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

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re: 'I do often insist that the aesthetic qualities of a literary text ought to be at the forefront of the reader's initial encounter with it'

Do you mean the reader, or the critic? Because most readers don't – and never did, I think – care much about how a book is written. There are a whole spectru of reasons that people read. Arguing that critics ought to focus on aesthetics is entirely reasonable, it is at least one of the key aspects of their job; arguing that the general reader "should" read a book in any way, aesthetic or otherwise, is off rail.

Dan Green

If it really is the case that "most readers don't – and never did, I think – care much about how a book is written," then I truly don't understand why anyone would want--would have ever wanted--to read one in the first place.

Bianca Steele

I don’t understand what you (or anyone) mean by “aesthetic” criteria. What are these criteria -- and why should _I_, being neither a professor of literature nor a student in a literature course, care about them? I am not trying to argue that I do not, and should not, care about the aesthetic quality of, say, novels. I am pretty sure aesthetic concerns play a large role in my experience and evaluation of them. But what do you mean when you say that I ought to keep aesthetic issues front and center on my first reading?

For the most part, I try to observe Virginia Woolf’s recommendation to give every book the benefit of the doubt for at least the first hundred pages -- but that means ignoring aesthetic imperfections as well as any others -- not at all the same thing as what you recommend.

As for Wood, my general impression is that he might conflate his metaphysical sense of “the real” with some idea that that when a novel pays attention to “the aesthetic” in the proper way, it provides the (close) reader with access to “the real.” That seems implausible.

Dan Green

"Without an act of recreation the object is not perceived as a work of art. The artist selected, simplified, clarified, abridged and condensed according to his interest. The beholder must go through these operations according to his point of view and interest."

John Dewey, *Art as Experience*

This act of recreating in the experience of the work what the artist created through selection, simplification, etc. is what I mean by an "aesthetic" experience. See also the series of posts I've put up on Dewey's book through the links to the left.

Bianca Steele

I see. Dewey seems like an unusual choice for your project, if what you are trying to do is defend high-modern or postmodern aestheticism. From looking at your earlier posts, it seems like you are trying to build up a theory (not sure whether “theory” is the most accurate word) using his writing -- which seems to me like an interesting idea, but also a pretty big task, so I probably shouldn’t be surprised that I can’t grasp it all just from a handful of blog posts. Is it your dissertation topic?

Dan Green

Not my dissertation, no, which was a study of "metafiction."

Nigel Beale

Although I think it is possible to have an aethetic preference for realism over its alternatives, and vice versa, James Wood unfortunately does not really support this preference "within" aesthetics, as Jacob puts it. It's at best a metaphysical preference for Wood, and his clinging to his metaphysical conception of the "real" as represented in fiction does make his criticism useful to the "status quo" for the "economic, political and social implications" to which Jacob alludes. I cannot myself overlook these implications in judging Wood's critical writing, however much I do admire his commitment to "close reading."

I wonder if you could clarify the difference between 'aesthetic" preference and "metaphysical" preference...
Isn't Wood simply identifying those techniques used in the 'act of recreation' which, in his opinion, from his point of view, result in the 'best' art? The kind which most successfully recreates that response in the beholder which the artist wishes to stimulate?

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