righteousness of the lynching mob.

We should have to say, then, that all forms of melodrama, the detective story in particular, were advance propaganda for the police state, in so far as that represents the regularizing of mob violence, if it were possible to take them seriously. But it seems not to be possible. The protecting wall of play is still there. Serious melodrama soon gets entangled with its own pity and fear: the more serious it is, the more likely it is to be looked at ironically by the reader, its pity and fear seen as sentimental drivel and owlish solemnity, respectively. One pole of ironic comedy is the recognition of the absurdity of naive melodrama, or, at least, of the absurdity of its attempt to define the enemy of society as a person outside that society. From there it develops toward the opposite pole, which is true comic irony or satire, and which defines the enemy of society as a spirit within that society. Let us arrange the forms of ironic comedy from this point of view.

Cultivated people go to a melodrama to hiss the villain with an air of condescension: they are making a point of the fact that they cannot take his villainy seriously. We have here a type of irony which exactly corresponds to that of two other major arts of the ironic age, advertising and propaganda. These arts pretend to ad dress themselves seriously to a subliminal audience of cretins, an audience that may not even exist, but which is assumed to be simple-minded enough to accept at their face value the statements made about the purity of a soap or a government's motives. The rest of us, realizing that irony never says precisely what it means, take these arts ironically, or, at least, regard them as a kind of ironic game. Similarly, we read murder stories with a strong sense of the unreality of the villainy involved. Murder is doubtless a serious crime, but if private murder really were a major threat to [47] our civilization it would not be relaxing to read about it. We may compare the abuse showered on the pimp in Roman comedy, which was similarly based on the indisputable ground that brothels are immoral.

The next step is an ironic comedy addressed to the people who can realize that murderous violence is less an attack on a virtuous society by a malignant individual than a symptom of that society's own viciousness. Such a comedy would be the kind of intellectualized parody of melodramatic formulas represented by, for instance, the novels of Graham Greene. Next comes the ironic comedy directed at the melodramatic spirit itself, an astonishingly persistent tradition in all comedy in which there is a large ironic admixture. One notes a recurring tendency on the part of ironic comedy to ridicule and scold an audience assumed to be hankering after sentiment, solemnity, and the triumph of fidelity and approved moral standards. The arrogance of Jonson and Congreve, the mocking of bourgeois sentiment in Goldsmith, the parody of melodramatic situations in Wilde and Shaw, belong to a consistent tradition. Moliere had to please his king, but was not temperamentally an exception. To comic drama one may add the ridicule of melodramatic romance in the novelists, from Fielding to Joyce.

Finally comes the comedy of manners, the portrayal of a chattering-monkey society devoted to snobbery and slander. In this kind of irony the characters who are opposed to or excluded from the fictional society have the sympathy of the audience. Here we are close to a parody of tragic irony, as we can see in the appalling fate of the relatively harmless hero of Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust. Or we may have a character who, with the sympathy of the author or audience, repudiates such a society to the point of deliberately walking out of it, becoming thereby a kind of pharmakos in reverse. This happens for instance at the conclusion of Aldous Huxley's Those Barren Leaves. It is more usual, however, for the artist to present an ironic deadlock in which the hero is regarded as a fool or worse by the fictional society, and yet impresses the real audience as having something more valuable than his society has. The obvious example, and certainly one of the greatest, is Dostoievsky's The Idiot, but there are many others. The Good Soldier Schweik, Heaven's My Destination and The Horse's Mouth are instances that will give some idea of the range of the theme.

What we have said about the return of irony to myth in tragic modes thus holds equally well for comic ones. Even popular literature appears to be slowly shifting its center of gravity from murder stories to science fiction or at any rate a rapid growth of science fiction is certainly a fact about contemporary popular literature. Science fiction frequently tries to imagine what life would be like on a plane as far above us as we are above savagery; its setting is often of a kind that appears to us as technologically miraculous. It is thus a mode of romance with a strong inherent tendency to myth.

The conception of a sequence of fictional modes should do something, let us hope, to give a more flexible meaning to some of our literary terms. The words "romantic" and "realistic," for in stance, as ordinarily used, are relative or comparative terms: they illustrate tendencies in fiction, and cannot be used as simply descriptive adjectives with any sort of exactness. If we take the sequence De Raptu Proserpinae, The Man of Law's Tale, Much Ado About Nothing, Pride and Prejudice, An American Tragedy, it is clear that each work is "romantic" compared to its successors and "realistic" compared to its predecessors. On the other hand, the term "naturalism" shows up in its proper perspective as a phase of fiction which, rather like the detective story, though in a very different way, begins as an intensification of low mimetic, an attempt to describe life exactly as it is, and ends, by the very logic of that attempt, in pure irony. Thus Zola's obsession with ironic formulas gave him a reputation as a detached recorder of the human scene.

