I’m borrowing this from an essay by Dragana Nikolic called “Paul Auster’s Postmodernist Fiction: Deconstructing Aristotle’s Poetics“. Although the essay obviously focuses on Paul Auster’s writings and is much recommended to read, I’d like to just use it for now to think about Aristotle’s three major insights:
- plot above character.
- plot is defined by the actions of the characters
- characters are defined by the moral choice they have to make
- Hence the three keywords are “PLOT – ACTION – CHOICE“.
Nikolic says it like this:
Aristotle in “Poetics” gives the plot such prominence that he states that tragedy cannot exist without a plot, but it can without characters.
Plot is an imitation of action (Poetics, p27) and is enacted by the people performing that action. Plot is not based upon the unity of a single person. Homer in the“Odyssey” did not incorporate everything that happened to his hero, because he would have to include an indefinite amount of events that can happen to a given individual. Demands of the poetic mimesis required that he compose his story around a single unified action. The structure of the plot, states Aristotle, is the goal of the tragedy and the goal is of the greatest imortance.
Aristotle’s concept of character in “Poetics” is ethical: character is defined by making a moral choice, the decision borne out of careful consideration. In “Poetics” the character is defined by ‘that kind of utterance which clearly reveals the bent of man’s moral choice’, hence Aristotle concludes that there is no character in that class of utterance where there is nothing at all that the speaker is selecting or rejecting.