In the arts, mimesis refers to the principle of imitation in the sense of the poetics of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, in contrast to imitatio , the artful imitation of older, mostly ancient models. By mimesis, Plato understood the "imitative speech", which is now called direct speech, in contrast to diegesis , the narrative:
- "To assimilate to another in language and attitude means to imitate them [...] In such a case, Homer and other poets create the story [diêgêsis] in the form of imitation [mimêsis] (i.e. direct reproduction) [...] But if the poet is nowhere to be found, then a poem or story emerges without imitation, in indirect reproduction [...] thus a simple story [haplê diêgêsis]. "
Only later were the terms mimesis and diegesis used in narrative theory in the sense of showing and narrating.
The ancient philosopher Socrates compared mimesis, according to the reports of his pupil Plato, with the logical final process of induction : from the particular, the general is imitated. A star is drawn as a point. So all the stars become the point.
In the Politeia , Plato characterizes the arts as merely oriented towards appearance , which means that they are not oriented towards ideas but rather towards sensual appearances. The sensory appearances themselves are in turn imperfect images or representations of the ideas. In other words, they depict the ideas in a deficient way. When art has sensual things as its object, it refers mimetically to something that is already defective and distances itself even further from ideas than the actually existing sensual things already do. Insofar as things are the mere reflection of ideas, art only produces the reflection of the reflection. This is why Plato's skepticism about the cognitive value of art is to be understood. At the same time, he sees in their mimetic character the danger that the mimetic will take on a poetic life of its own and, in its imagery and fantasy, can have a more seductive effect than real things. And this could make the beautiful, wild, seductive appearance even more important than the actual being, which means that one takes refuge in illusory worlds instead of approaching the things of life with a sober mind. Of course, Plato does not reject mimetic activity as such, which would also be completely illusory, since in our actions and in our productions we cannot do anything other than proceed mimetically in the broadest sense. However, for him there is a desirable mimesis and one that has questionable traits. To the extent that he also understands artistic fantasy as a form of mimesis, he rejects it when it comes to scenes of violence (such as Homer and Hesiod ) in which, for example, Kronos castrates his father Uranus . On the other hand, he considers edifying poetry that serves the beautiful and the good to be educationally useful.
That Plato's attitude to art is ambivalent and can in no way be reduced to his criticism of it is vividly demonstrated by his dialogue Phaedrus . For in him the divine madness of the poets is praised. Incidentally, through all of his own work, which consists largely of highly theatrical dialogues, Plato proves that he is not only a philosopher who insists on arguments, but also a poet.
Plato divides human activities into “generating”, “using” and “imitating”, whereby he generally considers imitative to be the least, since it is the least useful. In contrast to mimesis, diegesis (Greek διήγησις ) stands for a narration that does not pretend to represent or imitate something in the way we know it from artistic images or theater characters.
In contrast to his teacher Plato, Aristotle rehabilitates the mimetic in every respect in his poetics . On the one hand, he claims that humans would not learn a thing if they did not have the ability to imitate. From an artistic point of view, on the other hand, he sees the attempt at work to bring things to light that concern us all. Instead of rising to the position of censor, as Plato did, Aristotle demands that the theater stir up our feelings and ensure that we emerge from the experience of a tragedy as if purified ( catharsis ) . To do this, however, the viewer must be so carried away and feel fear, horror and pity that at the climax of the dramatic events there is hardly any space left for the intellectual distance that Plato has claimed. In such an affective fever, Aristotle sees the chance to experience an inevitable tragic entanglement almost physically, only to feel as if he has been purified in the end. While Plato not only sees the danger of a distorted representation of reality in the fictitious, but also warns against its fleeting attraction, Aristotle emphasizes that without art there would be no outlet and no means of expression for many things. What can be unbearable in real life is not only much easier to bear in the medium of art, it can even be enjoyed. And it can also become a means of knowledge. “Because of the things that we are reluctant to see in reality,” it says in poetics , “we are happy to see images that are as faithful as possible, e. B. Representations of extremely unsightly animals and corpses. "
18th and 19th centuries
Jean-Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert , in his introduction (Discours préliminaire), published in 1751, to the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers published by him and Denis Diderot , divides our fields of knowledge into the three sub-areas of history (memoria), the sciences and philosophy (ratio) and the power of imagination or imagination (imaginatio). The visual, linguistic and musical representation of existing things (nature) belong to the imagination.