The difference between the ironic tone that we may find in low mimetic or earlier modes and the ironic structure of the ironic mode itself is not hard to sense in practice. When Dickens, for instance, uses irony the reader is invited to share in the irony, because certain standards of normality common to author and reader are assumed. Such assumptions are a mark of a relatively popular mode: as the example of Dickens indicates, the gap between serious and popular fiction is narrower in low mimetic than in ironic writing. The literary acceptance of relatively stable social norms is closely connected with the reticence of low mimetic as compared to ironic fiction. In low mimetic modes characters are usually presented as they appear to others, fully dressed and with a large section of both their physical lives and their inner [49] monologue carefully excised. Such an approach is entirely consistent with the other conventions involved.

If we were to make this distinction the basis of a comparative value-judgement, which would, of course, be a moral value-judgement disguised as a critical one, we should be compelled either to attack low mimetic conventions for being prudish and hypocritical and leaving too much of life out, or to attack ironic conventions for not being wholesome, healthy, popular, reassuring, and sound, like the conventions of Dickens. As long as we are concerned simply to distinguish between the conventions, we need only remark that the low mimetic is one step more heroic than the ironic, and that low mimetic reticence has the effect of making its characters, on the average, more heroic, or at least more dignified, than the characters in ironic fiction.

We may also apply our scheme to the principles of selection on which a writer of fiction operates. Let us take, as a random example, the use of ghosts in fiction. In a true myth there can obviously be no consistent distinction between ghosts and living beings. In romance we have real human beings, and consequently ghosts are in a separate category, but in a romance a ghost as a rule is merely one more character: he causes little surprise because his appearance is no more marvellous than many other events. In high mimetic, where we are within the order of nature, a ghost is relatively easy to introduce because the plane of experience is above our own, but when he appears he is an awful and mysterious being from what is perceptibly another world. In low mimetic, ghosts have been, ever since Defoe, almost entirely confined to a separate category of "ghost stories." In ordinary low mimetic fiction they are inadmissible, "in complaisance to the scepticism of a reader," as Fielding puts it, a skepticism which extends only to low mimetic conventions. The few exceptions, such as Wuthering Heights, go a long way to prove the rule - that is, we recognize a strong influence of romance in Wuthering Heights. In some forms of ironic fiction, such as the later works of Henry James, the ghost begins to come back as a fragment of a disintegrating personality.

Once we have learned to distinguish the modes, however, we must then learn to recombine them. For while one mode constitutes the underlying tonality of a work of fiction, any or all of the other four may be simultaneously present. Much of our sense of the subtlety of great literature comes from this modal counterpoint. [50] Chaucer is a medieval poet specializing mainly in romance, whether sacred or secular. Of his pilgrims, the knight and the parson clearly present the norms of the society in which he functions as a poet, and, as we have them, the Canterbury Tales are contained by these two figures, who open and close the series. But to overlook Chaucer's mastery of low mimetic and ironic techniques would be as wrong as to think of him as a modern novelist who got into the Middle Ages by mistake. The tonality of Antony and Cleopatra is high mimetic, the story of the fall of a great leader. But it is easy to look at Mark Antony ironically, as a man enslaved by passion; it is easy to recognize his common humanity with ourselves; it is easy to see in him a romantic adventurer of prodigious courage and endurance betrayed by a witch; there are even hints of a superhuman being whose legs bestride the ocean and whose downfall is a conspiracy of fate, explicable only to a soothsayer. To leave out any of these would oversimplify and belittle the play. Through such an analysis we may come to realize that the two essential facts about a work of art, that it is contemporary with its own time and that it is contemporary with ours, are not opposed but complementary facts.

Our survey of fictional modes has also shown us that the mimetic tendency itself, the tendency to verisimilitude and ac curacy of description, is one of two poles of literature. At the other pole is something that seems to be connected both with Aristotle's word mythos and with the usual meaning of myth. That is, it is a tendency to tell a story which is in origin a story about characters who can do anything, and only gradually becomes attracted toward a tendency to tell a plausible or credible story. Myths of gods merge into legends of heroes; legends of heroes merge into plots of tragedies and comedies; plots of tragedies and comedies merge into plots of more or less realistic fiction. But these are change of social context rather than of literary form, and the constructive principles of story-telling remain constant through them, though of course they adapt to them. Tom Jones and Oliver Twist are typical enough as low mimetic characters, but the birth-mystery plots in which they are involved are plausible adaptations of fictional for mulas that go back to Menander, and from Menander to Euripides' Ion, and from Euripides to legends like those of Perseus and Moses. We note in passing that imitation of nature m fiction produces, not truth or reality, but plausibility, and plausibility varies [51] in weight from a mere perfunctory concession in a myth or folk tale to a kind of censor principle in a naturalistic novel. Reading forward in history, therefore, we may think of our romantic, high mimetic and low mimetic modes as a series of displaced myths, mythoi or plot-formulas progressively moving over towards the opposite pole of verisimilitude, and then, with irony, beginning to move back.

