The following series resumes the serialized discussion of the Levels of Literary Appreciation based on the author’s The Aesthetics of Literature: the Concept of An Empirically-Based Appreciation of Imaginative Literature.
Preceding discussions in this blog were on literary analysis as a basis for criticism. The final part will be on the theory of literary evaluation as a by-product of literary appreciation in the study of literature as humanistic discipline.
A THEORY OF LITERARY CRITICISM IN AN EMPIRICALLY-BASED APPRECIATION OF LITERATURE: PART I SECTION 1: CRITICIZING FICTION
In an empirically-based appreciation of literature, criticism is a mode of evaluation which involves the rendering of a judgment on the formal value of the artistic oeuvre.
In other words, while it is a form of evaluation, it is different from the third level (Evaluation) in that it is a critical judgment on the excellence of the artistic effort involved in the articulation of the various elements of the medium and content in order to achieve the artistic purpose of objectifying and emotionalizing an aesthetic experience. The third level focuses its attention on the worth of the experience or reality which was shaped up through a certain style and technique.
The artistic effort being judged here refers to the artist’s application of skill --- his style and technique. These are ultimately the repositories of what is considered artistic in the wok. Artistry is not found in the experience being configurated. It is reflected in the formation of the experience, in the application of artistic skill. Therefore, artistry is reflected in the artist’s style and technique.
Criticism in an empirically-based appreciation of literature is primary formal in its approach; i.e., it begins a posteriori (inductively) with the objective form – the art work (a phenomenon with a definite, particular “being” concretized by the objective elements of medium and content).
Because it is formal (i.e., addressed to the concrete form – the poem on the page, the sculpture in the round, etc.), it is often referred to as “objective criticism.” “Objective criticism of literature is criticism based upon qualities demonstrably present in the literary work, not qualities present in the writer or reader… Such a criticism requires that a reader know what the literary work was intended to do, whether it succeeded in doing it, how its various parts contributed to or hindered that operation.” (Duhamel & Hughes, Literature: Form and Function.) 1
The requirements mentioned in the directly preceding paragraph demand that analysis precedes criticism, because it is in analysis where the appreciator would get acquainted not only with the meaning of the work, but also with the purpose or intention of the artist and the various parts utilized in achieving his artistic purpose.
After the analysis, the appreciator normally arrives at a synthesis of what the artist has been trying to convey (the idea, the theme, the experience); he (the appreciator) will also recognize that ordinarily the purpose of the artist is to objectify or concretize this experience so that it may be transferred to the beholder in a palpable fashion since it is only in this form that the experience becomes specifically meaningful.
If the purpose of the artist is to objectify his aesthetic experience so that this may be perceived by the appreciator for his delight, it follows that criticism of the work will have to be based or whether or not this purpose was achieved in terms of the artistic materials (medium and content) available to the artist and recognized by the appreciator in the course of analysis. In brief, the appreciator will now make a judgment on: l) how well the artist’s style served the artistic purpose of objectifying the aesthetic experience which is being conveyed to the beholder; and 2) how well the technique served the artistic purpose of objectifying the same experience.
As common denominators, the outstanding qualities which become the criteria of how well the style and technique serve the artistic purpose are: whether or not the various media-elements are (1) effective (capable of exciting aesthetic delight – which is ultimately personal in that it appeals to the educated taste), (2) necessary (that they are a sine qua non to objectification), and (3) adequate; and whether or not the formulation and presentation of these elements are necessary, effective, and adequate.
These qualities, however, vary from art form to art form, from Art Period to Art Period. In other words, there are particular genre standards that are peculiar to each of the different stages of literary history; for instance, the qualities of an artistic style during the Classical Period may be radically different from that of the Romantic Period.