Following Aristotle, d'Alembert remarks: “Those things, however, which would only arouse sad or stormy feelings in real experience, appear more pleasant in the imitation than in reality, because their mere presentation is precisely at that appropriate distance (cette juste distance) brings to them, which allows us to enjoy the excitement, but not to inner restlessness. "The decisive factor here is that there can never be a completely adequate picture or representation of such things, because" in this area the boundaries between Allow some leeway for truth and arbitrary arbitrariness ”. What one can perceive as a shortcoming with regard to the question of truth can equally be praised as freedom of the imagination.
In d'Alembert's eyes, painting and sculpture come closest to reality, "since in them, more than in any other arts, imitation comes close to the real shape of the objects depicted." However, he also includes architecture, although architecture by no means directly mimicking nature, unless one would claim that trees, shrubs, or caves serve as distant models for building houses. For d'Alembert, however, the mimetic ability of architecture consists in the fact that it takes an example from the “symmetrical arrangement” (l'arrangement symëtrique) of nature, which he observes everywhere in it for all its “beautiful diversity” (belle variété) thinks to be able to. In second place is poetry, which because of its harmonious and melodious arrangement of words speaks more to our imagination than to our senses. Music comes last, as it is the least of all the arts that imitates things that are detectable in visible nature. "The music, originally only intended to reproduce (représenter) noises (bruit), has gradually become a kind of lecture, indeed a language in which the individual emotional impulses or rather their various passions find their expression." D ' Alembert, however, insists that good music always imitates something that is present (i.e. above all moods of the soul) and does not live out of itself. He claims: "Any music that does not describe anything simply remains noise." ("Toute Musique qui ne peint rien n'est que du bruit.")
In his Critique of Judgment, Kant develops a concept of mimesis that takes nature as a guideline, but does not aim at naturalistic aesthetics. When Kant claims that everything that is beautiful in art must be oriented towards natural beauty, he has in mind anything but simple painting of objects. It is not a question of depicting nature in its concrete appearance (for example in the form of a certain river landscape), but rather of taking it in its quality as a being that creates itself and at the same time produces infinite beauty and grandiose sublimity. For this reason he can set the artist analogously to nature, insofar as he is also not subject to any foreign rules, but only obeys his own laws and thereby creates something overwhelming.
But for another reason, mimesis was pilloried again: because the demand for imitation in French classical music prevented personal originality , it stood in the way of emancipation and individualization in the second half of the 18th century. Therefore, around 1800, mimesis was increasingly condemned and replaced by the principle of empathy (which Friedrich Theodor Vischer focused on):
In this sense, empathy has something mimetic insofar as the point of reference shifts from the object to the subject: it is no longer a thing that is imitated, but the sensations when looking at it. A painting that depicts a tree is of course not itself a tree, but it can "reproduce" the sensations when looking at a tree. The starting point is no longer the observed, but the observer. This brings the subjective reflection and the subjective feeling into focus.
In the 19th century, the principle of empathy was often juxtaposed as “German” inwardness with French outwardness, for example in the case of Richard Wagner . A reserve towards the French court customs with their fixed rituals always played a role. Behind this openly articulated hostility towards the French, however, hid above all the bourgeois demarcation from the aristocratic upper class. The mimetic alignment of the subjects "in the enthusiastic state of clairvoyance" (Wagner) played a significant role for the self-image of bourgeois institutions, such as the cooperative (in the sense of Wagner, see Gesamtkunstwerk ), later in a coarse manner also for the self-image of the " nation " or of the " people ".
A not inconsiderable part of the art of the 20th century is characterized by an “antimimetic affect”. There are several reasons for that. The most important one may be found in the defense against any kind of aesthetic norm and have to do with the urge not to want to submit to any rule or form. Since the mimetic is geared towards something specific, be it nature or an ideal of art, it stands for a past in which there were far more religious, political and socially determined materials and aesthetic models that were constantly varied and reworked . The antimimetic affect is also based on a shortened definition of the term mimesis, as it is mostly equated with the imitation of nature. However, it never had this narrow meaning. And where there was actually talk of imitating nature, it was by no means a simple artistic representation of what is already revealed to the eye outside in the village, city, forest and corridor.
In a broader sense, however, the criticism of a mimetic art is directed against any kind of representation that relates to something given. Specifically, this means that parts of modern dance no longer depict actions and thus silently tell understandable stories, but that dance wants to be nothing but dance without expressing something recognizable. The situation is similar in the fine arts, which tried to leave everything representational and identifiable behind on the way to abstraction . Even in literature, which, due to its linguistic nature, always deals with the recognizable, there is a need not only in the Dada movement, but also in the Nouveau Roman and other experimental directions, language not as a means of mapping reality, but as a To use sui generis means of expression . However, the question arises whether one can say goodbye to the mimetic at all by decree or whether it is not an illusion to believe that one can move in areas that stand alone and have no relation to something already known. Because even a white wall, on which nothing representational can be seen, points to something, be it the thought of purity or emptiness. Almost nothing in the world is without reference , even if one tries with all possible means to represent or symbolize absolutely nothing. The fact that images, comparisons, similarities, memories and thoughts come to mind with every art that is so far removed from representation shows how almost impossible it is to completely avoid the mimetic reference character.
