Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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Nigel Beale

Dan, I'm not concerned about whether or not academic criticism reaches a wider audience. I do think, however, that evaluative aesthetic criticism should assume a more important central role in the academic study of literature. So I fundamentally agree with your post. We disagree, I think, over the degree to which a standard evaluative criteria is useful to this study, or indeed possible; over the utility of assigning relative merit at all.

I've mused about this topic quite a bit over at my site. Here's something from a few months ago:

The strongest motive for reading the canon, says [Harold] Bloom, is the promise of a ‘difficult pleasure.’ "There is a reader’s Sublime, and it seems the only secular transcendence we can ever attain except for the even more precarious transcendence we call ‘falling in love.’"

The benefits of finding, identifying and experiencing this ‘difficult pleasure,’ more than justifies why aesthetic evaluative criticism should be central to academic literary study.



Your point about beginning a critical response with an aesthetic evaluation in terms of the work's own premises is a good one. The approach was quite lost while the culture wars were in vogue. But now it's crusaders pass daily into a batter place (retirement). I think that when you assert the primacy of aesthetics as the only valid purpose of fiction, as if there were no equally valid counter-arguments, it seems closed-minded. Perhaps you don't intend it, but the way you frame the argument is very didactic.

And: What about the critic as an individual person? I never take critical responses as universal; instead, I find them to be one valid reading of a work by a person who is well- and widely-read. Unless they make outlandish claims, or even if they do – one just, well, ignores that, or takes it half-heartedly – most critics are simply articulate readers who have a refined personal taste: refined well enough to be broadly applicable in some cases, or so much that their very idiosyncrasy is enticing.

The way the argument is being waged here, it seems as if all critics must accede to one set of presumptions to be "right." Otherwise, junk. As long as the internal ethic of evaluation is strong and the method of criticism coherent, then – agree or disagree with it – you probably have a worthwhile critical response.

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