Mimesis between poetics and rhetoric: Performance culture and civic education in Plato, Isocrates, and Aristotle

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This essay argues that the genealogy of the schism between poetics and rhetoric can be understood best by contrasting the attitudes of Plato and Aristotle towards the social impact of the poetic tradition with those of Isocrates. Plato seeks to discipline the process of poetic and political enculturation by splitting mimesis as representation from mimesis as performative imitation and audience identification. Aristotle completes Plato’s Utopian project by constructing a hierarchy wherein representational mimesis of the tragic plot in the Poetics is central to a philosophical life, while mimesis as performative imitation of style in the Rhetoric is of marginal utility. In so doing, he counters Isocrates’ performative conception of speech education, according to which identification and performance both activate and sustain one’s civic identity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-33
Number of pages27
JournalRhetoric Society Quarterly
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2000


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language

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