Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Future of Invention--mimesis

As I review chapters 4 and 5, I see that the single theme of these chapters is the relations between the model and the copy. He starts in chpt. 4 with Imitation (or mimesis) and Invention. The demise of classical imitation pedagogy in the face of the romantic sense of subjectivity and emphasis on creativity positions imitation and invention in opposition to each other: imitation = repetition/reproduction and invention = novelty/creativity. But Mucklebauer believes this story of opposition is too neat (52).

Mimesis, he says, deals with the power of appearances and traditionally has had three meanings with fit with three domains:
PHILOSOPHY--"the Platonic notion of an image making faculty which produces extensions of ideal truth in the phenomenal world"
LITERATURE--"the Aristotelian notion of the representation of human activity" (think "hold the mirror up to nature"
RHETORIC--"the rhetorical notion of copying, aping, simulating, emulating models" (54)

Muckelbauer says that this catagorization of mimesis "lends itself to an anachronistically rigid sense of disciplinary boundaries" (55). He looks to Terry Givens to offer another approach: "Rather than focusing on the type of imitated object (the model) or the nature of the imitation's product (the copy), such an approach would attend to the dynamics of repetition and variation that circulate through any given practice of imitation" (56) Givens notes there are three basic components of mimesis:

The MODEL -------------------------------------The COPY
                           some relation of likeness

We have not attended as much to "the relation that exists between the model and the copy"(56), and Muckelbauer proposes applying his affirmative inquiry approach to create a different taxonomy of mimesis. Through this work, he identifies three "rhythms"--which he also calls "inclinations" and "orientations" within imitative repetition.

The three "singular rhythms" of imitation are:

Repetition-of-the-same--the copy is an exact duplication of the model. Plato talks a lot about this kind of reproduction of the "idea" in the phenomenal world (which is of course inferior to the ideal). Variation in the copy is seen as bad or as a failure.

Repetition of difference--"variation is necessarily an internal principle of imitative repetition" (65). This form of imitation or repetition does not have to deal with "the regulating ideal of identical reproduction" but operates by other laws: "in order to repeat, one must vary" (66). Muckelbauer quotes Aristotle's statement about how poets don't have to narrate events as they happened. Tolstoy famously discussed the same thing in how novelists in recounting historical events are not limited by facts and actual events. For repetition of difference "it can no longer be concerned with simply reproducing the model as accurately as possible..., but must attempt to reproduce the effect of the model"(68). This form of mimesis is "primarily concerned with appearances ...[and] on the capacity to produce effects (70).

Inspiration: Difference and Repetition--"the nature of the model changes... . Within this inspiring encounter, the model becomes responsiveness itself" (73). The previous two types of imitation "offer two different ways in which subjects might respond to their models in order to repeat them" (73).  I must admit that this third form of repetition is a bit unclear to me. He speaks about the "dynamic of losing oneself in response to a model" and quotes Quintillian about how what students learn from imitation "is the capacity to respond itself" (74).

I should wrap this post up, but I want to process these rhythms of imitation in terms of my own teaching. I can see how much of my teaching hinges on the "repetition-of-the-same." And this includes the grading. I grade off of an internal ideal model, and (of course) the real thing can never rival this model. It is interesting to contemplate the possibility of "learning" as a form of imitating or repeating. When we ask students to "apply" principles or things they have learned, we really are asking them to repeat them. Let me show you. Now, here, you do it. I will have more in my next post about this relationship between the Model and the Copy and how it relates to learning and reflection.

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