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The Soul of Poetry Redefined

Vacillations of Mimesis from Aristotle to Romanticism

What is the soul of poetry? Perhaps the most influential answer comes from Aristotle’s Poetics, in which the writer regarded poetry as an instance of mimesis, a kind of representation or simulation. However, despite the significance he gave the term, Aristotle's use of the word mimesis was far from unequivocal, and over the centuries that have followed this inconsistency has stimulated a wealth of interpretations and debate. Tracking Poetics from its birth in rhetorical studies to its reception across the centuries until romanticism, Mats Malm here examines the many different ways scholars—from Averroës to Schlegel—have understood mimesis, looking at how these various interpretations have led to very different definitions of the soul of poetry.

238 pages | 6 3/8 x 9 1/2 | © 2012


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“A valuable contribution to the study of mimesis and of the long-standing influence of Aristotle in Western aesthetics.”

P. I. Vieira | Choice

“‘Aristotle, I have been told, has said that Poetry is the most philosophical of all writing . . .’ Carefully holding Aristotle’s Poetics at a distance while yet claiming it as a critical authority, Wordsworth’s bit of hearsay in the preface to Lyrical Ballads is a rhetorical gesture with a long history. The poet was but one in a long line of writers eager to cite Aristotle’s poetic dicta while radically and fruitfully redefining the basic terms of Aristotle’s argument. Mats Malm’s The Soul of Poetry Redefined represents a welcome attempt to clarify the various, ever-changing meanings attached to some of these basic terms—most notably mimesis, diction, and verisimilitude—amid the reception and interpretation of the Poetics from the twelfth to the eighteenth century.”

Comparative Literature Studies

Table of Contents

    The soul of poetry—the definition of mimesis
    Mimetic variations

1. Aristotle
    Two instances of mimesis
    Plato’s categories
    Points of departure
2. Averroës’s adaptation (12th–13th century)
    The poetics of visuality
    The place of metaphor
    Averroës and the soul
    The soul of poetry: muthos replaced by lexis
3. Mathias Lincopensis: Representation and revelation (14th century)
    Master Mathias on literary presentation
    From mimesis to representatio: fiction boiled down to metaphor
    Revelation and poetics
4. The Italian Renaissance (16th–17th century)
    Towards a new poetics of diction
    The ambiguity of imitation—the ambiguity of verisimilitude
5. French classicism and the necessity of probability (17th century)
6. The principle and polemics of the fine arts (18th century)
    Charles Batteux: the fine arts reduced to a single principle
    Poësie des choses and poësie du style
    Schlegel’s critique
7. The nachleben of imitation (early 19th century)
8. The technique of the sublime (3rd–18th century)

    The explicit argument
    The implicit argument
    The figure of the sublime
    The terminology of the sublime
    Fantasy merges with fantasy
9. The symbol and the categories of rhetoric
    Definitions of the symbol
    Outside the system of tropes
    The word symbol
    Poetry, painting, symbolism and visuality
10. Emotions and the system of genres
    The instrumental emotions
    The emotions turned into objects of poetry
    From instrument to object—to soul


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