Monday, February 20, 2012

research digressions

With recurring references to Herodotus and Thucydides, I grabbed a copy of both from the university library. I first began reading Herodotus years ago although I never finished it at the time. And I have had Thucydides on the 'To Be Read' list for a long time.

Unfortunately both have become a distraction. My interest is not the histories as such that both reveal, but the philosophical standpoint they respectively occupy. But both are just so darn interesting. Where would we be without the diligent people who did the translations into English? Not to mention the monks who kept copying the old manuscripts to keep them 'alive' in the first place. And I have had a curious interest in the Spartans for years. Not that I would have lasted long living in that less-than-pleasant society. Being both below average height and short-sighted would not make for a terribly good member of the phalanx!

I have to really watch myself here as I simply do not have the time to afford such digressions. But history written in an interesting fashion is just so incredibly interesting to read, which is what brought me to this point of research in the first place.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Aristotle, universals and particulars

Aristotle had a bit to say on the subject of poets and historians in his work, The Poetics. An interesting translation of that can be found at

When Aristotle is describing poets, he is referring to authors of epics eg Homer, which in our contemporary terms we can consider applying to a novelist.

For Aristotle, the historian is one who tells what happened, whereas the poet is one who tells the sort of thing that can happen. A further look into this reveals Aristotle seeing the poet telling the things that according to likelihood or necessity can happen. Another translation of the relevant phrase in Chapter 8, describes this as telling what is possible according to the law of probability or necessity.

A key difference between Aristotle's poets and historians is that of Universals and particulars. The Universals are things that a certain kind of person tends (or would) say or do, according to likelihood or necessity. Thus the poet is telling of Universals. This could be seen as a universal law or rule applying to all. By way of analogy, we have all burned ourselves at some point in our life and learned something from it - burning hurts. Consequently it is highly likely or probable that everyone would seek to avoid being burned again in order to avoid the associated pain.

Aristotle better defines the particulars in Chapter 23 and these present not a single action expected of all but the things occurring in a single period to one person of to many events but with little connection. And that is how Aristotle sees the historian's role, in recording the specifics of an event or single person's adventures, or alternatively the compilation of events without necessary connection.

So what have I learned? That Aristotle, considered in many respects the father of fiction with his rules for writing epics and tragedies, draws a very clear distinction between historians and what we would call novelists. These views can be seen echoed in current debates and arguments about what is history, what is fiction and what, if any, relationship is there between them.

A beginning

I am currently becoming thoroughly immersed in historical learning as it relates to writing of history and of fiction. This is all part of my research degree at the University of Canberra. My degree is currently a Master of Arts in Communication (research) however I am looking very seriously at seeking an upgrade to a PhD (Communication) due to the academic complexities that have developed.

Being a compulsive writer, I keep notes. As I can type much faster than I can write by longhand, I have decided to start blogging this experience. I should note that these may well be somewhat of a ramble at times as I shall be brain dumping to an extent.

So here we go. Feel free to read or follow if you like.