In 1946 the Romanist Erich Auerbach published his style-critical-literary-historical work with the title “Mimesis”, in which he examined the “reality represented in Western literature” from Homer to Dante to Virginia Woolf . Auerbach differentiates between different forms of realism: such a classically limited, but popular realism as in the Roland song , a self-representation of feudal chivalry in turned language as in the courtly novel, the historically-figural realism of the Middle Ages (not to be confused with figurative realism painting of the 20th century), which influenced Dante, who found fulfillment in the afterlife and only allowed their true character to be revealed there, a creatural realism of the late Middle Ages with blatant exaggerations and the prominent role of death, which equalizes all classes, or the encyclopedic-historical-interpreting realism in Stendhal .
In 1933 Walter Benjamin gave the recourse to mystical experiences and practices made in his essay Doctrine of the Like in the revised version of the essay entitled On Mimetic Capability, a materialistic and historical foundation.
According to Benjamin, the mimetic faculty of humans includes the active creation of similarities, through which new experiences are made and social processes are promoted. The mimetic faculty has a phylogenetic and ontogenic side and carries a conscious and unconscious side with it.
Benjamin states that the consciously perceived similarities "[are] compared to the innumerable many unconsciously or even not at all perceived similarities such as the huge submarine block of the iceberg compared to the small tip that one sees protruding out of the water."
The human being is shown in a context of correspondence that he does not control, but actively and passively reproduces. Benjamin states that the "perception of similarities [...] is tied to a moment in time". Benjamin focuses on the relationship between the perception of similarities tied to a moment in time and the disappearance of appearances. Similarities are fleeting, flashed out of the flow of things, only to vanish again immediately. Benjamin's approach to the philosophy of history comes into its own here: Every historical present moment is in a correspondence relationship with past moments.
Benjamin conceives of a far-reaching, phylogenetic trace of making oneself similar by assuming a long-gone state in which the magical had a different status than in modern times, which we “are not even able to suspect today”. Magical correspondence experiences determined this state, for example the assumed similarity of celestial phenomena and earthly fate. The magical-mimetic practices in which sensual similarities were produced have receded more and more in the course of human history; the world of memory of modern man is made different from that of the primitive.
As a result, Benjamin asks himself "whether it is a matter of a withering off of the mimetic faculty or perhaps a transformation that has taken place with it." With his answer, Benjamin establishes the connection to the theory of language . Benjamin's thesis is that “[...] that mimetic talent that was once the foundation of occult practice found its way into writing and language”, consequently that there is a “nonsensical similarity”. This nonsensical resemblance creates tension between what is spoken and what is meant, between what is written and what is meant, and between what is said and what is written. Language is after Benjamin
[...] the highest use of the mimetic faculty: a medium into which the earlier memory capacities for the like have entered without remainder in such a way that it now represents the medium in which things are no longer directly as before in the mind of the seer or Priest, but in their essences, most volatile and finest substances, yes aromas encounter and relate to one another. In other words: it is script and language to which clairvoyance has ceded its old powers in the course of history.
According to Benjamin's understanding of language, there is a connection between signs and things, which, however, can hardly be sensed and is therefore only rarely reconstructed. According to Benjamin, there is an underlying mimetic relationship between the typeface and the meaning. Benjamin describes language and writing as an “archive of nonsensical similarities, nonsensual correspondence”.
Theodor W. Adorno
For Adorno , the element of the mimetic remains central even in modern art, which is no longer oriented towards representability. Art, according to his Aesthetic Theory , published posthumously in 1970, consists of “mimesis and construction”. As works of art put together in a much more successful way what they draw from reality in a different way, they create a world in which the parts are not in a subordinate relationship to the whole. In this way, in Adorno's eyes, great art turns out to be a criticism of such existing conditions that sacrifice the individual to the law of the whole. This does not mean that works of art have to be beautiful, on the contrary. As for the material that they obtain from reality, from Adorno's perspective it can by no means be something beautiful. Works of art can only be described as successful because of their shape. “Modern is art through mimesis of the hardened and alienated,” claims Adorno. That is why his thinking revolves mainly around such art that brings the torn and dissonant to the fore. "Art has to make what is ugly ostracized as its cause ... in order to denounce the world in ugly things," he proclaims, with which it has such a clear task that one has to wonder whether the autonomy of art defended by Adorno has real freedom , like the one not to have to make the ugly their business.
