Saturday, February 5, 2011

Appetitive/Reasoning: Discussion of the Poetics

At my Alma Mater, one of my favorite professors is teaching a class on Aristotle's Poetics (in Greek). One of the secondary sources that he assigned for the early classes was a BBC's In Our Time program on the Poetic. A friend of mine posted the piece on twitter and I decided to listen to it.

The moderators is Melvyn Bragg, a British radio host, who is quite intelligent but seems to fancy himself as an elite intellectual and does not like to be contradicted. His discussions takes place with
Angie Hobbs, an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Warwick; Nick Lowe, a Reader in Classical Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London; and Stephen Halliwell, a Professor of Greek at the University of St Andrews.

I enjoyed the podcast and think anyone interested should listen to it. However, I thought that the power dynamics of the discussion almost eclipsed the academic content for being interesting. Bragg seemed to be having a relatively good time until he decided to post his first question to Halliwell. Looking for a black-and-white answer, Bragg asked about the Poetics as a response to Plato's critique of poetry in the Republic. Halliwell spoke cogently and concisely about how to interpret Plato's work in the Republic. Bragg, now annoyed by a complicated answer quickly began to lose his patience with Halliwell and he became increasinly rude and arrogant causing me to mock him in this way to a friend over skypechat (this is a parody, not what they actually say):
Halliwell: "These ideas are really intersting and there is lots of nuance that people miss!"
Bragg: "Nuance! No more nuance! I will now slam my fist of Victorian criticism and crush your nuance."
Halliwell, eventually sort of bows to Bragg's older criticism, possibly because it seems like Bragg will not let him speak again if he does not. Later on in the show, Bragg asks Halliwell about 'catharsis' and Halliwell once again responds in a proper, scholarly manner about the difficulty of interpreting 'catharsis' and how rarely it turns up in Aristotle (once in the Poetics and once in the Politics). Annoyed again, Bragg says something very similar to "aren't you a scholar? Can't you just tell us what it means?" I could not believe it, especially since Halliwell is both a distinguished scholar and was attempting, however fruitlessly, to provide a more reasonable opinion on the texts on which he primarily conducts his research.

As much as I make fun of the discussion, clearly Bragg runs a radio show that discusses complex and interesting issues, so I subscribed to the show. If your interested, the RSS feeds and subscriptions to the podcast can be found here.

Just to spite Bragg, I thought I would include Halliwell's Author Page and some of his books:
Aristotle's Poetics Aristotle:Poetics.; Longinus: On the Sublime; Demetrius: On Style (Loeb Classical Library No. 199)

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