Because of the preceding, it would be imperative for anyone who might want to criticize literature for a keener appreciation of the art to (1) have a clear conception of what literature is (literary theory) and what it can do (its function); (2) to know his literary history; (3) and, to understand the aesthetics of literature – the modes of literary appreciation, the qualities to appreciate in good literature, and the criteria for valuable literature on three levels: universal values, formal or genre values (what makes a good poem, short story, novel, drama, and essay), and personal values (those peculiar to the biases and prejudices of the reader who has had a liberal sampling of literature in the different literary forms. 2
This preparation is necessary because a “good literary critic, when he is practising his art – that is to say, when he is committing his criticism to paper—is characteristically engaged in doing two things: he gives us, as completely and as clearly as he can, his considered response to a short story, to a play, a novel, a poem, and essay, so he can help us to a fuller enjoyment and understanding of the experience in and behind the writing; (and/or, he reveals, by examining a piece of writing in detail, the elements in the writing which combine to make its particularly quality.” (H. Coombes, Literary Criticism) 3
Such a preparation will naturally make criticism fair and intelligent, because, after all, the work of art – it is assumed – was done in fairness and with great intelligence. Of course, before one should waste one’s time on criticizing the work, he should at least have been able to determine through analysis if there is reasonable significance in the work which is worth spending one’s precious lifetime on.
Then again, in the words of T. S. Eliot (“The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism,” Selected Essays) “criticism must always profess an end in view, which, roughly speaking, appears to be the elucidation of works of art and the correction of taste” 4
One cannot hope to explain the beauty of an artistic product if one does not know what makes it beautiful; nor would one be capable of correcting misguided or unguided appreciators’ tastes, if one does not have an impeccable and intelligent taste in the first place.
But why should one engage in criticism in order to appreciate a work of art? Is that not making the process more complicated? Rather than think criticism is a complication, the student of literature should take it as an effort towards making the appreciation keener and more intelligent as appreciation must be keen and intelligent. (only man can appreciate. He is not about ready to default on this virtue which distinguishes him from the primates). If it is a rational activity at all, it might as well be a reasonable and reasoning one. In higher education, it is the student’s proper activity anyway.
“Especially for the beginning student of literature today, faced with a rapidly growing diversity of literary works and qualities, and too often introduced to them only through a hasty and meaningless survey of names, titles, and other routine external data, the main value of studying criticism is that it may arouse in him the desire to think through what he is reading in literature generally, and sharpen his ability to do so. Its first and most important fruit is to make him realize that evaluation – seeing things for what they are, seeing them in their importance – it is not a matter of caprice, custom, or affectation, but that it can emerge from intelligently conceived premises and aims … Criticism can thus bring into activity the noblest of human qualities: namely, the quality of sinceritiy, the desire to discern the truth, to see some point in what one is doing or thinking, and to keep penetrating until the answer is found.” (Walter Jackson Bate, Criticism: The Major Texts). 5
It must be emphasized that criticism’s classification as a rational and human activity is by no means a manner of patting the homo sapiens on his back. It is concededly a proper activity of his species. Besides, it should be taken as one of those means by which man could realize his differentia --- his rational potentialities towards knowing – because man, among all beings, has been “condemned to know.” Inasmuch as he does not yet know everything (in spite of the millions of years he has been around), he might as well go on knowing – synthesizing – and hope that someday he will wake up fulfilling the requirements of his perfection.
1. Duhamel & Hughes, Literature: Form and Function, Prentice Hall, N.Y., 1969. Introduction.
2. Levels of Evaluation discussed in succeeding parts of this series.
3. H. Coombes, Literary Criticism, Penguin Books Lt., Hammondsworth, Middlesex, 1963. Page 7.
4. T. S. Eliot, “The Function of Criticism” (From Eliot essay of the same title) Selected Prose, John Hayward, Ed. Peregrine Books, Penguin Books Lts., Hammondsworth, Middlesex. 1963. Page 18.
5. Walter Jackson Bate, Criticism: The Major Texts. Doubleday Anchor Books, Garden City. 1959. Introduction.
Next: Part II Literary Criticism: Discovering the Artistic Purpose as a Premise for Criticism
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