[This is the second informational message to help you with the materials in the on-line course, "Reception of the Arts."]
The important "event" in the theory of humors is the shift from the "static" or "logical" system to the dynamic system. The logical oppositions that make things easy to figure out is great, but if you have to relate the humors to human experience, you have to shift the position of two humors: melancholy and phlegm. This sequence air, fire, water, and earth approximates the order of the seasons, at least in the Mediterranean, where the schema was hatched. Air (spring), Fire (summer), Water (fall), then Earth (winter) make sense both for nature and human events, which require a kind of sine-wave oscillation between life and death, light and dark, happiness and sadness, surplus and lack.
Make sure you know why and how this shift takes place. It's key to the scheme that Poe develops in the poem, "Annabel Lee." The moist elements form a "horizon" of water, above which stars shine and below which poets mourn. Between the two elements "by the sea" (a kingdom and a tomb) the universe of poetry unfolds. It's also wise to remember this "cosmic mountain" for later use. It keeps cropping up. Actually, it's a very ancient image, and for good reasons. It has the ability to tell a story literally without giving away any secrets.
By the time you finish the first chapter, you should know the elements and their relationship to seasons, story-lines, personality types, and other kinds of things. You should also have a grasp of the relation of the humors to the famous "Wheel of Fortune," which uses three kinds of time to work out the details of human motive and fate. Venatic time, forensic time, and festal time will be important components of ideas to come, so study them well.
a 1950's Venus, from Schulkyll County
Venatic time is the time of most of ordinary life - looking for things, pursuing something, being chased, aiming at some goal. The word "venatic" comes from "Venus," who was the Roman goddess of the hunt. Hunting is "in our blood," as a species. That is to say, our ancestors were hunters-gatherers for so long that the human body (and mind) evolved around the needs of hunting. That's why we have endocrine systems capable of providing bursts of energy, why we have minds that look for clues (trails), why we see things in goal-directed ways that require planning. All time, for us, is technically venatic, but within venatic time are two other forms of time that are distinctive enough to be forms of time on their own. The form of time required to check out clues, look for footprints, trails, etc. is called "forensic," a word taken from the idea of the courtroom. When we look for evidence we're looking backwards in time rather than forwards, as in venatic time. We remember the past and reflect on its relation to the present and future. Forensic time is a form of time that runs parallel to our venatic experience.
When the memories and clues of forensic time combine with the immediate present of venatic time, we often shift into "festal time." This is, like it sounds, "party time." It's when time seems to melt and give way to event, spectacle, "now." Just as, in a hunt, a trail will lead to an intersection of the hunter (in forensic time - looking for the trail) and the hunted (in venatic time, going to its next meal), festal time is the "chase scene" where things happen fast. Festivals, however, can make use of festal time by stretching it out. Feasts and fasts are examples of periods of time set up to be "outside of time." Holidays and holy days suspend ordinary activity. The Romans set aside the space between the old and new year, Saturnalia, as the time for all kinds of pranks and idiocy. Slaves became masters and masters had to serve the slaves. People played practical jokes. In later history, such midwinter festivals involved the election of a fool-king who could order people around for a few days, getting them to do all kinds of foolish things.
what goes up must come down
The Wheel of Fortune is an interesting device that shows how the forms of time relate. Life spins around the rim of the wheel, giving us ups and downs. At the center is the goddess Fortuna, who controls things from the strategic center. Connecting the center with the rim are the forensic spokes of the wheel - the "reasons" that connect the details of everyday life with the cosmic logic of the hub. Later on, we learn that the Wheel of Fortune uses a "chiastic" logic (X-shaped). You're not ready for this yet, however, but be alert to how the same structures keep repeating themselves.
The thing to remember when confronting "arcane" imagery and antique ideas is that the logic of displacement has made them the source of some very commonplace and familiar ideas. Every generation likes to recreate the basics in its own form. For us, phrases such as "what goes around comes around" and other notions of justice and balance embody the idea of the goddess Fortuna without mentioning her by name. The wheel itself is an idea of motion and stillness combined - just the perfect thing for a theory of history where change has to have some constants. As the French say, "plus ça change . . ." (the more things change, the more they remain the same"). Our modern notions of balance are, like the wheel of fortune, dynamic. They imply that, while injustices occur, they will eventually be punished. Actually, excesses of any kind are generally believed to be subject to a giant leveling motion, given enough time. In our "venatic" everyday life, it looks like things get out of whack, but our knowledge of justice ("forensics") leads us back to principles that don't change EVER: a festal conclusion.
the moon with its four phases
and astrological signs
The final idea that you should focus on, especially in your discussion groups, is that of "quadrigia," the formula for developing sermons invented by the Catholic priests of the Middle Ages. This was a four-part scheme that also serves for any work of art that hopes to connect successfully to an audience. The first and most obvious level is the "literal." Within this simple structure, however, is contained a more subtle, a "moral," meaning. We refer to this when we say that "someone gets the point." Wait! There's more! Behind the "point" is the possibility that the work of art is an analogy, a kind of place set up to refer to some other place or situation. If we find this level of meaning, we can make many more associations, and we can explore connections in depth. For those who really get into things, there is the "anagogical level." This is the point where the work of art becomes as important, maybe more important, then the things it seems to refer to. At this point, life is pale in comparison to the work of art. If you know someone who is addicted to soap opera, they have reached the "anagogical" level. The soap opera means more to them than their own life situations because they find all kinds of "answers" in the work. It offers a special source of meaning not found elsewhere.
Anagogy is open-ended. It means that everything is related to everything else, but without being muddled or confused. It's like finding meaning in every detail a heightened state of awareness. This is, after all, what we look for in personal experience the feeling of being connected, of being in the rhythm of things, of not having to stand outside in order to understand. Anagogy was the aim of the quadrigia system because the audience knew its value in advance.
Here's a way to remember quadrigia and its four parts.
1. Literal - what you see is what you get.
2. Moral - what you're going to do about it.
3. Analogical - what you're going to think about it.
4. Anagogical - who you are, and why you are, all up for grabs.
Think of this in terms of listening to a favorite song. The literal part is the sound that reaches you: notes, chords, lyrics, etc. The "moral" part is whether you find it compelling, interesting, dull, etc., and "what you think it's saying to you." The analogical part comes when you connect the song to some experience you've had, some friend you know, some situation, etc.
Finally, the anagogical part is when, maybe by coincidence, the song happens to summarize reality at some point. Let's say you're own your way home after breaking up with someone, and that was "your song." (This is getting hopelessly sentimental, I know.) You turn on the radio. The song comes on. You see how some details of the song you hadn't noticed before actually had "come true." You find that the song has not just structured the broken relationship but your whole life in general. That's anagogy.
The first three or four chapters of The Art 3 Idea are the hardest, but your confusion is likely to subside after chapters 4 or 5. Once you realize it's a kind of "gimmick" then you'll get into the swing of things. Hang in there. It's weird at first but the point is that reality is weird if you examine it closely.
How are things going so far? Is the web site clear to you? Is the textbook manageable? Let your instructor know if there's any problem that can be remedied with some adjustments to make the rest of the course more enjoyable and successful for you.