Tuesday, December 6

what happens

But the poet, Aristotle says, never makes any real statements at all, certainly no particular or specific ones.  The poet's job is not to tell you what happened, but what happens: not what did take place, but the kind of thing that always does take place.  He gives you the typical, recurring, or what Aristotle calls universal event.  You wouldn't go to Macbeth to learn about the history of Scotland -- you go to it to learn what a man feels like after he's gained a kingdom and lost his soul.  When you meet such a character as Micawber in Dickens, you don't feel that there must have been a man Dickens knew who was exactly like this: you feel that there's a bit of Micawber in almost everybody you know, including yourself.  Our impressions of human life are picked up one by one, and remain for most of us loose and disorganized.  But we constantly find things in literature that suddenly co-ordinate and bring into focus a great many such impressions, and this is part of what Aristotle means by the typical or universal human event.

-- Northrop Frye  The Educated Imagination