Ashok R. Kelkar





We propose to take a look—not a hard look but a look of care and concern---at the life history of a literary judgement, beginning with its birth in the excitement of an encounter between a literary work (a poem, a story,  a play, an essay and so on as the case may be) and its recipient (listener or reader as the case may be)—and of course we mean an encounter and not just a passive intake (as when one uses a read to put oneself to sleep or gets through a text in preparing oneself for an examination). Passive intakes don’t give birth to literary judgements.  To its author a literary judgement appears as self-evident as any evidence tendered by his senses.  A little later the author may not remain so sure.  In any case a little later the author may not remain to sure.  In any case a little later it has already passed into the public domain. And then we don’t know what do with it—it is a judgement-of-that-work and nothing more, it is irreducibly specific; it is a judgement-by-this-person and nothing more, it is irreducibly subjective. We present and examine this impasse in the first section.


            In the second section we discern the end of the tunnel.  The judgement may be specific, but it is also explicitly, implicitly, or tacitly comparative-in-spirit—even as a poem, which is very unique, is at the same time eminently involved with other poems.  The judgement may be subjective, but it is also explicitly, implicitly, or tacitly persuasive-in-tent-even as the encounter that it is born out of, which is very private, is at the same time eminently participative in the community’s literary life.  Arguing about literary judgements is possible: criticism is feasible: integrating judgements into a critical position is in good order.


            We are past end of the tunnel but not at the end of the journey.


            Impressionistic judgements attach impressionistic predicates to objects, gestures, works—


                        This is sweet/moving/hateful.

                        This is warm/cool/heavy/smooth.

                        This is too long/abrupt/slow-moving/spacious.

            Impressionistic judgements are akin to perceptual judgements such as—

                        This is pink/multicoloured/coloured.

                        This is piping hot/lukewarm.

                        This is cramped/something to make me queasy/painful.

            Literary judgements of these three kinds differ from form each other in certain ways.  But they also resemble-each other in other ways:


            (1)  Literary judgements are clearly not exclamations, such as—

                        Aha ! Ah ! Techa ! Ugh ! Ouch !

                        Alas ! What ?!

            They are not even aesthetic exclamations such as—

                        Beautiful ! Wonderful ! Fantastic !

                        It’s beautiful !

                        This is ugly !


            Exclamations lack negative counterparts.  ‘It’s not beautiful’ is not an aesthetic exclamation, it is an aesthetic judgements.  Literary judgements certainly have negative counterparts and are therefore open to contradiction.  They make claims that are open to dispute.  Since they make claims, they presuppose a point of view.  The dispute ultimately extends to the larger claim that the point of view is a point of vantage and so expected to yield valid judgements.  (We shall return to this consideration later in section in section III-B.)


            (2)  Literary judgements are clearly not descriptions such as—

                        This is opaque/magnetized.

                        These are all round/square/parallel/on the same level/thirty in number.


They are not even technical descriptions such as---

                        This is parabolic.

                        This is hotter than that by 5o Celsius.

                        This is acidic with a pH value 2.5

                        This is a marsupial mammal.

            Indeed what they offer to us are not facts but interpretations-of-facts.  They claim to offer not valid descriptions, but valid ascriptions.  The point of view underlying an ascription may be personal, communal, or human. Aesthetic judgements are personal or egocentric; critical judgements are communal or ethnocentric; impressionistic judgements are human or anthropocentric.


            (3)  Literary judgements may have, in varied proportions, the element of appraisal or evaluation and the element of understanding or interpretation-of-text.  (None the oppositions: fact/interpretation-of-text.) The characteristic problems that literary judgements bristle with are not confined to judgements that are primarily evaluative (such as, this is beautiful/ugly/great; This is a major/minor classic).  They also effect judgements that are primarily interpretative-of-text (such as, This is to be understood as ironic).  Indeed the line between the two is hard to draw.  A text- interpretative judgement has an evaluative claim embedded in it.  (Thus, saying that this is pretty rather than beautiful amounts to saying that this embodies perfection in parvitude rather than  perfection in plentitude.  Cf. Kelkar 1969.)  Interpretation-of-text and evaluation feed on each other.  Likewise, interpretation-of-technique and evaluation feed on each of Again, literary judgements may be aesthetic, critical, or impressionistic.


            From now on we shall make no difference between evaluative literary judgements and text- interpretative literary judgements.  By the term ‘literary judgements’ we shall refer chiefly to aesthetic and critical judgements without quite excluding impressionistic judgements.