Thematic Modes

Aristotle lists six aspects of poetry: three of them, melody, diction, and spectacle, form a group by themselves, and we shall consider them in due course. The other three are mythos or plot, ethos, which includes both characters and setting, and dianoia or "thought." The literary works we have so far been considering are works of fiction in which the plot is, as Aristotle called it, the "soul" or shaping principle, and the characters exist primarily as functions of the plot But besides the internal fiction of the hero and his society, there is an external fiction which is a relation between the writer and the writer's society. Poetry may be as completely absorbed in its internal characters as it is in Shakespeare, or in Homer, where the poet himself simply points to his story and disappears, the second word of the Odyssey, moi, being all we get of him in that poem. But as soon as the poet's personality appears on the horizon, a relation with the reader is established which cuts across the story, and which may increase until there is no story at all apart from what the poet is conveying to his reader.

In such genres as novels and plays the internal fiction is usually of primary interest; in essays and in lyrics the primary interest is in dianoia, the idea or poetic thought (something quite different, of course, from other kinds of thought) that the reader gets from the writer. The best translation of dianoia is, perhaps, "theme," and literature with this ideal or conceptual interest may be called thematic. When a reader of a novel asks, "How is this story going to turn out?" he is asking a question about the plot, specifically about that crucial aspect of the plot which Aristotle calls discovery or anagnorisis. But he is equally likely to ask, "What's the point of this story?" This question relates to dianoia, and indicates that themes have their elements of discovery just as plots do.

It is easy to say that some literary works are fictional and others [52] thematic in their main emphasis. But clearly there is no such thing as a fictional or a thematic work of literature, for all four ethical elements (ethical in the sense of relating to character), the hero, the hero's society, the poet and the poet's readers, are always at least potentially present. There can hardly be a work of literature without some kind of relation, implied or expressed, between its creator and its auditors. When the audience the poet had in mind is superseded by posterity, the relation changes, but it still holds. On the other hand, even in lyrics and essays the writer is to some extent a fictional hero with a fictional audience, for if the element of fictional projection disappeared completely, the writing would become direct address, or straight discursive writing, and cease to be literature. A poet sending a love poem to his lady complaining of her cruelty has stereoscoped his four ethical elements into two, but the four are still there.

Hence every work of literature has both a fictional and a thematic aspect, and the question of which is more important is often simply a matter of opinion or emphasis in interpretation. We have cited Homer as the very type of impersonal fiction writer, but the main emphasis of Homeric criticism, down to about 1750 at least, has been overwhelmingly thematic, concerned with the dianoia or ideal of leadership implicit in the two epics. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, is a novel named after its plot; Sense and Sensibility is named after its theme. But Fielding has as strong a thematic interest (revealed chiefly in the introductory chapters to the different books) as Jane Austen has in telling a good story. Both novels are strongly fictional in emphasis compared to Uncle Tom's Cabin or The Grapes of Wrath, where the plot exists primarily to illustrate the themes of slavery and migratory labor respectively. They in their turn are fictional in emphasis compared to The Pilgrim's Progress, and The Pilgrim's Progress is fictional in emphasis compared to an essay of Montaigne. We note that as we move from fictional to thematic emphasis, the element represented by the term mythos tends to mean increasingly "narrative" rather than "plot."

When a work of fiction is written or interpreted thematically, it becomes a parable or illustrative fable. All formal allegories have, ipso facto, a strong thematic interest, though it does not follow, as is often said, that any thematic criticism of a work of fiction will turn it into an allegory (though it may and does allegorize, as we [53] shall see). Genuine allegory is a structural element in literature: it has to be there, and cannot be added by critical interpretation alone.

Again, nearly every civilization has, in its stock of traditional myths, a particular group which is thought of as more serious, more authoritative, more educational and closer to fact and truth than the rest. For most poets of the Christian era who have used both the Bible and Classical literature, the latter has not stood on the same plane of authority as the former, although they are equally mythological as far as literary criticism is concerned. This distinction of canonical and apocryphal myth, which can be found even in primitive societies, gives to the former group a particular thematic importance.

We have now to see how our sequence of modes works out in the thematic aspect of literature. We shall have to confine ourselves here more strictly to Western literature, as the foreshortening process that we noticed in Classical fiction is even more marked on the thematic side.

In fiction, we discovered two main tendencies, a "comic" tendency to integrate the hero with his society, and a "tragic" tendency to isolate him. In thematic literature the poet may write as an individual, emphasizing the separateness of his personality and the distinctness of his vision. This attitude produces most lyrics and essays, a good deal of satire, epigrams, and the writing of "eclogues" or occasional pieces generally. The frequency of the moods of protest, complaint, ridicule, and loneliness (whether bitter or serene) in such works may perhaps indicate a rough analogy to the tragic modes of fiction. Or the poet may devote himself to being a spokesman of his society, which means, as he is not addressing a second society, that a poetic knowledge and expressive power which is latent or needed in his society comes to articulation in him.