In addition to art, for Adorno philosophy is the place where rationality and mimesis are intertwined. Adorno demands the inclusion of the mimetic moment, i. H. from sensual-receptive, expressive and communicative behaviors to conceptual thinking. The rational-instrumental thinking should be reconciled with the mimetic view. Both art and philosophy only capture complementary “forms of refraction of truth”. The point of reference for both is truth. The truth in art, however, is not spoken; the work of art is enigmatic and requires philosophical interpretation through interpretive reason. Both aesthetic-vivid and rational-discursive knowledge remain - left to their own devices - complementarily inadequate.
The French philosopher Paul Ricœur , in his three-volume work Zeit und Erzählung , published between 1983 and 1985, focuses on the fundamental importance of the mimetic for every kind of understanding. Using numerous literary examples, he explains how, in contrast to conceptual-logical thinking, only narration is able to make the dimension of time tangible. Physically and philosophically we can indeed debate the phenomenon of time of the long and broad, but never experience what defines time as intensely as when we read a novel. Narrated time , as we find it there, creates an experience of time itself. To which, in the eyes of Ricœur, those three mimetic components belong which he characterizes as prefiguration , configuration and refiguration. The prefigurative presupposes a fundamental understanding that we bring with us and do not infer from the context of a literary narrative. The configurative consists of the diverse elements from which a story is put together to form an organic whole that lives by itself. The refigurative, in turn, aims at those intermediate worlds that open up for the reader between what has been read and his experiences. If the literary retains its intrinsic value in the sense of an epic composition, it still lives from the fact that it is mimetically linked to the world and reality. At the same time, this means that reality itself is a kind of readable world and is not a fixed item that functions completely differently from books. For there is nothing in the world and in the self to which we have direct access free of interpretation. Everything is conveyed through signs , symbols , language and texts, whether we are aware of it or not. Insofar as both, both reality and literature, hold something in suspension and are open to various interpretations, they cannot be fundamentally separated from one another. The literary narrative differs from empirical life in that which is composed, which in Ricœur's eyes, despite all freedom of play and imagination, must have an inner evidence in order not to raise questions about its meaning, purpose and probability in the reader. For a reader, on the other hand, who immerses himself in a novel without such constant fundamental questions, the world "reconfigures" itself through the book itself.
Jacques Derrida radicalizes Ricœur's hermeneutical position by claiming in his grammatology published in 1967 : There is no outside of the text (“il n'y a pas un en-dehors-texte”). What sounds like sheer madness and sounds like pure denial of reality, however, means that we have no extra-linguistic access to extra-lingual phenomena and that we always operate in explanatory and interpretation patterns that determine this "outside" as outside in the first place, and thus it make a constituent part of discursive distinctions.
Derrida leaves or deconstructs the elementary occidental (Platonic) distinctions between archetype and image, being and appearance, nature and culture, primary and secondary reality. The fact that language and being cannot be decoupled from one another is one of the already binding notions of the hermeneutics associated with the names Martin Heidegger , Hans-Georg Gadamer and Ricœur. By no longer ascribing any ontological priority to being, but instead diagnosing it as an efficient linguistic construction, Derrida removes the ground from any recourse to the real, original, authentic and natural. Wherever we talk about nature, we only talk about nature and assign certain properties to it, and where we identify something as authentic, it remains a mere assignment without us being able to determine outside of language what nature and what authentic actually are. Discursive constructs remain.
Against this background one might think that it no longer makes sense to speak of mimesis at all, since mimesis presupposes the dichotomy of specification and imitation, archetype and copy, original and copy, real presence and mere mental imagination. Within such ontological dichotomies , mimesis has its traditional role, but once this type of metaphysics has been deconstructed, one might think that it is completely obsolete. Nevertheless, not only art, but all thinking and doing are still mimetic, and that is because we are constantly aligning ourselves with thousands of things, patterns of thought and behavior that have long existed. At the same time, these figures of thought, discourses and behavioral patterns are subject to constant changes, only that no one could say what should be the real and the true, the original and the real. Anyone who thinks they know this and propagates it as an ideal does not want to admit that he is doing a dogmatic position and arbitrarily presenting it as truth. However, all normative or otherwise referential points of reference that we mimetically aim at and believe to have as orientation show instability because they only function within the fluctuating network of changing text configurations . In this sense, pictures do not refer to archetypes, but always to further pictures, and words do not refer to extralinguistic truths, but only to further words.