            (4)  The person delivering a literary judgements, its author, cannot do so without direct acquaintance with the object, gesture, work to which the aesthetic, critical, or impressionistic predicate is being ascribed. In contrast, the author of an ethical judgement need not be, perhaps even should not be, the one committing the act.  Again, the author of the cultural interpretation, namely, that this poem is a Petrarchan sonnet need not even have known the language.  Literary judgements are rather closer to perceptual judgements in this respect.  Two things seem to flow from this need for direct acquaintance-at least, they seem to be closely connected with that need—


            (a)  Such judgements are, as Kant realized, irreducibly specific.  They cannot be drawn as conclusions from an argument of the following kind:

            Anything that is man is mortal.

            This is something that is a man.

            Therefore, this is mortal.

            In respect of such judgements at least existence essence.

            (b)  Such judgements are, again as the author The Critique of judgement realized, irreducibly subjective.  They cannot be drawn as conclusions form an argument of the following kind:

                        This is green to me.

                        I am a person with normal vision in my present state.

                        Therefore, this is green as such.

            Here literary judgements appear to part company form perceptual judgements.


These two features—irreducible specificity and irreducible subjectivity—seem to be especially true of aesthetic critical judgements as distinct form impressionistic judgements.  The first feature shuts the door to concept-formation; the second feature shuts the door to verification.


            Could it be the case that these two characteristic features of literary judgements have something to do with the nature of literary works and of our responses to literary works?


I-B.  A literary work, being a work of art, is so unique. (Ānandavardhana, fl. 850, spoke of apūrvavastumirmāa; the West made this discovery with the Romantics.)  As Martin Buber points out so tellingly (1923 (1937 : 41-2), technical and aesthetic analysis may demote the work of art from Thou to It, but the essential encounter between a person and a work of art, a ‘spiritual being’, is an I-Thou encounter.  A poem is like a person. And yet, in spite of its uniqueness, a poem thrives in the company of other poems.  Literary works are constantly involving each other.  Intertextuality (a useful coniage form Kristeva 1968) is a basic fact of literary life.


            When we looked at examples aesthetic exclamations, we may have noticed somewhat different shapes that these exclamations may take.  There are pure exclamations such as—

                        Ah ! So beautiful ! How wonderful !

(These almost resemble certain perceptual judgements like—

                        It’s dark here.

                        It gives me the shivers.

                        There are butterflies in the tummy.

                        It’s eerie here.

In that they lack any real subject to attach the predicate to.)

And there are exclamatory statements such as—

                        This is so beautiful !

                        It’s a beauty !

                        That’s ridiculour !

            As we pass form a pure exclamation to an exclamatory statements, we are already giving our response a local habitation in addition to the name.  Then, as we pass from an aesthetic exclamation to an aesthetic judgement, we further recognize the possibility of comparison as in—


We may compare subjects as well as predicates.  Now the claim that this is more beautiful than that amounts to the claim that if that is beautiful this most certainly is.  From this it is but a step to saying—

                        It this isn’t beautiful, then nothing is.


To call something beyond compare is only a rhetorical way of comparing it.


           In short, aesthetic judgements have a dimension of comparison.  This comparative dimension is even more insistently present I critical judgements and impressionistic judgements.  Literary judgements may be irreducibly specific and resistant to concept-formation, but they are at the same time unavoidably comparative. Literary works (which occasion these judgements) may be unique, but they irresistibly invite comparison and intertextuality.


            We have already made a distinction between aesthetic exclamations and aesthetic judgements.  We know have to make another equally useful distinction—a distinction between aesthetic judgements such as, ‘This is beautiful’, and an aesthetic report, such as—

                        So-and-so judges this to be beautiful.

                        This is widely judged to be beautiful.

                        I judge it to be beautiful.


            When a person says, ‘This is beautiful, he is not merely implying that he finds this beautiful, but is saying something more—he is saying, ‘This deserves to be found beautiful’.  When one moves from the exclamation ‘Beautiful!’ or ‘This is beautiful!’ to the judgement ‘ This is beautiful’, one is not merely laying oneself open contradiction (‘But is isn’t’) but one is also soliciting support by inviting another to agree (‘Isn’t it?’ ‘Don’t you see?’).  On the other hand, when one merely reports (‘I find this beautiful’), one is laying oneself open to contradiction of a quite different sort (‘But you don’t—suggesting that one has made a false report merely to please another or to be with the crowd or to annoy or mock at somebody or to make a joke for some such extraneous reason.  Needless to say that if one were to utter what purports to be an aesthetic judgement is mere gas—it is vacuous and so not even open to contradiction.  Similar observations can be made concerning the passage form critical and impressionistic reports to critical and impressionistic judgements.


