[ExI] Objective standards?/was Re: silly 'rules'

Dan TheBookMan danust2012 at gmail.com
Tue Sep 29 20:09:40 UTC 2015

On Mon, Sep 28, 2015 at 5:01 PM, William Flynn Wallace <foozler83 at gmail.com>

> On Sat, Sep 26, 2015 at 2:18 AM, Giulio Prisco <giulio at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Why do we need "objective standards" at all? What's wrong with
>> subjective standards? And why can't different people people with
>> mostly different subjective standards agree to disagree, and
>> collaborate to make the world a better place according to the
>> standards and values they both happen to support?
>> Yes, we can develop scholarly theories of comparatively aesthetics and
>> all that, and some people like to do that. I prefer to consider my,
>> and others', standards and values as a given.
> ​Departments of literature need objective standards or they would have to
> admit that anything is as good as anything else.

Which ones? Unless I'm wildly wrong, objective standards for literature and
the arts in general are debated in academia and it seems the view that
there might not be any is held by a significant number of academic, it
seems to me that departments of literature are not resting on that view. I
didn't do any surveys here, so I might be wrong, but I'm wondering where
you're getting this from.

I did take a look at the English Literature department site for a local


Now this is fluff for people reading sites, but it doesn't look like
they're holding forth as you think. Or am I misreading them?

> They have a point.  We don't have to agree with them.

No one has to agree with anyone. The point, though, is whether there are
objective standards in the arts. People, too, can disagree about anything.
Disagreement tells us little though.

> In the New York Times Book Review on Sunday a writer is usually asked what
> paragon of literature is really dull and not worth reading, and it's
> interesting to see their choice.  So far, Middlemarch seems to have the
> distinction of being the book that the literati think is dull and hard to
> finish.
> But a lot of famous books have been mentioned.

I didn't read the article, but I'm not surprised. My experience of the
classics has been often being bored. Some of this might have to do with my
state of mind at the time of reading. I noticed in high school and college
reading Henry James was a chore. (And, no, I didn't have to read them for
class. I read them on my own.) But then something clicked and I started
devouring James' novels and stories. (Something similar happened with
reading Kant.)

A book I have yet to read on rereading the classics -- or probably reading
them since there are too many to read for any one person -- is:


I'm not sure what the "paragon" you're talking about. And paragon for whom?
James Wood is one of my favorite living critics, yet he has many, many
detractors. (And he's quite popular -- often seen as a no nonsense critic.)

> We have not had enough time yet to see what of the 20th century art,
> music, literature will survive.

I agree, especially with regard to anything after 1950. I believe the first
half of the Twentieth Century is already showing signs of who the survivors
will be. Copland, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, and Ellington
seem to be survivors in music. They remain popular and many later and
living composers want to equal or better rather than ignore them.

> Mostly things have lasted because the elite who run universities have
> clung to them and the populace has had little say.

I doubt that. The change happened much earlier than you think. In the late
18th and early 19th century, the arts shifted from a patronage system to a
mass commercial one. To be sure, mass appeal had a huge influence even
before that. Shakepeare's plays were wildly popular in their time. He
relied on audience appeal -- not some nobleman or cleric deciding what was
funded and spread. (Even under the older system, what was patronized in one
court didn't necessarily spread to another. So it wasn't like one
aristocrat's tastes overrode everything else. And there was still mixing
with popular work.) If the Twentieth Century did anything here in terms of
the arts, it might have gone the other way: artists decrying commercial
success and a more intense split of art into the serious stuff and the
popular stuff. I'm not sure anyone in Beethoven's time -- and certainly not
in Brahms -- would have thought popular success was a sign of artistic
failure. But that view did take hold in the late 19th and early 20th

> With the 20th century and the explosion of popular everything, it's a new
> ballgame.​
> ​  Who actually reads Shakespeare and listens to Beethoven?​

Lots of folks read and watch Shakespeare and listen to Beethoven. Those are
very bad examples for the case you're trying to make. In those two
examples, cultural elites and the mass audience tend to agree: both are
wildly popular. Probably most educated people know part of Hamlet's famous
soliloquy and have seen "Romeo and Juliet" or some work by him. Probably
most people, educated or not, know the opening notes of Beethoven's
Symphony No. 5.

And I read Shakespeare and listen to Beethoven. I know plenty of others who
do too. And these are not college professors or people attending a writing
workshop. For example, I know two local baristas who like Beethoven among
others. They love to listen to the local classical station. Are they
weirdos or part of some artistic enclave? They don't seem so to me.

> ​I'd like to know what you mean by 'given'.​

Where do you mean? Do you mean in this passage:

"Also, have you ever analyzed why you like a given work -- story, film,
painting, poem, etc.?"

If so, I meant pick a work you've actually read, etc. In other words, if
you've read a Vernor Vinge story and liked it, have you tried to analyze


  Sample my Kindle books via:
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