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

Dan TheBookMan danust2012 at gmail.com
Wed Sep 30 02:08:32 UTC 2015

On Tue, Sep 29, 2015 at 2:51 PM, William Flynn Wallace <foozler83 at gmail.com>

> ​dan:  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.​
> ​Oh yeah, the drive to equalize everything.  Probably started in the
> sociology department (still clinging to total environmentalism).  Or
> cultural anthropology.  You can't say that one culture is better than
> another one because that's just provincialism (well, yes, you can and you
> can prove it too).​
> ​  It's all part of the political correctness that hasn't run its course
> yet (soon, I hope).
> ​How can one teach ANY course without some idea of what's better than
> something else?

But you do see how this flies in the face of your earlier claim about
literature departments cleaving to objective standards.

And do you realize since you tell us there are no objective standards,
shouldn't you be more on the side of cultural relativism here? (Not
completely, maybe. I don't think most relativists are all that consistent
either. I think they are usually sneaking in some absolute standards

Where, again, are you getting all this from?

> ​Dan, the 'given; refers to a post by Giulio, I think.  He says we just
> like what we like and that's it by the age of 5.  But studies have shown
> that you can learn to like different sorts of music in later life, but that
> might very well stop around age 35.

Oh, my mistake. I thought you were referring to my earlier email. :)

> Why read critics?

To better understand a work and its value or place in the scheme of things.
I often work the other way around: I might here a work is good, but I don't
read any detailed criticism of it. Instead, I read the work, then afterward
read the criticism. Can't always do this, of course, and I confess that
many works I find out because someone else said something nice about the
work. For instance, I read a couple of novels by Thomas Bernard because a
critic compared him to someone else I liked. (By the way, given your views
here, DO NOT read Thomas Bernard. I'm almost certain you won't like his
novels. I'll be amazed if I'm wrong here. But please don't read him and
then tell me how much you hate his work.:)

> I read some on Amazon just to see if there is anything really killer about
> the book I might buy.  But professional critics has historically been wrong
> an enormous number of times, and in fact why should not enjoy a book I
> enjoy just because it doesn't meet their standards?  There are a few music
> critics over the years on American Record Guide that reliably like the
> things I like and if they say it's not worth my time, it usually isn't.

Wrong in what sense? In that you didn't like their recommendations? Or in
that you didn't agree with their analysis? And which ones again? (You never
really name names. And you don't seem to admit what applies to one critic
might not apply to all critics or to criticism in general.) When I read
someone like Wayne C. Booth, whom I've mentioned earlier, I get elucidation
on how narration works. He isn't necessarily saying, "You must read and
enjoy _A Passage to India_ or you're not worth a bucket of spit."

Interesting novel about Henry James and Sherlock Holmes I read sometime
> back (sorry I don't remember the title).
> I'd love to find a literary critic who doesn't wallow in theory and just
> tells how much he enjoys the book, and whose likes are similar to mine.  So
> many genres, so many books.  So little time.

I'm not sure what you're looking for from literary criticism. Just a thumbs
up? Well, you can read sales rankings and see how many stars a book gets.
You can also just skim. No one's forcing you to read criticism. :)

By the way, there are many critics who are also artists, such as Henry
James, Virginia Woolf, Randall Jarrell, Charles Baxter, and Francine Prose.


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