Such an attitude produces poetry which is educational in the broadest sense: epics of the more artificial or thematic kind, didactic poetry and prose, encyclopaedic compilations of myth, folklore, and legend like those of Ovid and Snorri, where, though the stories themselves are fictional, the arrangement of them and the motive for collecting them is thematic. In poetry which is educational in this sense, the social function of the poet figures prominently as a theme. If we call the poetry of the isolated individual a "lyric" and the poetry of the social spokesman an "epic" tendency (in [54] comparison to the more "dramatic" fictions of internal characters) we shall perhaps gain some preliminary conception of them. But it is obvious that we are not here using these terms in any generic sense, and as they certainly should be used in a generic sense, we shall drop them at once and substitute "episodic" and "encyclopaedic" instead. That is, when the poet communicates as an individual, his forms tend to be discontinuous; when he communicates as a professional man with a social function, he tends to seek more extended patterns.

On the mythical plane there is more legend than evidence, but it is clear that the poet who sings about gods is often considered to be singing as one, or as an instrument of one. His social function is that of an inspired oracle; he is frequently an ecstatic, and we hear strange stories of his powers. Orpheus could draw trees after him; the bards and ollaves of the Celtic world could kill their enemies with their satire; the prophets of Israel foretold the future. The poet's visionary function, his proper work as a poet, is on this plane to reveal the god for whom he speaks. This usually means that he reveals the god's will in connection with a specific occasion, when he is consulted as an oracle in a state of "enthusiasm" or divine possession. But in time the god in him reveals his nature and history as well as his will, and so a larger pattern of myth and ritual is built up out of a series of oracular pronouncements. We can see this very clearly in the emergence of the Messiah myth from the oracles of the Hebrew prophets. The Koran is one clear historical instance at the beginning of the Western period of the mythical mode in action. Authentic examples of oracular poetry are so largely pre- and extra-literary that they are difficult to isolate. For more recent examples, such as the ecstatic oracles which are said to be an important aspect of the culture of the Plains Indians, we have to depend on anthropologists.

Two principles of some importance are already implicit in our argument. One is a conception of a total body of vision that poets as a whole class are entrusted with, a total body tending to incorporate itself in a single encyclopaedic form, which can be attempted by one poet if he is sufficiently learned or inspired, or by a poetic school or tradition if the culture is sufficiently homogeneous. We note that traditional tales and myths and histories have a strong tendency to stick together and form [55] encyclopaedic aggregates, especially when they are in a conventional metre, as they usually are. Some such process as this has been postulated for the Homeric epics, and in the Prose Edda the themes of the fragmentary lays of the Elder Edda are organized into a connected prose sequence. The Biblical histories obviously developed in a similar way, and in India, where the process of transmission was more relaxed, the two traditional epics, the Mdhabharata and the Ramayana, apparently went on distending themselves for centuries, like pythons swallowing sheep. The expansion of The Romaunt of the Rose into an encyclopaedic satire by a second author is a medieval example. In the Finnish Kalevala everything that is unified or continuous about the poem is a nineteenth-century reconstruction. It does not follow that the Kalevala, considered as a single epic, is a fake: on the contrary, what follows is that the material of the Kalevala is the sort of material that lends itself readily to such reconstruction. In the mythical mode the encyclopaedic form is the sacred scripture, and in the other modes we should expect to find encyclopaedic forms which constitute a series of increasingly human analogies of mythical or scriptural revelation.

The other principle is that while there may be a great variety of episodic forms in any mode, in each mode we may attach a special significance to the particular episodic form that seems to be the germ out of which the encyclopaedic forms develop. In the mythical mode this central or typical episodic product is the oracle. The oracle develops a number of subsidiary forms, notably the commandment, the parable, the aphorism, and the prophecy. Out of these, whether strung loosely together as they are in the Koran or carefully edited and arranged as they are in the Bible, the scripture or sacred book takes shape. The Book of Isaiah, for example, can be analyzed into a mass of separate oracles, with three major foci, so to speak, one mainly pre-exilic, one exilic and one post-exilic. The "higher critics" of the Bible are not literary critics, and we have to make the suggestion our selves that the Book of Isaiah is in fact the unity it has always been traditionally taken to be, a unity not of authorship but of theme, and that theme in epitome the theme of the Bible as a whole, as the parable of Israel lost, captive, and redeemed.

In the period of romance, the poet, like the corresponding hero, has become a human being, and the god has retreated to [56] the sky. His function now is primarily to remember. Memory, said Greek myth at the beginning of its historical period, is the mother of the Muses, who inspire the poets, but no longer in the same degree that the god inspires the oracle though the poets clung to the connection as long as they could. In Homer, in the perhaps more primitive Hesiod, in the poets of the heroic age of the North, we can see the kind of thing the poet had to remember. Lists of kings and foreign tribes, myths and genealogies of gods, historical traditions, the proverbs of popular wisdom, taboos, lucky and unlucky days, charms, the deeds of the tribal heroes, were some of the things that came out when the poet unlocked his word-hoard. The medieval minstrel with his repertory of memorized stories and the clerical poet who, like Gower or the author of the Cursor Mundi, tries to get everything he knows into one vast poem or poetic testament, belong in the same category. The encyclopaedic knowledge in such poems is regarded sacramentally, as a human analogy of divine knowledge.