There are no fixed bases, only the infinite mimetic reference to things that only live from their referential character. We move in an endless game of similarities and differences that does not give us access to an absolute or an authentic being.
The French literary scholar and (religious) philosopher René Girard uses the term mimesis in a psychologically and sociologically extremely broad sense. He speaks of “triangular mimetic desire”, which consists in A desiring something (B) because C already desires it. This fundamental mimetic desire is revealed in the fact that for us another person or an object becomes more attractive when it is already desired by others. Accordingly, every desire is based on a desire that we notice in others and that incites our own desire. In Girard's eyes, this mechanism has shaped our entire culture from the start.
With this theory he goes far beyond the literary concept of mimesis and transforms it into an all-encompassing anthropological category. He also explains with her the origin of jealousy, envy and violence. Because what appears to be desirable to us through others becomes a contested object because one now also desires it. What creates conflicts that can end in hatred and war. We are aggressive not primarily because we lack this or that, or because we have a tendency to turf wars, but because we cannot help mimetic imitating the desires of the other. If one disregards such vital needs as eating and drinking, then people don't really know what they want. His needs and desires are culturally shaped and are based on what others consider desirable or what idealizes a time, a fashion or an ideology as needs. The mimetic appropriation of such ideals makes us imitators. In this sense, social mimesis consists in constant thinking and acting that emulates the thinking and acting of others.
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- Plato, Politeia 393c f .; Translation after Karl Vretska (publisher and translator): Platon: Der Staat , Stuttgart 1982.
- Aristotle: The Poetics . Gr./dt., Translated and ed. v. Manfred Fuhrmann . Reclam-Verlag, Stuttgart 1982, p. 11.
- Jean-Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert: Introduction to the Encyclopedia . Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg 1997, pp. 32–35.
- Karl-Heinz Ott: The many farewells from mimesis . Stuttgart 2010, p. 9.
- Erich Auerbach had completed his habilitation in 1929 with the text: Dante as a poet of the earthly world and took over the chair for Romance philology from Leo Spitzer, who had moved to Cologne, at the University of Marburg. In 1933 Auerbach was forced to give up teaching. He emigrated to Istanbul, where he wrote his main work Mimesis . He wrote in his afterword to Mimesis in 1945 : “May my investigation reach its readers; both my surviving friends of old as well as anyone else for whom it is meant; and contribute to reuniting those who have preserved their love for our occidental history without clouding them. ”(Erich Auerbach: Mimesis - Represented Reality in the Occidental Literature (1946), 10th edition. A. Francke Verlag: Bern, Munich 2001 , P. 518.)
- Cf. Sven Kramer: Walter Benjamin for an introduction . Junius, Hamburg 2003, p. 28.
- Cf. Sven Kramer: Walter Benjamin for an introduction . Junius, Hamburg 2003, p. 28.
- Walter Benjamin: Doctrine of the Similar (1933), in: Rolf Tiedemann, Hermann Schweppenhäuser (Ed.): Collected writings II.1. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 1977, p. 205.
- See Kramer: Walter Benjamin for introduction, p. 29.
- Benjamin: Doctrine of the Similar , GS II.1, p. 206f.
- Benjamin: Doctrine of the Similar , GS II.1, p. 209.
- Ibid., P. 206.
- See Kramer: Walter Benjamin for introduction, p. 30.
- Benjamin: Doctrine of the Similar , GS II.1, p. 206.
- Benjamin: Doctrine of the Similar , GS II.1, p. 207ff.
- Walter Benjamin: About the mimetic ability (1933), in: GS II.1, p. 213.
- Benjamin: Doctrine of the Similar , GS II.1, p. 209.
- See Kramer: Walter Benjamin for introduction, p. 30f.
- Benjamin: Doctrine of the Similar , G S II.1 , p. 208.
- Th. W. Adorno: Aesthetic Theory . Frankfurt am Main 1970, pp. 39, 78f.
- Albrecht Wellmer : On the dialectic of modernity and postmodernism. Frankfurt, edition suhrkamp, 1985, p. 13.
- Wellmer 1985, p. 14.
- Jacques Derrida: Grammatology. trad. H.-J. Rheinberger Hanns Zischler Frankfurt am Main 1974, p. 274: "There is no such thing as an exterior text."
- Wolfgang Palaver : René Girard's mimetic theory . in the context of cultural theory and socio-political issues. In: Contributions to the mimetic theory . 3. Edition. B. 6. Lit-Verlag, Vienna, Berlin, Münster 2008, ISBN 978-3-8258-3451-7 , p. 88 ( limited preview in Google Book Search [accessed August 8, 2011]).