Dear Larry and Cecelia

I am happy to get your letters, but I am sorry to hear all the bad news, although I know nothing gets the best of your good natures. I don’t know what else I can tell you. You must know by now that Dorn read in SF Nov 12, but did you know that your letter arrived saying give The United Way? What does it all mean? Somewhere in the Helenistic period, between Aristotle and Horace, the procedure must have become academic, and the concerns became philological instead of philosophical, pedagogical attempts to codify the advances of previous ages, worrying about the transmission of texts. Aristotle’s sense of imitatio was that art should imitate the uni- versal, the generic form, the rational principle lying behind the random multiplicity of particular objects as we experience them, which was a dialectic to get at the common denom- inators of human experience, whereas Horace’s sense of imitatio was that an artist should imitate the methods of other authors. The subject became narrower, away from great heroic sub- jects such as in the Iliad, and became more private, concerned more with exact representation. In other words, it became an imitation not of the universal, but of the particulars. Here lies the problem of the neoclassics. The neoclassics, in trying to recapture the ancient wisdom, naturally assumed that Aristotle and Horace agreed with each other, but in fact they are separated by a couple hundred years and their interests are basically opposite. Aristotle was concerned with philosophical theory, but Horace was concerned with rhetorical technique. Aristotle wanted to get at the universal, but Horace only wanted a set of rules by which he could influence an audience more effectively. The neoclassics therefore thought that they could get at the universal through strict imitation of particularities, and they went through great pains trying to justify adherence to the four so-called Unities, which said that if you want your play to be believed you better make it conform rigidly to what happens in the real world: you can’t jump in the play from London to Rome, your characters can’t grow old in the time it takes to perform the play, and so on, which was a lot of bull, and which Samuel Johnson and Colleridge and Keats said later was a lot of bull, giving us “suspension of disbelief” and “negative capability” and so forth, which are nice concepts, and good sense too. The neoclassics, inspired by the rise of the scientific method, tried to measure qualitative things in quantitative terms; in other words, they thought they could get at the universal, or the divine, if they could make it more precise, more particular, i.e. secular. Gradually the neoclassic sense of imitatio came to be that art should imitate particular psychological states, the way an object is apprehended rather than the object itself, but they still had great difficulty with this notion because inherent in it are a confusion of opposing principles. Thence follows the shift from mimetic principles to symbolic ones, losing hold of that common denomin- ator: anything should be represented by anything. But these are simple things. Simple, when the dog of life is barking up your nose; change is simple when some things never change; they’re simple things because they don’t make an inexplicable fool of you, growling and biting ahold of your tattered motley. Although it’s not all that bad for me. I’m rarely sick; my good friends don’t get in accidents on Halloween night; I don’t have to worry about part-time jobs. My only gripe I guess is that I have too much I want to do, and to do one is not to do another. To see friends is not to study; to write is not to see friends; to study is not to write. What to do? I’ve started a campaign, writing letters to my friends about my studies, but I feel as though I’m shortchanging all three. love, Tom

13 November 1975