The age of romantic heroes is largely a nomadic age, and its poets are frequently wanderers. The blind wandering minstrel is traditional in both Greek and Celtic literature; Old English poetry expresses some of the bleakest loneliness in the language; troubadours and Goliardic satirists roam over Europe in the Middle Ages; Dante himself was an exile. Or, if the poet stays where he is, it is poetry that travels: folk tales follow the trade routes; ballads and romances return from the great fairs; or Malory, writing in England, tells his readers what the "French book" says that has come to his hand. Of all fictions, the marvellous journey is the one formula that is never exhausted, and it is this fiction that is employed as a parable in the definitive encyclopaedic poem of the mode, Dante's Commedia. Poetry in this mode is an agent of catholicity, whether Hellenic in one age or Roman Christian in another.

Its typical episodic theme is perhaps best described as the theme of the boundary of consciousness, the sense of the poetic mind as passing from one world to another, or as simultaneously aware of both. The poem of exile, the lay of the Widsith or wayfarer who may be a wandering minstrel, a rejected lover, or a nomadic satirist, normally contrasts the worlds of memory and of experience. The poem of vision, conventionally dated on a May morning, contrasts the worlds of experience and dream. The [57] poem of revelation through female or divine grace contrasts the old dispensation with the vita nuova. In the opening lines of the Inferno the affinity of the great encyclopaedic poem with both the poem of exile and the poem of vision is clearly marked.

The high mimetic period brings in a society more strongly established around the court and capital city, and a centripetal perspective replaces the centrifugal one of romance. The distant goals of the quest, the Holy Grail or the City of God, modulate into symbols of convergence, the emblems of prince, nation, and national faith. The encyclopaedic poems of this period, The Faerie Queene, The Lusiad, Jerusalem Delivered, Paradise Lost, are national epics unified by patriotic and religious ideas. The reasons for the exceptional role of the political elements in Paradise Lost are familiar, and constitute no real difficulty in seeing it as a national epic. Along with The Pilgrim's Progress, it also constitutes a kind of introduction to English low mimetic, being in one of its essential aspects the story of Everyman. Such thematic epics are as a rule recognizably different in emphasis from narratives where the primary interest is in telling the story, as in most epic poetry of the heroic age, most Icelandic sagas and Celtic romances, and, in the Renaissance period, in the greater part of Orlando Furioso, though Renaissance critics showed that it was quite possible to interpret Ariosto thematically.

The central episodic theme of the high mimetic is the theme of cynosure or centripetal gaze, which, whether addressed to mistress, friend, or deity, seems to have something about it of the court gazing upon its sovereign, the court-room gazing upon the orator, or the audience gazing upon the actor. For the high mimetic poet is pre-eminently a courtier, a counsellor, a preacher, a public orator or a master of decorum, and the high mimetic is the period in which the settled theatre comes into its own as the chief medium of fictional forms. In Shakespeare the control of decorum is so great that his personality disappears behind it altogether, but this is unlikely to happen with a dramatist who has a strong thematic interest, like Ben Jonson. As a rule the high mimetic poet tends to think of his function in relation to social or divine leadership, the theme of leadership being at the center of his normal fictional mode. The courtier-poet devotes his learning to the court and his life to courtesy: the function of his education is the service of his prince and the climax of [58] it is courtly love, conceived as the fulfilling of the gaze upon beauty in the union with it. The religious poet may transfer this imagery to the spiritual life, as the English metaphysicals often do, or he may find his centripetal images in the liturgy. Jesuit poetry of the seventeenth century, and its English counter part in Crashaw, have a unique quality of iconic intensity: Herbert, too, draws his reader step by step into a visible "temple."

The literary Platonism of the high mimetic period is of a kind appropriate to the mode. Most of the Renaissance humanists show a strong sense of the importance of symposium and dialogue, the social and educational aspects respectively of an elite culture. There is also a widespread assumption that the dianoia of poetry represents a form, pattern, ideal, or model in nature. "Nature's world is brazen," says Sidney: "the poets only deliver a golden." He makes it clear that this golden world is not something separated from nature but is "in effect a second nature": a unification of fact, or example, with model, or precept. What is usually called the "neo classical" in art and criticism is chiefly, in our terms, a sense of poetic dianoia as a manifestation of the true form of nature, the true form being assumed to be ideal.

With the low mimetic, where fictional forms deal with an intensely individualized society, there is only one thing for an analogy of myth to become, and that is an act of individual creation. The typical result of this is "Romanticism," a thematic development which to a considerable extent turns away from contemporary forms of fiction and develops its own contrasting kind. The qualities necessary to create Hyperion and the qualities necessary to create Pride and Prejudice, though contemporary, seem curiously opposed to each other, as though there were a sharper division between fictional and thematic in the low mimetic than in other modes. To some extent this is true, for a sense of contrast between subjective and objective, mental state and outward condition, individual and social or physical data, is characteristic of the low mimetic. In this age the thematic poet becomes what the fictional hero was in the age of romance, an extraordinary person who lives in a higher and more imaginative order of experience than that of nature. He creates his own world, a world which reproduces many of the characteristics of fictional romance already touched on. The Romantic poet's mind is normally in a state of pantheistic rapport with nature, and seems curiously invulnerable to the assaults of real evil. A tendency [59] also paralleled in the earlier fictional romance, to transmute pain and terror into a form of pleasure is reflected in the sadism and diabolic imagery of the "Romantic agony." The encyclopaedic tendency of this period is toward the construction of mythological epics in which the myths represent psychological or subjective states of mind. Faust, especially in the second part, is the most nearly definitive example; the prophecies of Blake and the mythological poems of Keats and Shelley are the best known English representatives.

