Mimesis is a critical and philosophical term that carries a wide range of meanings, which include imitation, representation, mimicry, imitatio, receptivity, nonsensuous similarity, the act of resembling, the act of expression, and the presentation of the self.
In ancient Greece, mimesis was an idea that governed the creation of works of art, in particular, with correspondence to the physical world understood as a model for beauty, truth, and the good. Plato contrasted mimesis, or imitation, with diegesis, or narrative. After Plato, the meaning of mimesis eventually shifted toward a specifically literary function in ancient Greek society, and its use has changed and been reinterpreted many times since.
One of the best-known modern studies of mimesis, understood as a form of realism in literature, is Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, which opens with a famous comparison between the way the world is represented in Homer’s Odyssey and the way it appears in the Bible. From these two seminal Western texts, Auerbach builds the foundation for a unified theory of representation that spans the entire history of Western literature, including the Modernist novels being written at the time Auerbach began his study. In art history, “mimesis”, “realism” and “naturalism” are used, often interchangeably, as terms for the accurate, even “illusionistic”, representation of the visual appearance of things.
Mimesis has been theorised by thinkers as diverse as Plato, Aristotle, Philip Sidney, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Adam Smith, Gabriel Tarde, Sigmund Freud, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Erich Auerbach, Paul Ricœur, Luce Irigaray, Jacques Derrida, René Girard, Nikolas Kompridis, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Michael Taussig, Merlin Donald, and Homi Bhabha.
Both Plato and Aristotle saw in mimesis the representation of nature. Plato wrote about mimesis in both Ion and The Republic (Books II, III, and X). In Ion, he states that poetry is the art of divine madness, or inspiration. Because the poet is subject to this divine madness, instead of possessing “art” or “knowledge” (techne) of the subject (532c), the poet does not speak truth (as characterized by Plato’s account of the Forms). As Plato has it, only truth is the concern of the philosopher. As culture in those days did not consist in the solitary reading of books, but in the listening to performances, the recitals of orators (and poets), or the acting out by classical actors of tragedy, Plato maintained in his critique that theatre was not sufficient in conveying the truth (540c). He was concerned that actors or orators were thus able to persuade an audience by rhetoric rather than by telling the truth (535b).
In Book II of The Republic, Plato describes Socrates’ dialogue with his pupils. Socrates warns we should not seriously regard poetry as being capable of attaining the truth and that we who listen to poetry should be on our guard against its seductions, since the poet has no place in our idea of God.
In developing this in Book X, Plato told of Socrates’ metaphor of the three beds: one bed exists as an idea made by God (the Platonic ideal); one is made by the carpenter, in imitation of God’s idea; one is made by the artist in imitation of the carpenter’s.
So the artist’s bed is twice removed from the truth. The copiers only touch on a small part of things as they really are, where a bed may appear differently from various points of view, looked at obliquely or directly, or differently again in a mirror. So painters or poets, though they may paint or describe a carpenter or any other maker of things, know nothing of the carpenter’s (the craftsman’s) art, and though the better painters or poets they are, the more faithfully their works of art will resemble the reality of the carpenter making a bed, nonetheless the imitators will still not attain the truth (of God’s creation).
The poets, beginning with Homer, far from improving and educating humanity, do not possess the knowledge of craftsmen and are mere imitators who copy again and again images of virtue and rhapsodise about them, but never reach the truth in the way the superior philosophers do.
Similar to Plato’s writings about mimesis, Aristotle also defined mimesis as the perfection, and imitation of nature. Art is not only imitation but also the use of mathematical ideas and symmetry in the search for the perfect, the timeless, and contrasting being with becoming. Nature is full of change, decay, and cycles, but art can also search for what is everlasting and the first causes of natural phenomena. Aristotle wrote about the idea of four causes in nature. The first, the formal cause, is like a blueprint, or an immortal idea. The second cause is the material cause, or what a thing is made out of. The third cause is the efficient cause, that is, the process and the agent by which the thing is made. The fourth, the final cause, is the good, or the purpose and end of a thing, known as telos.
Aristotle’s Poetics is often referred to as the counterpart to this Platonic conception of poetry. Poetics is his treatise on the subject of mimesis. Aristotle was not against literature as such; he stated that human beings are mimetic beings, feeling an urge to create texts (art) that reflect and represent reality.
