I know that something major has changed in the world of television when my sons refuse requests to turn the set off with the comment, "Just let me finish watching this commercial." I have always thought that commercials were something to endure until the real program came back on. Apparently some of them have now become the form of entertainment par excellence of the medium.
What do TV commercials have to do with Sidney's The Defence of Poesy? More than one might think. Faced with the Puritans' attack against poetry who saw it as a secondary form of knowledge, called it the mother of lies and believed that it fed the fires of passion, Sidney responds with a practical argument: by their fruits ye shall know them. Poetry cannot be evil because it succeeds so well in teaching goodness and delighting the learners (Abrams 518). Sidney believed that one could test that assertion by applying Aristotle's saying: "it is not gnosis but praxis" (513) which counts in the end. The power of poetry to move us to exemplary action--to practice virtue--constitutes its best defense. EMU familiar with the terms "faith and praxis" should have no trouble following that line of reasoning.
Madison Avenue swears by this truth, combining product knowledge and enjoyment to send us scrambling towards the nearest mall. Again, it is not gnosis but praxis which counts in the end. An argument for economic growth carries far more weight in the twentieth century than a plea for virtuous living.
Before we return to Sidney in order to examine more carefully his defense of poetry, I would like to ask myself why I find the topic to be relevant. I grew up in the '50s in a Mennonite world which pretty ...
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...ly, a speaking picture--with this end, to teach (sell) and delight." He argues persuasively that the pleasure one experiences in poetry is precisely what makes it so effective. If anything has a chance of nudging humankind towards a more humane existence, is it not the arts? After all, "the final end is to lead and draw us to as high a perfection as our degenerate souls, made worse by their clayey lodgings, can be capable of" (510). The way the artist does that sounds as seductive as modern advertising: ". . . he cometh to you with words set in delightful proportion, either accompanied with, or prepared for, the well enchanting skill of music; and with a tale . . . which holdeth children from play, and old men from the chimney corner" (513).
Abrams, M. H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol I. 5th Ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1986.
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