The thematic poet of this period is interested in himself, not necessarily out of egotism, but because the basis of his poetic skill is individual, and hence genetic and psychological. He uses biological metaphors; he contrasts the organic with the dead or mechanical; he thinks socially in terms of a biological difference between the genius and the ordinary man, and genius to him is a fertile seed among abortive ones. He confronts nature directly, as an individual, and, in contrast to most of his predecessors, is apt to think of literary tradition as a second-hand substitute for personal experience. Like the hero of low mimetic comedy, the Romantic poet is often socially aggressive: the possession of creative genius confers authority, and its social impact is revolutionary. Romantic critics often develop theories of poetry as the rhetoric of personal greatness. The central episodic theme is the analysis or presentation of the subjective mental state, a theme usually taken to be typical of the literary movements accompanying Rousseau and Byron. The Romantic poet finds it much easier than his predecessors to be at once individual in content and attitude and continuous in form. The fact that so many of Wordsworth's shorter poems could be absorbed into the Prelude, in much the way in which primitive lays stick together to form epics, represents a technical innovation of some significance.

The poets who succeed the Romantics, the poets of French symbolisme for example, begin with the ironic gesture of turning away from the world of the market-place, with all its blurred sounds and imprecise meanings: they renounce rhetoric, moral judgement, and all other idols of the tribe, and devote their entire energy to the poet's literal function as a maker of poems. We said that the ironic fiction-writer is influenced by no considerations except craftsmanship, and the thematic poet in the ironic age thinks of himself more as a craftsman than as a creator or "unacknowledged [60] legislator." That is, he makes the minimum claim for his personality and the maximum for his art - a contrast which underlies Yeats's theory of the poetic mask. At his best he is a dedicated spirit, a saint or anchorite of poetry. Flaubert, Rilke, Mallarmé, Proust, were all in their very different ways "pure" artists. Hence the central episodic theme is the theme of the pure but transient vision, the aesthetic or timeless moment, Rimbaud's illumination, Joyce's epiphany, the Augeriblick of modern German thought, and the kind of non-didactic revelation implied in such terms as symbolisme and imagism.

The comparison of such instants with the vast panorama unrolled by history ("temps perdu") is the main theme of the encyclopaedic tendency. In Proust the repetitions of certain experiences at widely scattered intervals create these timeless moments out of time; in Finnegans Wake the whole of history itself is presented as a single gigantic anti-epiphany. On a smaller but still encyclopaedic scale, Eliot's The Waste Land and Virginia Woolf's last and most profound book, Between the Acts, have in common (a fact more striking because they have nothing else in common) a sense of contrast between the course of a whole civilization and the tiny flashes of significant moments which reveal its meaning. And just as the Romantic poet found it possible to write as an individual in continuous forms, so the ironic mode is rationalized by critical theories of the essential discontinuity of poetry. The paradoxical technique of the poetry which is encyclopaedic and yet discontinuous, the technique of The Waste Land and of Ezra Pound's Cantos, is, like its direct opposite in Wordsworth, a technical innovation heralding a new mode.

Details of the same technique fit the general pattern of thematic irony. The ironic method of saying one thing and meaning something rather different is incorporated in Mallarmé's doctrine of the avoidance of direct statement. The practice of cutting out predication, of simply juxtaposing images without making any assertions about their relationship, is consistent with the effort to avoid oratorical rhetoric. The same is true of the elimination of apostrophes and similar devices for including some mimesis of direct address. One study has even demonstrated a substantial increase in the use of the definite article in the ironic mode, a use said to be linked with the implicit sense of an initiated group aware of a real meaning behind an ironically baffling exterior. [61]

The return of irony to myth that we noted in fiction is paralleled by some tendencies of the ironic craftsman to return to the oracular. This tendency is often accompanied by cyclical theories of history which help to rationalize the idea of a return, the appearance of such theories being a typical phenomenon of the ironic mode. We have Rimbaud and his "dérèglement de tous les sens" designed to make himself a reincarnation of the Prometheus who brought the divine fire to man and to restore the old mythical connection between the manic and the mantic. We have Rilke and his lifetime of tense listening to an oracular voice within him. We have Nietzsche proclaiming the advent of a new divine power in man, a proclamation which is somewhat confused by including a theory of identical recurrence. We have Yeats telling us that the Western cycle is nearly over and that a new Classical one, with Leda and the swan taking the place of the dove and the virgin, is about to begin. We have Joyce and his Viconian theory of history which sees our own age as a frustrated apocalypse followed instantly by a return to a period before Tristram.