Aristotle considered it important that there be a certain distance between the work of art on the one hand and life on the other; we draw knowledge and consolation from tragedies only because they do not happen to us. Without this distance, tragedy could not give rise to catharsis. However, it is equally important that the text causes the audience to identify with the characters and the events in the text, and unless this identification occurs, it does not touch us as an audience. Aristotle holds that it is through “simulated representation”, mimesis, that we respond to the acting on the stage which is conveying to us what the characters feel, so that we may empathise with them in this way through the mimetic form of dramatic roleplay. It is the task of the dramatist to produce the tragic enactment in order to accomplish this empathy by means of what is taking place on stage.
In short, catharsis can only be achieved if we see something that is both recognisable and distant. Aristotle argued that literature is more interesting as a means of learning than history, because history deals with specific facts that have happened, and which are contingent, whereas literature, although sometimes based on history, deals with events that could have taken place or ought to have taken place.
Aristotle thought of drama as being “an imitation of an action” and of tragedy as “falling from a higher to a lower estate” and so being removed to a less ideal situation in more tragic circumstances than before. He posited the characters in tragedy as being better than the average human being, and those of comedy as being worse.
Michael Davis, a translator and commentator of Aristotle writes:
“At first glance, mimesis seems to be a stylizing of reality in which the ordinary features of our world are brought into focus by a certain exaggeration, the relationship of the imitation to the object it imitates being something like the relationship of dancing to walking. Imitation always involves selecting something from the continuum of experience, thus giving boundaries to what really has no beginning or end. Mimêsis involves a framing of reality that announces that what is contained within the frame is not simply real. Thus the more “real” the imitation the more fraudulent it becomes.”
Contrast to diegesis
It was also Plato and Aristotle who contrasted mimesis with diegesis (Greek διήγησις). Mimesis shows, rather than tells, by means of directly represented action that is enacted. Diegesis, however, is the telling of the story by a narrator; the author narrates action indirectly and describes what is in the characters’ minds and emotions. The narrator may speak as a particular character or may be the “invisible narrator” or even the “all-knowing narrator” who speaks from above in the form of commenting on the action or the characters.
In Book III of his Republic (c. 373 BCE), Plato examines the style of poetry (the term includes comedy, tragedy, epic and lyric poetry): All types narrate events, he argues, but by differing means. He distinguishes between narration or report (diegesis) and imitation or representation (mimesis). Tragedy and comedy, he goes on to explain, are wholly imitative types; the dithyramb is wholly narrative; and their combination is found in epic poetry. When reporting or narrating, “the poet is speaking in his own person; he never leads us to suppose that he is any one else”; when imitating, the poet produces an “assimilation of himself to another, either by the use of voice or gesture”. In dramatic texts, the poet never speaks directly; in narrative texts, the poet speaks as himself or herself.
In his Poetics, Aristotle argues that kinds of poetry (the term includes drama, flute music, and lyre music for Aristotle) may be differentiated in three ways: according to their medium, according to their objects, and according to their mode or manner (section I); “For the medium being the same, and the objects the same, the poet may imitate by narration—in which case he can either take another personality, as Homer does, or speak in his own person, unchanged—or he may present all his characters as living and moving before us” (section III).
Though they conceive of mimesis in quite different ways, its relation with diegesis is identical in Plato’s and Aristotle’s formulations.
In ludology, mimesis is sometimes used to refer to the self-consistency of a represented world, and the availability of in-game rationalisations for elements of the gameplay. In this context, mimesis has an associated grade: highly self-consistent worlds that provide explanations for their puzzles and game mechanics are said to display a higher degree of mimesis. This usage can be traced back to the essay “Crimes Against Mimesis”.
Dionysian imitatio is the influential literary method of imitation as formulated by Greek author Dionysius of Halicarnassus in the 1st century BCE, which conceived it as technique of rhetoric: emulating, adaptating, reworking and enriching a source text by an earlier author.
Dionysius’ concept marked a significant depart from the concept of mimesis formulated by Aristotle’s in the 4th century BCE, which was only concerned with “imitation of nature” instead of the “imitation of other authors”. Latin orators and rhetoricians adopted the literary method of Dionysius’ imitatio and discarded Aristotle’s mimesis.
