Archive for change

Pathos as the enactment of change

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Then again, pathos may not neatly correspond to emotional discourse.  In fact, a closer look at Aristotle’s treatment of pathos reflects a more complex theory than we might realize. Pathe are not qualities, but they are more like agents that affect a temporary change. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty explains that Aristotle viewed pathos as that which produces change in a body that would not otherwise experience such a change. In metaphysical terms, pathos is not part of a body’s essential being. Rorty writes, “Pathe proper are not qualities (poiotetes): they are relatively impermanent alternations in a thing, whose causal explanation usually lies primarily outside its nature (526).

Thus, a broken leg is a pathos insofar as it gives rise to a limping walk that would not otherwise be natural to a body. Likewise, my dirty joke at the dinner table might be said to be a pathos when it causes my modest companion to blush. The pathos enacts a temporary change in this modest body that is in a normally non-blushing state. For this reason, Aristotle paints pathos as something that is undergone or suffered by beings. Rorty says that they are, for Aristotle, most often misfortunes—and we can see why. The passive or accidental undergoing of a changed experience has a ring of misfortune about it.

This view of pathos—as an agent that enacts a change upon another body—is complex insofar as it turns pathos into more of an active agent than a unique substance. In the case of my dirty joke, the pathos is not located solely in language or in my companion’s body. Rather, the pathos enacts a changed state in conjunction with her body. It is this combined enaction of a blushing body and dirty joke that is the pathos. Consequently, pathos does not exist “in” anything, but it enacts a changed state when linked with (other) bodies. Pathos is the (en)act(ment) of change.