As for the inferences which may be made from the above survey, one is clearly that many current critical assumptions have a limited historical context. In our day an ironic provincialism, which looks everywhere in literature for complete objectivity, suspension of moral judgements, concentration on pure verbal craftsmanship, and similar virtues, is in the ascendant. A Romantic provincialism, which looks everywhere for genius and evidences of great personality, is more old-fashioned, but it is still around. The high mimetic mode also had its pedants, some of them still trying to apply canons of ideal form in the eighteenth and even the nineteenth centuries. The suggestion made here is that no set of critical standards derived from only one mode can ever assimilate the whole truth about poetry.

There may be noticed a general tendency to react most strongly against the mode immediately preceding, and, to a lesser extent, to return to some of the standards of the modal grandfather. Thus the humanists of the high mimetic age were in general contemptuous of the "fablers and loud lyars," as Spenser's E.K. calls them, who produced medieval romance. But, as we can see in Sidney, they were never tired of justifying poetry by referring to the social importance of the original mythical phase. They tended to think [62] of themselves as secular oracles of the order of nature, responding to the occasions of public affairs like the oracular poets, within a context of social and natural law. The Romantics, the thematic poets of the low mimetic period, set their faces against their predecessors' methods of following nature, and went back to the mode of romance.

The Romantic standards, in English literature, were in the main carried on by the Victorians, indicating a continuity of mode; the long anti-Romantic revolt that began around 1900 (several decades earlier in French literature) indicated a shift to the ironic. In the new mode the fondness for the small closely-knit group, the sense of the esoteric, and the nostalgia for the aristocratic that has produced such very different phenomena as the royalism of Eliot, the fascism of Pound, and the cult of chivalry in Yeats, are all in a way part of a reversion to high mimetic standards. The sense of the poet as courtier, of poetry as the service of a prince, of the supreme importance of the symposium or elite group, are among the high mimetic conceptions reflected in twentieth-century literature, especially in the poetry of the symboliste tradition from Mallarme to George and Rilke. The exceptions to this tendency are sometimes less exceptional than they seem. The Fabian Society, when Bernard Shaw first joined it, was a group esoteric enough to satisfy Yeats himself: after Fabian socialism became a mass movement, Shaw turned into what became at length unmistakably a frustrated royalist.

Again, we may note that each period of Western culture has made a conspicuous use of the Classical literature nearest to it in mode: romanticized versions of Homer in the Middle Ages; Virgilian epic, Platonic symposium, and Ovidian courtly love in the high mimetic; Roman satire in the low mimetic; the products of the latest possible period of Latin in the ironic phase of Huysmans' A Rebours.

We saw in our survey of fictional modes that the poet never imitates "life" in the sense that life becomes anything more than the content of his work. In every mode he imposes the same kind of mythical form on his content, but makes different adaptations of it. In thematic modes, similarly, the poet never imitates thought except in the same sense of imposing a literary form on his thought. The failure to understand this produces a fallacy to which we may give the general term "existential projection." Suppose a writer [63] finds that he is most successful with tragedies. His works will inevitably be full of gloom and catastrophe, and in his final scenes there will be characters standing around making remarks about the sternness of necessity, the vicissitudes of fortune, and the ineluctability of fate. Such sentiments are part of the dianoia of tragedy; but a writer who specializes in tragedy may well come to feel that they speak for the profoundest of all philosophies, and begin to emit similar utterances himself when asked what his own philosophy of life is. On the other hand, a writer whose specialty is comedy and happy endings will have his characters standing around at the end talking about the beneficence of providence, the miracles that come when we least expect them, the spirit of thankfulness and joy which we all ought to feel for the mercies of life.

It is natural, then, for tragedy and comedy to throw their shadows, so to speak, into philosophy and shape there a philosophy of fate and a philosophy of providence respectively. Thomas Hardy and Bernard Shaw both flourished around 1900 and both were interested in evolution. Hardy did better with tragedy, and saw evolution in terms of a stoical meliorism, a Schopenhauerian immanent will, and an activity of "chance" or "hap" in which any individual life may be expendable. Shaw, who wrote comedies, saw evolution as creative, leading to revolutionary politics, the advent of a Superman, and to whatever metabiology is. But it is obvious that Hardy and Shaw are not substantial philosophers, and they must stand or fall by their achievements in poetry, fiction, and drama.

Similarly, each mode of literature develops its own existential projection. Mythology projects itself as theology: that is, a mythopoeic poet usually accepts some myths as "true" and shapes his poetic structure accordingly. Romance peoples the world with fantastic, normally invisible personalities or powers: angels, demons, fairies, ghosts, enchanted animals, elemental spirits like those in The Tempest and Comus. Dante wrote in this mode, but not speculatively: he accepted the spiritual beings recognized by Christian doctrine, and concerns himself with no others. But for a late poet interested in the techniques of romance - Yeats, for instance - the question of whether and which of these mysterious creatures "really exist" is likely to project itself. The high mimetic projects mainly a quasi-Platonic philosophy of ideal forms, like the love and beauty of Spenser's hymns or the virtues of The Faerie Queene [64] and the low mimetic mainly a philosophy of genesis and organism, like that of Goethe, which finds unity and development in every thing. The existential projection of irony is, perhaps, existentialism itself; and the return of irony to myth is accompanied, not only by the cyclical theories of history mentioned above, but, in a later stage, by a widespread interest in sacramental philosophy and dogmatic theology.