18th and 19th century
Jean Le Rond d’Alembert divided in its published 1751 Introduction (Discourse préliminaire) to and from it Denis Diderot published Encyclopedia our knowledge areas in the three strands of the story (memoria), science and philosophy (ratio) and the imagination or Imagination (imaginatio). Imagination includes the pictorial, linguistic and musical representation of existing things (nature).
Following Aristotle, d’Alembert remarks: “But those things which, in real experience, would only excite sad or stormy feelings in us, appear more pleasant in the imitative representation than in reality, because their mere presentation leads us just to the appropriate distance (cette juste distance), which makes the excitement a pleasure, but not an inner disturbance. “The decisive factor is that there can never be a perfectly adequate depiction or presentation of such things, since” in this area the boundaries between Truth and arbitrary arbitrariness leave some scope “. What can be perceived as a shortcoming in relation to the question of truth can be praised equally as freedom of the imagination.
Alembert’s eyes are closest to reality in painting and sculpture, “because in them, more than in all other arts, imitation comes close to the actual form of the represented objects.” However, architecture is by no means included, although architecture is by no means imitating nature directly, unless it were claimed that trees, shrubs or caves serve as remote models for the construction of houses. For d’Alembert, however, the mimetic capacity of architecture is that it takes an example of the “symmetrical arrangement” (l’arrangement symëtrique) of nature, which he observes everywhere in all the “beautiful variety” (belle variété) to be able to. In second place is poetry, who speaks more to our imagination than to our senses because of their “harmonious and well-sounding words”. Music comes last because it is least of all the arts that mimics things that are detectable in visible nature. “The music, originally intended only to reproduce sounds (representer), has gradually become a kind of lecture, indeed a language in which the individual emotional impulses, or rather their various passions, find their expression.” Alembert insists, however, that good music always imitates something that already exists (that is, above all soul moods) and does not live on its own. He claims, “Any music that does not describe anything just stays sound.” (“Toute Musique qui ne peint rien n’est que du bruit.”) since it is least of all arts that mimics things that are demonstrable in visible nature. ”
The music, originally intended only to reproduce sounds (representer), has gradually become a kind of lecture, indeed a language in which the individual emotional impulses, or rather their various passions, find their expression.” Alembert insists, however, that good music always imitates something that already exists (that is, above all soul moods) and does not live on its own. He claims, “Any music that does not describe anything just stays sound.” (“Toute Musique qui ne peint rien n’est que du bruit.”) since it is least of all arts that mimics things that are demonstrable in visible nature. “The music, originally intended only to reproduce sounds (representer), has gradually become a kind of lecture, indeed a language in which the individual emotional impulses, or rather their various passions, find their expression.”
Alembert insists, however, that good music always imitates something that already exists (that is, above all soul moods) and does not live on its own. He claims, “Any music that does not describe anything just stays sound.” (“Toute Musique qui ne peint rien n’est que du bruit.”) has gradually become a kind of lecture, indeed a language in which the individual emotional impulses or rather their various passions find their expression. “D’Alembert insists, however, that good music always imitates something existing (ie, above all soul moods) and do not live on your own. He claims, “Any music that does not describe anything just stays sound.” (“Toute Musique qui ne peint rien n’est que du bruit.”) has gradually become a kind of lecture, indeed a language in which the individual emotional impulses or rather their various passions find their expression. “D’Alembert insists, however, that good music always imitates something existing (ie, above all soul moods) and do not live on your own. He claims, “Any music that does not describe anything just stays sound.” (“Toute Musique qui ne peint rien n’est que du bruit.”)
In his Critique of Judgment, Kant develops a mimesis notion that uses nature as a guideline, but does not aim at a naturalistic aesthetic. When Kant asserts that all beauty of art must orientate itself on the beauty of nature, it has anything in it but simple object painting in mind. It is not a question of depicting nature in its concrete appearance (in the form of a specific river landscape, for example), but of taking it in its capacity as a self-creating entity, evincing infinite beauty and grandiose grandeur. For this reason, he can set the artist analogous to nature, insofar as he also does not submit to any foreign rules, but only obeys his own laws and thereby creates something overwhelming.
