Rhetoric and Poetics


Rhetoric and Poetics

        Excerpted: Switchbacks

Creative Nonfiction was most definitely invented and articulated by Aristotle in the Rhetoric and On Poetics. Aristotle’s rhetoric was a manifesto on linguistic persuasion. Politicians were virtuous characters and rhetorical masters of persuasion. Yet something was missing from their speeches, some spark that would set their words persuasively on fire. Something must make the people of the polis swoon with agreement upon hearing the speeches of political argument. Aristotle rightly concluded that the missing spark was revealed in poetry. Who could make an audience experience words and images through the five senses if not a poet? Aristotle blended rhetoric and poetics to from a creative political speech. As such he outlined the origins of Creative Nonfiction in which a key component is to persuade readers to accept facts about the world in a delightfully readable experience. This blend combined the science of politics and political denotation with the elements of poetry, which included connotation, imagery, figurative language, allusion, tone, and alliteration. This blend produced an emotionally charged felt speech. The politicians were masters, indeed doctors of composition and oratory. After they were elected in what was the first democracy, their job was to lie around and write constitutions for the city states. Again, Aristotle realized that there was more to the art of persuasion than rhetoric and poetics; to this he added drama. How much better the creative compositions would be if they were enacted. Thus he blended dramatic art with accurate depictions of reality that were also beautiful. Audiences wept and laughed at tragedies and comedies performed on stage.

Aristotle calls the poet “an imitator (mimesis) just like the painter or other maker of likenesses, he must necessarily in all instances represent things in one of other of the three aspects, either as they were or are, or as they are said or thought or be or to have been, or as they ought to be. All this he does in language, with an admixture […] of strange words and metaphors […] modified forms of words […] conceded in poetry. There is […] of poetry itself a possibility of two kinds of error, the one directly, the other only accidentally connected with the art. If the poet meant to describe the thing correctly, and failed through lack of power of expression, his art itself is at fault. But if it was through his having meant to describe it in some incorrect way (e.g. to make the horse in movement have both right legs thrown forward) that technical error […] or impossibilities of whatever kind they may be, have got into his description, his error in that case is not in the essentials of the poetic art […] Any impossibilities […] are faults (260). These faults are faults of reasoning and by extension, character defects of the composer—a hero with a tragic flaw—unless, of course, the composer is writing fiction. In the case of Switchbacks the hero has real defects of character, a real tragic flaw, which can only be healed by adaptation and integration. The hero must resolve the internal and external landscapes (the switchbacks) through reason and individualism.

Copyright 2012, Kathryn Kurtz, WritingUnderOatch.com ©. This work is protected under the U.S. copyright laws. It may not be

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