Some Critical Methods Traceable to Platonic Thought About Literature

The poet is a re-presenter of real things and the poem is a piece of pseudo-reality into which the readers look to see notable events and people doing real things.  Therefore, testing the "realism" of the representation is an essential interpretive act

The poet is probably mad or at least in an abnormal psychological state, following no teachable rules of art.  Therefore, it does little good to inquire into the poet's methods of operation as an aid in interpretation.  Interpretation means describing the form of the work.

Characters are treated like real people, re-presenting behaviors we will be likely to imitate, for better or worse.  Therefore, judgments of characters' moral and ethical behaviors is an essential interpretive act.  Such things as "how to love," "how to be a friend," and "how to endure suffering and loss" frequently are asserted to be taught by literature being read neo-platonically.

The poem happens outside the reader, but it also causes emotional, irrational effects within the readers, effects in response to events which are not really present to them.  Therefore, the interpreter must account for the poem's irrational forces, either by dismissing them entirely as irrelevant to the other tests of quality, or by analyzing them for signs that the work in question is virtuous or dangerous according to their effects on likely real behaviors.  The poem also may be praised for the sheer force of emotional effects it produces, but the praise often is not analytical, but "impressionistic."

The reader may pursue "insights" by letting poems wash over them, seeking a direct, partially irrational contact with the creative spirit which motivated the poems (i.e., the Muse and the gods in Greek theology), and if this fails, the reader may decide that the text is faulty and the paper will have to be about some other work which passes the "rapture into insight" test.  Insights might be about the mysteries of life and death, the nature of human values, etc., but they come to readers practicing this method like a brief fit of madness or a dream while asleep.  They cannot be commanded or otherwise controlled.

Literature, and interpretation, ultimately are or should be the tools of government, and the right to determine definitive interpretations rests in the hands of the state, which may require certain literature to be read or performed (e.g., the Pledge of Allegiance, the Iliad, "It's a Wonderful Life"), or may ban works of literature or their public performance (e.g., pornography until recently, texts promoting the overthrow of the government by violence, Huckleberry Finn and I Am the Cheese).

Do you want to test your neo-platonic critical methods?

(Note: in English 215, we will be using the prefix "neo-" is it usually is deployed as an indicator that some later critic has "renewed" or recovered an older theory's methods and uses them in some new fashion.  Of necessity, such "neo-" critical methods frequently are not thorough in their appropriation of their sources in philosophy, history, psychology, political science, etc.  Sometimes, they use these borrowed methodological :"tools" in ways never intended by the tools' originators.  To that, literary criticism often says, "tough darts," but discovery of such methodological impurities sometimes brings an end to the use of the borrowed critical practice.)