tiistai 6. syyskuuta 2016

Johann Jakob Breitinger: Critical poetry (1740)

In the previous post I mentioned the conflict, which Gottsched had with the Swiss aestheticians Bodmer and Breitinger. In retrospect, this conflict was less to do with completely different notions of aesthetics and more to do with different emphasis: Gottsched was more keen to hold on to the principle of the imitation of nature and clear rules derived from this principle, while Bodmer and Breitinger thought wonder to be the essential element of aesthetic feeling. While previously we saw Bodmer's practical application of their notion of aesthetics, Breitinger's Critische Dichtkunst presents its basic theory.

One must at first note that despite Breitinger's animosity with Gottsched, he doesn't wonder too far from tenets of Wolffian philosophy. Thus, we hear philosophy or ”worldly wisdom” defined as a science of all things, in so far as humans are capable of knowing the ground of their possibility and actuality.

What Breitinger wants to modify in Wolff's philosophy is to add rhetoric and poetry as its parts. His justification is based purely on utilitarian grounds. While philosophy is based on intricate scientific reasoning, most people simply cannot follow it and they have to be educated by other needs, that is, with the help of rhetoric and poetry.

Furthermore, Breitinger also accepts the suggestion that poetry is imitation of nature. That is not to say that poetry would be just a retelling of what happens in world around us, somewhat like history. Instead, poetry should arouse a feeling of truth in its reader through sensuous images. In this sense, poetry resembles painting, which also tries to imitate nature by creating a semblance of truth in its watcher. Yet, painting affects us more forcefully, while poetry has the advantage in being able to use material from all senses, which is just recollected by hearing certain words.

Since Breitinger accepts the idea that the actual world is the best of all possible worlds, he is bound to accept that imitated natural things can be regarded good. Yet, Breitinger finds a certain difference – while the goodness of the actual world is intrinsic to it, goodness of poems lies in them being good imitations. Thus, one can have a good poem, even if its topic falls short of complete perfection.

As it was habit with Gottsched and Bodmer, Breitinger extends the notion of imitation from the actual to all possible worlds, and just like Bodmer, he extends it quite far, to improbable possibilities, in which animals and plants speak and all sorts of allegorical abstractions exist. Indeed, such fables are one end of poetic works, in which wondrous rules over probability. Still, even they have some share of probability, since human mind has the tendency to antropomorphise natural things and especially animals.

In general, Breitinger sees all poetic works balancing between wonder and probability. Too much of wonder and a poem loses its credibility. Then again, too little of wonder and a reader won't have any interest on the poem. Most of the art of poetics deals then with various ways to enhance both wonder and probability. Thus, even when describing quite ordinary things, poet can highlight some of their more extraordinary properties or show them in an unexpected light. Similarly, one must make e.g. actions and speeches of a person seem like they would flow naturally out of the character of the person.

I will not go further into the petty details of the conflict between Gottsched and Breitinger/Bodmer-duo, and hence, this will be last we'll hear of any of them. Next time, I shall look at a completely different discipline, namely, jurisprudence.