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While Plato’s Republic is primarily concerned with ethics, and whether it is always better to act ethically, Plato touches also on Poetry, and discusses the Rhetoric of Poetry (Plato saw Poetry as a form of rhetoric). With Plato (and Aristotle), the art of Poetics is divided into types (drama, verse, epic), with traits that serve as gauges for “rightness and wrongness”—in other words, writing was to conform to rules of rhetoric. Modern writers, far from concerning themselves with conforming to form, are much more concerned with the possibilities of form, the experimenting with language and persuasion, rather than any ethical questions. While the courts of today may want to explore the ethics of publishing Tropic of Capricorn, the author Henry Miller did not concern himself with the ethics of writing it. When James Joyce juggled language to produce Finnegan’s Wake, Plato’s precepts were on his mind only as forces to be resisted “and the senses in which poetry is and is not bound to representation, imitation, expression (which are possible meanings of the classical Greek word “mimesis”) and fiction.” So the study of literature" in the 21st century" must expand the notion of literature past Plato's controversies to modern inquiries into form.
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