Is Aristotle's Poetics relevant in contemporary literature?

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Although Aristotle's Poetics was written 2300 years ago, it remains a core text on the analysis of literature. Literary criticism provides ways to examine literature and Aristotle's Poetics offers some guidelines for deciding whether a tragedy is "good" or "bad". From the text of the Poetics, it becomes clear that Aristotle regarded Sophocles' Oedipus the King as the finest of tragedies.

Unfortunately, many of Aristotle's most famous comments are misunderstood because of the vague nature of some of language. One of these has to do with hamartia, which teachers of literature written in English usually mistranslate as "tragic flaw." In Aristotle's day, and in the context of the Poetics, hamartia seems to denote something like an unwitting mistake. Alas, literature teachers still have students scouring literature in search of a particular character's "tragic flaw," which they seem to take to mean some defect in that person's character.

Another important term from Aristotle is katharsis. Aristotle says that tragedy generates pity and fear and provides a katharsis of these emotions. Whereas our word catharsis means something like "release of emotions" or "purgation", the precise meaning of katharsis is still hotly debated by scholars of ancient Greek.

In sum, the purpose of literary criticism, as I see it, is that it provides ways to help us bring out the meaning of various texts. Imagine a chemist using various tests to determine the properties of a certain substance. Literary criticism offers an array of tests (structuralism, close reading, deconstruction) to help bring out the meaning of a written work.

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