For another reason, however, the mimesis was again pilloried: because the demand for imitation in French classical music prevented personal originality, it stood in the way of emancipation and individualization in the second half of the 18th century. Therefore the mimesis was increasingly condemned around 1800 and replaced by the principle of empathy (which put Friedrich Theodor Vischer at the center):
In this sense, empathy possesses something mimetic insofar as the point of reference shifts from the object to the subject: no longer is a thing imitated, but the feelings in the consideration of this thing. A painting that represents a tree is not a tree, of course, but it can “recreate” the sensations of looking at a tree. No longer the observed is the starting point, but the observer. This puts the subjective reflection and the subjective feeling in the center.
The principle of empathy in the 19th century was often contrasted with the “German” inwardness of a French externality, such as Richard Wagner. At the same time, a reserve for the French court customs with their fixed rituals always played a role. Behind this openly articulated anti-French sentiment, however, was hidden above all the bourgeois demarcation of the aristocratic upper class. The mimetic approximation of the subjects “in the enthusiastic state of clairvoyance” (Wagner) played a significant role in the self-understanding of bourgeois institutions, such as the cooperative (in the sense of Wagner, see Gesamtkunstwerk), later in a coarser way for the self-understanding of the “nation” Or the ” people “.
A not inconsiderable part of the art of the 20th century is characterized by an “anti-mimetic affect”. There are several reasons for that. The most important may be to ward off any kind of aesthetic norm, and to have to deal with the urge not to submit to any more rule and form. As the mimetic focuses on something specific, be it in nature or in an artistic ideal, it represents a past in which there were far more religious, political, and social materials and aesthetic models, which were always varied and worked on anew, The antimimetic affect is also based on a definitional shortening of the term mimesis insofar as it is usually equated only with the imitation of nature. However, he has never owned this narrow meaning. And there, where actually the imitation of nature was mentioned,
In a broader sense, however, the criticism of a mimetic art is directed against any kind of representation that relates to something predestined. Specifically, this means that parts of modern dance no longer depict actions and thus tell mundane stories in a silent way, but that dance wants to be nothing but dance, without expressing something recognizable. The same is true of visual art, which on its way to abstraction tried to leave behind everything objective and identifiable. Even in literature, which because of its linguistic quality always has to do with recognizability, is not only in the Dada movement, but also in the Nouveau Romanand in other experimental directions there is the need to use language not as a means of representation of reality but as a means of expression sui generis. However, this raises the question of whether by decree you can say goodbye to the mimetic or if it is not an illusion to believe that you can move in areas that are all alone and have no relation to something already known. For even a white wall, on which nothing objective is to be seen, refers to something, be it the idea of purity or emptiness. ReferenzlosThere is almost nothing in the world, even if one strives with all conceivable means to represent or symbolize nothing at all. The fact that images, comparisons, similarities, memories and thoughts come to mind in any art that is so far removed from the image proves how almost impossible it is to completely escape the mimetic character of the transfix.
In 1946, the Romanist Erich Auerbach published his literary-historical work entitled “Mimesis”, in which he examined the “presented reality in Western literature”.
Theodor W. Adorno
For Adorno, the element of the mimetic also remains central in modern art, which is no longer oriented towards representability. Art, according to his posthumously published Aesthetic Theory in 1970consists of “mimesis and construction”. By juxtaposing what they relate to material from reality in much more successful ways, artworks create a world in which the parts of the whole are not in a subordinate relationship. Already in this way great art proves in Adorno’s eyes a criticism of such existing conditions which sacrifice the individual to the law of the whole. This does not mean that artworks have to be beautiful, quite the contrary. As for the material that they draw from reality, Adorno’s perspective can not be anything beautiful. As successful one can design works of art only by virtue of their form. “Modernity is art through mimesis to the hardened and alienated,” claims Adorno. That is why his thinking revolves around such an art, which brings the torn and dissonant into the foreground. “Art has to make it ugly as an outlaw to do its thing… to denounce the ugly in the world”, he proclaims, with which she has such a clear task that one must ask oneself whether the autonomy of art defended by Adorno has real freedom. And be it the one who does not have to do the ugly thing for her.
