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The fact that this passage from Burke's Enquiry itself creates a series of distinction rather than a series of resemblances, while simultaneously expressing a preference for the latter, reveals a writer in two minds even about the value of being in two minds: "When two distinct objects are unlike each other, it is only what we expect; things are in their common way; and therefore they make no impression on the imagination: but when two distinct objects have a resemblance, we are struck, we attend to them, and we are pleased. The mind of man has naturally a far greater alacrity and satisfaction in tracing resemblance than in searching for differences; because by making resemblances we produce new images, we unite, we create, we enlarge our stock; but in making distinctions we offer no food at all to the imagination; the task itself is more severe and irksome, and what pleasure we derive from it is something of a negative and indirect nature.” (Enquiry, 27).
According to Burke the social constitutes itself according to an underlying dynamic of mimesis: Society was constructed through the production and reproduction of resemblances. For Burke, tracing and making resemblances is the natural operation of our mental activity and the basis for the emergence of society. Tracing and making resemblances are triggered by “sympathy,” which is, according to Burke, our first and most extensive link, or passion, toward others. He defines sympathy as "a sort of substitution, by which we are put into the place of another man, and affected in many respects as he is affected" (Enquiry, 44). His theory of mimesis drew together mental activity of sympathy, the cognitive principle of likeness in imitation and the social dynamic of kinship in society.
Although this characterization of the dynamic of sympathy according to the flexibility of associations may well put us in mind of the predominant epistemological theory among eighteenth-century British philosophers--the so-called associationist theory of mind-- Burke has a more radical theory of association. His associationism originates within our overwhelmingly social passion of sympathy; what we associate with first and foremost is one another. Mental associations are a subspecies of social ones. And as we are about to learn in regard to imitation, it is our "natural constitution" not only to be drawn toward what others feel, but so too to draw ourselves toward what they do, to repeat their actions--via imitation--as a means of enhancing the affinity we already feel, whereby sympathy encourages us to find occasions when we might feel our affinities still more strongly. Imitation is, in other words, an elaboration of sympathy imitation is a natural, social, and constitutive part of what we are.
For Burke, therefore, the pleasure of imitation is the pleasure of society, specifically, the pleasure we take in feeling a kinship and closeness to others. Beauty, for Burke, is the name we accord the pleasure that we take in certain resemblances. If we understand artwork to be the product of imitation (the so-called imitative arts): poetry, fiction, sculpture, architecture, painting, music, etc – then the provocative nature of Burke’s theory is apparent. For it now amounts to the following: the pleasure we take in artworks is but a species of the pleasure we take in society. Artworks then, by extension, provide an opportunity to feel social, or one might say: to feel the social, where social means sympathy. Imitation is, rather, an elaboration of the mimetic nature of sympathy.