Theories and Blake’s London
Over the centuries theorists have tried to develop different kinds of approaches to what should and should not be in terms of literary theory and criticism. In here we will discuss three different theorists (Aristotle, Longinus, and Wordsworth) from three different theories (mimetic, pragmatic and expressive) and explain their rules and thoughts to what is “good” literature. Later on, we will apply each theorist’s theory to William Blake’s “London”, and whether it works well with the theory or not.
Aristotle, the second theorist in the history of human beings as a response to Plato’s theory of the “Ideal World”; came up with another approach to the mimetic theory. Mimetic theory is to deal with copies or what is also known as mimesis. His approach was to contradict those ideas of Plato’s because most probably he thought that Plato did not do literature (or any form of art) justice by eliminating it away from the ideal and basically calling it in a way or another “an ideal wreckage” because it is a copy of the copy.
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Aristotle thought that on the contrary to what Plato had assisted us into omitting, he thought the way writers and poets (and any form of artists there is) copies what we see is more like bringing us to the “Universal Truth”. To him to copy is to omit the unnecessary details, leave us what is important, and then the truth is prevailed; because the truth is put in a much larger sphere in which we readers could relate to whether we were in China or the Atlantic, we still could relate to it because it is a universal thing. In other words, Aristotle’s “Universal Truth” is about something called “catharsis”.
Catharsis is known as three meanings (even though its general meaning is vague and is not known but this is what it sums down to) which are: clarification, purification, and purgation. Clarification is from its wording that the form of art is done to “clarify” that some actions (tragic actions specifically) could happen to anyone, hence brings us to the universal truth. Once this clarification comes and an example is set a person is aware of the faults of the life, therefore one is entitled to purify his soul from whatever that is set there.
Last but not least, purgation is done to pour in all those locked in emotions in a form of art. To relieve oneself from what is happening, and yet it is also done to cleanse and purify. Those three ideas are somewhat linked in a chain or are in a cycle that one thing needs the other in order to be achieved. As a result, the term catharsis comes in handy. After discussing Aristotle in the mimetic theory, we can safely move on to the pragmatic theory where we meet Longinus and his theory on “Sublimity”. The pragmatic theory’s aim was concerned around the text and the audience.
Longinus’ theory aimed to strike the audience with such power like a “thunderbolt” caused by a work of art (poetry in precise) with a highly elevated language. Longinus states to us what sublimity is and what it is not. He says that sublime is not pathos or bombast where you feel it out with words just for the sake of filling it out; more like filling the balloon with air just for it to get bigger when it is just filled with plain air. It is not filled with exaggeration and hyperbolic language used in a place that it should not be used in just to leave a certain impression on an everyday work.
It is like for instance when you say to live without a vacuum machine is like living without air, which is absurd, this exaggeration does not bring in but fake intentions that is given to an object with so little value even though the pretty comparison is there. Lastly, sublime is not just a set of refined words that are put there like props and decorations. However, sublime is an “echo of a great soul” meaning that a writer must have the inner passion in order to evoke the feelings of the readers into sublimity.
It does not matter how high the stylistic technique that a writer has as much as the passion. Having said that, both inborn and acquired are requirements to a sublime text. In fact, he sets five important sources to sublimity in which two are inborn (great thoughts and strong emotions) and three are acquired (the artistic skill to put great thoughts and strong emotions in words, syntax, poetic figures). Furthermore, he adds more basic rules to achieve sublime like not mixing genres or mixing the high and the low and so forth, which basically is a repetition of decorum rules.
Lastly, we move to the expressive theory and Wordsworth’s theory of expressive poetry as a response to the neo classism movement towards imitating the classics in poetic diction. It is safe to say that Wordsworth despised the rigid form of approaching poetry in the time prior to him. His goal was to redefine the nature of the poet, the nature of the poetry and its function. He saw that what is important for a poet is to express himself in a poem; it is to him “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”.
To him in order to write poetry is like talking from a man to man by using ordinary, rustic language. His theory aspired after the act of defamiliarization; to make something normal in our everyday life to be viewed in a different and new perspective. For instance, if we take water that is a normal substance that we drink every day and exists everywhere. However, when we say that water is a substance of a summation of small tiny droplets of water; where a hundreds and thousands of them are combined to make a glass of water we are then defamiliarizing the familiar.
Again, Wordsworth’s aim was to render the norm into the abnormal. To summarize Wordsworth’s theory he went after the relationship of the poet, along with his internal feelings and emotions, and the reflection and impact it leaves in the poem. Now that we have discussed three of the important theorist we shall shift to applying those theories onto William Blake’s poem “London”. In the first three stanzas of the poem we see that Blake describes the situation in London.
He explains to us how it is tragic in every part of London even in the places where we think it is serene and tranquil like “Thames”. He explains to us how cruel it is for everyone, from infancy to manhood, from children sweepers to soldiers; all that because the elite and the aristocrats could have their pleasures of life on a plate of sundae with a cherry on top. He is outraged at the political system, he is outraged by the hypocrisy of the church, and most of all he is sympathetic towards the lower class and their victimized place because of the elite.