The French philosopher Paul Ricœur, in his three-volume work, Time and Narrative, published between 1983 and 1985, focuses on the fundamental importance of the mimetic for any kind of understanding. Using numerous literary examples, he explains how, in contrast to conceptual-logical thinking, only narrative is able to make the dimension of time sensually tangible. Physically and philosophically, though we can debate the phenomenon of the time of the long and the broad, we never experience so intensely what constitutes time as when we read a novel. Told timehow we find them creates an experience of time itself. What in the eyes of Ricœur belong to those three mimetic components which he characterizes as prefiguration, configuration and refiguration. The prefigurative presupposes a fundamental understanding, which we bring with us and do not tap into the context of a literary narrative. The configurative consists of the manifold elements that make up a story into an organic, self-living whole. The Refigurativeagain, it aims at those intermediate worlds which open themselves to the reader between what he has read and his experiences. If the literary retains its intrinsic value in the sense of an epic composition, it nevertheless always lives from the fact that it is mimically linked to the world and to reality. At the same time, this means that reality itself is a kind of readable world and is not a fix that works completely differently from the books. For there is nothing in the world and in the self to which we have direct access free of interpretations. Everything is through signs, symbols, Language and texts, whether we are aware of it or not. Insofar as both the reality and the literature hold something in the balance and open to various interpretations, they are not fundamentally separate. The literary narrative differs from the empirical life in that composition, which in Ricure’s eyes, with all the freedom of the play and the imagination, must possess an inner evidence, so as not to raise the reader’s question about its meaning, purpose and probability. For a reader, on the other hand, who immerses himself in a novel without such constant questions of principle, the world “reconfigures itself” through the book itself.
Jacques Derrida radicalizes Ricœur’s hermeneutical position by claiming in his grammatology published in 1967: There is no outside of the text (“il n’y a pas un en-dehors-texte”). What sounds like sheer madness and sounds like pure denial of reality, however, means that we do not have an extra-linguistic access to extra-linguistic phenomena and that we always move forward in explanation and interpretation patterns that determine this “outside” in the first place as an outsider making it a constituent of discursive distinctions.
Derrida thus leaves or deconstructs the elemental occidental (Platonic) distinctions between archetype and image, being and appearance, nature and culture, primary and secondary reality. That language and being can not be separated from one another is one of the already binding ideas of hermeneutics, which are associated with the names of Heidegger, Gadamer and Ricœur. By granting being no ontological priority, but diagnosing it as the efficiency of linguistic constructions, Derrida deprives every recourse of the genuine, the original, the authenticand natural the soil. Where we speak by nature, we only speak of nature and assign it certain qualities, and where we identify something as authentic, it remains a mere attribution, without it being possible for us to establish out-of-word what nature and what the authentic are actually. There remain discursive constructs.
On this background, one might think that there is no point in talking about mimesis any more, since mimesis presupposes the dichotomy of specification and imitation, archetype and image, original and copy, real presence and merely mental imagination. Within such ontological dichotomies mimesis has its ancestral role, but after this kind of metaphysicsOnce it has been deconstructed, one might think that it has become completely obsolete. However, not only the art, but all thinking and doing is still mimetic shaped, and that is solely because we are always aligned to thousands of things, figures of thought and behaviors that exist long ago. At the same time, these figures of thought, discourses and patterns of behavior have undergone constant changes, only that no one could say what should be the actual and the true, the original and the genuine. Whoever thinks he knows this and propagates it as an ideal, does not want to accept that he is doing a dogmatic positing and surrendering it arbitrarily as truth. However, all normative or otherwise referential points of reference, which we mean by miming and possessing as orientation, already show an instability,Text configurations work. In this sense, images do not refer to archetypes, but only to other images, and words do not refer to extra-linguistic truths, but only to other words.
There are no fixed foundations, but only the infinite mimetic references to things that only live by their transitive nature. We move in an endless play of similarities and differences that does not give us access to an absolute and authentic being.
The French literary scholar and (religious) philosopher René Girard uses the term mimesis in a psychologically and sociologically very broad sense. He speaks of “triangular mimetic desire,” which is that A desires something (B) because C already desires it. This basic mimetic desire manifests itself in the fact that for us another person or an object becomes especially attractive when it is already desired by others. As a result, every desire is based on a desire that we notice in others and that incites our own desire. In Girard’s eyes, this mechanism shapes our entire culture from the beginning.