Mr. Eliot distinguishes between the poet who creates a philosophy for himself, and the poet who takes over one that he finds to hand, and advances the view that the latter course is better, or at least safer, for most poets. The distinction is fundamentally a distinction between the practice of the thematic poets of the low mimetic and of the ironic modes. Such poets as Blake, Shelley, Goethe, and Victor Hugo were compelled by the conventions of their mode to present the conceptual aspect of their imagery as self-generated; the poets of the last century have different conventions and different compulsions. But if the view taken here of the relation of form to content in poetry is sound, then no matter which he does the poet will still have much the same technical problems to face.

Ever since Aristotle criticism has tended to think of literature as essentially mimetic, and as divided between a "high" form of epic and tragedy dealing with ruling-class figures, and a "low" form confined to comedy and satire and more concerned with characters like ourselves. The larger scheme set forth in this chapter will, it is hoped, afford a useful background against which to relate the different and apparently contradictory remarks of Plato about poetry. Phaedrus deals largely with poetry as myth, and forms a commentary on Plato's treatment of myth; Ion, which is centered on the figure of a minstrel or rhapsode, sets forth both the encyclopaedic and the memorial conceptions of poetry which are typical of the romantic mode; the Symposium, which introduces Aristophanes, adopts the high mimetic canons which are probably nearest to Plato's own views. The famous discussion at the end of the Republic then falls into its place as a polemic against the low mimetic element in poetry, and in the Cratylus we are introduced to the ironic techniques of ambiguity, verbal association, paronomasia, and the apparatus now being revived by criticism to [65] deal with the poetry of the ironic mode - the criticism which, by a further refinement of irony, is called "new" criticism.

Again, the difference in emphasis that we have described as fictional and thematic corresponds to a distinction between two views of literature that has run all through the history of criticism. These two views are the aesthetic and the creative, the Aristotelian and the Longinian, the view of literature as product and the view of literature as process. For Aristotle, the poem is a techne or aesthetic artifact: he is, as a critic, mainly interested in the more objective fictional forms, and his central conception is catharsis. Catharsis implies the detachment of the spectator, both from the work of art itself and from the author. The phrase "aesthetic distance" is generally accepted now in criticism, but it is almost a tautology: wherever there is aesthetic apprehension there is emotional and intellectual detachment. The principles of catharsis in other fictional forms than tragedy, such as comedy or satire, were not worked out by Aristotle, and have therefore never been worked out since.

In the thematic aspect of literature, the external relation between author and reader becomes more prominent, and when it does, the emotions of pity and terror are involved or contained rather than purged. In catharsis the emotions are purged by being attached to objects; where they are involved with the response they are unattached and remain prior conditions in the mind. We have noticed that terror without an object, as a condition of mind prior to being afraid of anything, is now conceived as Angst or anxiety, a somewhat narrow term for a feeling that extends from the pleasure of Il Penseroso to the pain of the Fleurs du Mal. In the general area of pleasure comes the conception of the sublime, in which austerity, gloom, grandeur, melancholy, or even menace are a source of romantic or penseroso feelings.

Similarly, we defined pity without an object as an imaginative animism which finds human qualities everywhere in nature, and includes the "beautiful," traditionally the corresponding term to the sublime. The beautiful has the same relation to the diminutive that the sublime has to bigness, and is closely related to the sense of the intricate and exquisite. The fairies of English folklore become Shakespeare's Mustard-Seed and Drayton's Pigwiggen, and Yeats's animism is linked to his sense of "many ingenious lovely things," and to his image of the toy bird in Sailing to Byzantium. [66]

Just as catharsis is the central conception of the Aristotelian approach to literature, so ecstasis or absorption is the central conception of the Longinian approach. This is a state of identification in which the reader, the poem, and sometimes, at least ideally, the poet also, are involved. We say reader, because the Longinian conception is primarily that of a thematic or individualized response: it is more useful for lyrics, just as the Aristotelian one is more useful for plays. Sometimes, however, the normal categories of approach are not the right ones. In Hamlet, as Mr. Eliot has shown, the amount of emotion generated by the hero is too great for its objects; but surely the correct conclusion to draw from this fine insight is that Hamlet is best approached as a tragedy of Angst or of melancholy as a state in itself, rather than purely as an Aristotelian imitation of an action. On the other hand, the lack of emotional involvement in Lycidas has been thought by some, including Johnson, to be a failure in that poem, but surely the correct conclusion is that Lycidas, like Samson Agonistes, should be read in terms of catharsis with all passion spent.

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