This semester I'm enrolled in six upper division English classes. 3 of these classes have assigned Aristotle's "Poetics" in the first two weeks of the semester. As it happened, the reading was all due between Monday - Wednesday of this week.
Aristotle's theory followed our study of Plato's "Republic", which to be honest, is filled with shit, and I don't even want to talk about it.
Aristotle, on the other hand, had some ideas that I can understand, and some which I also think are probably better left to be forgotten. Or maybe not forgotten, but learned from as what not to listen to. This is my general attitude towards dead old white dudes who are trying to mansplain the world to me.
"Poetics" is often categorized as one of the foundationary theories of Western critical theory. (My computer tells me that foundationary isn't a word, but I'm leaving it because I like it).
Now, Aristotle basically defined what stories are way back when, and it doesn't seem like much has really changed since then. Characters must be relatable, plots must have a fall, a climax, and the best kind of story are those when someone falls from good fortune to bad and evoke fear and pity.
It's basically every Shakespeare play ever, and I love Shakespeare. Probably more than I should.
I agree with a lot of what Aristotle has to say. Characters should be relatable, and yeah, plots should have a good, dramatic incline and decline. But, what is relatable has changed since then, what creates catharsis has changed too.
And, one thing I could never settle with his text was one question: What about emotions?
I write a lot about mental illness, about characters that have to fight inner demons that other people just can't see. Its cathartic for me, as I suffer from panic disorder, but I want to represent something where I saw a lack.
Emotions and feelings are things that cannot be relatable because they are entirely our own. We may be able to sympathize with someone who feels anxious or has depression, or even something as simple as jealousy.
However, are feelings, the deep thoughts in our head, those our entirely our own. Our opinions cannot be shared, not in the essential way that we feel them.
You may too be a Hufflepuff, love Harry Potter, but I can guarantee you that your love for the boy who lived and his story is different than my love.
It's this weird thing where we feel the need to claim our emotions and our opinions as entirely our own. Have you ever loved a book before it was popular, and then you felt like you didn't want it to ever become popular so you could hold it closer to your heart, but then you also wanted to share it because it made that same heart smile?
You want other people to understand you on a level that no one else has before, but you still want your emotions to be solely your own because the thought of someone else feeling what you feel is terrifying? Maybe it makes you less you?
I think its something that everyone feels. In whichever way that is.
But, its a fear that has no reality, because you are the only you that could ever exist, and you are made up of your fandoms, your opinions, the little things in life that all added up to create a whole person. And, those influences make you.
No one reacted to Star Wars the way you did. No one fell for John Green's prose the way you did. No one cried at The Color Purple the way you did. Because only you can react the way you do.
So, then, my question to Aristotle becomes this: Can we ever really write a truly relatable character?
Maybe the answer to that is no.
Maybe its yes.