With this theory, he goes far beyond the literary mimesis term and transforms it into an all-encompassing anthropological category. He explains with her the emergence of jealousy, envy and violence. For what appears to us to be desirable to others becomes a contested subject because we desire it ourselves. What causes conflicts that can end in hatred and war. We are not aggressive primarily because we lack or hinder this and that, or because we tend to turf wars, but because we can not refrain from mimicking the desire of the other mimetic. If one disregards such necessities as eating and drinking, one does not really know what he wants. His needs and desires are culturally shaped and are based on what others consider desirable or what idealizes a time, a fashion or an ideology as needs. The mimetic appropriation of such ideals makes us imitators. In this sense, social mimesis consists in an unceasing thinking and acting that emulates the thinking and acting of others.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Mimesis, or imitation, as he referred to it, was a crucial concept for Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s theory of the imagination. Coleridge begins his thoughts on imitation and poetry from Plato, Aristotle, and Philip Sidney, adopting their concept of imitation of nature instead of other writers. His middling departure from the earlier thinkers lies in his arguing that art does not reveal a unity of essence through its ability to achieve sameness with nature. Coleridge claims:
The composition of a poem is among the imitative arts; and that imitation, as opposed to copying, consists either in the interfusion of the SAME throughout the radically DIFFERENT, or the different throughout a base radically the same.
Here, Coleridge opposes imitation to copying, the latter referring to William Wordsworth’s notion that poetry should duplicate nature by capturing actual speech. Coleridge instead argues that the unity of essence is revealed precisely through different materialities and media. Imitation, therefore, reveals the sameness of processes in nature.
The Belgian feminist Luce Irigaray used the term to describe a form of resistance where women imperfectly imitate stereotypes about themselves so as to show up these stereotypes and undermine them.
In Mimesis and Alterity (1993), the anthropologist Michael Taussig examines the way that people from one culture adopt another’s nature and culture (the process of mimesis) at the same time as distancing themselves from it (the process of alterity). He describes how a legendary tribe, the “white Indians”, or Cuna, have adopted in various representations figures and images reminiscent of the white people they encountered in the past (without acknowledging doing so).
Taussig, however, criticises anthropology for reducing yet another culture, that of the Cuna, for having been so impressed by the exotic technologies of the whites, that they raised them to the status of gods. To Taussig, this reductionism is suspect, and he argues thus from both sides in his Mimesis and Alterity to see values in the anthropologists’ perspective, at the same time as defending the independence of a lived culture from anthropological reductionism.
History of art
The application of the concept of mimesis was developed widely through the genre of still life, where the painter found, in the exceptional immobility of the model, the benefit of exalting before an audience its ability to duplicate reality, even though these images are also diegetic (loaded with fiction) and consequently under the effect of credibility.
In the nineteenth century, before the appearance of photography, this instrument was considered as the most satisfactory means of perfect imitation (objective) reality, according to laws of mechanics and optics, without the intervention of the hand of the artist. Through this mechanical conception of reality began the questioning of the function of painting, within the imitative function, as also began the analysis of the status of photography within art, as it is a technological means that opposes the work (manual) of the artist.
There are three types of approaches to mimesis: studying the route of images, texts and people between different spheres of activity (meme); pay attention to the complex relationship that is established between the copy and the model; or investigate models of interpretation, set design and representation.
The relationships between original and copy, the similarities and differences between reproductive practices help to capture the incidence of the terms we use to define cultures, societies or any of its aspects.
Although social creativity seems to be explained only by mimesis, the work of Jean-Noël Darde and Annie Gentès reveals the place currently occupied by the reflections in the structuring of the line followed by information and the impossibility of thinking about this information in terms of contract. of communication or perspectives. We need representation to materialize our practices, including intellectual ones. The creative or repressive possibilities of mimesis do not necessarily depend on the discursive intention of the actors. Christoph Wulf emphasizes this fact relying on the rituals and ceremonies of the social. The work of women in advertising (Simone Davis) or the public of museums (Roger Silverstone) are not seen and, nevertheless, they are fundamental to understand the way in which they can get to act;
Modern authors who have written on the subject are, among others, Erich Auerbach, Merlin Donald, Paul Ricoeur and René Girard.
Source from Wikipedia