            Literary response is embedded in an encounter between the recipient and the literary work that is so very private—whether it is a sudden affair (‘I fell in love with it’) or a long-drawn-out one (‘Like a person it grows upon me’).  So the literary response is nothing if not authentic, it is irreducibly personal. At the same time, it cannot be thought of except as a participation in the literary life of the community.  What confers literature-hood on a text is its being accepted as worthy of continual reenacting within the community.  (whether this community is an elite minority or whether it is the community at large is beside the point.)


            It will be seen now that, when a recipient is not satisfied with making his own  judgement but simply has to invite another to see what he has seen and thus seek confirmation, this is not just a concession to a natural human failing but rather a pointer to something else, namely, that such an invitation is inherent in the very exercise of a literary judgement.


           In short, aesthetic judgements and, even more so, critical judgements and impressionistic judgements have a dimension of persuasion.  literary judgements may be irreducibly subjective and resistant to verification, but they are at the same time unavoidably persuasive in intent.  Literary works and literary responses appear to join this conspiracy—the literary works are unique but intertextual, the literary responses personal but participative.


I-C.  Now that is clearly an embrassing, even intolerable situation. We have to find a way out of it.  (Isn’t it just what Kant’s dictum would lead one to expect?  Said he, “From the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing can ever be made.”)


            It is true that the predicate in a literary judgement persists concept formation.  There is no way in which one could support judgements such as---


                        This is beautiful.

                        This has unity in diversity.

                        This is saccharine.

by means of arguments based on a description of the object, gesture, work being judged.  If one were to argue, example----

                        This is beautiful because its parts are well-proportioned.  one could a always counter this by a question---

                        But what is it about having well-proportioned parts that makes something                                 beautiful?


(This extrapolation of G. E. Moore’s argument about moral judgements to aesthetic judgements was first attempted b Edgar F. Carritt.  See Caritt 1929, 1949, 1962.)  But surely, if there is no way of describing what it is to be pink rather than crimson to a blind person, this does not entail that the adjectives are interchangeable and so probably synonymous. Pretty, dainty, elegant are distinct form each other and from beautiful both in their sense and in their range of applicability and at the same time these are all mutually comparable.  Literary judgements may be irreducibly specific, but we have to find some way of matching the subjects with one another which are involved in such judgements.


            Again, it is true that the author of a literary judgement cannot resort to verification and so that there is no way eliminating subjectivity. But surely, if the author of the judgements cannot help hoping that the person being addressed will ‘see’ for himself that this is so.  If the other person is not blind, one can’t help saying, at least in an undertone, ‘Can’t one see that this is crimson rather than pink?  Literary judgements may be irreducibly subjective, but we have to find some way of getting two subjects to agree on at least some judgements.


II.   The Way Out: Criticism is Feasible


II-A.    The situation may be intolerable, but is not utterly hopeless.  The hope is based on reasons such as these.


            (1)  We have already seen that a literary judgement is open to contradiction.  This immediately puts a constraint on the author of a literary judgement.  He cannot contradict himself.  One cannot say that this is red and at the same time and in the same respect this is not red, one cannot even say that this is red and green at the same time and in the same respect. Similarly one cannot say that this is beautiful and not beautiful. (From now on we shall take it that the qualifications ‘at the same time and in the same respect’ are understood as a part and parcel of the subject of the judgement.) and one cannot say that this beautiful and ugly (that is, this-at-the-same-time-and-in the-same-respect).


            (2) We have already seen that the predicates of literary judgements cannot all be interchangeable and synonymous, and (as in the case of ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’) they may even be mutually incompatible.  This puts a constraint on the likelihood of disputes.  Not all disputes are equally likely.  It is easy enough to imagine an exchange of the following sort---


                        It is beautiful.—No, it isn’t, it is merely pretty.

                        It is pretty.—I’d rather say hat it is dainty.

                        It is tragic.—No, it is not tragic, but pathetic.

                        It is a short novel.—No. it is a long short story.

                        It is moving—No, it is just sentimental.

But disputes of the following sort are possible, but far less likely.

                        It is beautiful.—No, it isn’t, it is ugly.

                        It is tragic.—No, it is farcical.

                        It is a novel.—No, it is a play.

                        It is moving.—No, it is just a cold statement.


            (3)  We have already seen that a literary judgement can be comparative.  If one says ‘A is beautiful than B’ then one is claiming that if B is beautiful then A most certainly is.  This raises the expectation that the claim that both A and B are beautiful is less likely to provoke the counterclaim that B is beautiful but A isn’t than the counterclaim that neither A nor B is beautiful or that A is beautiful but B isn’t.  One may  even look for a self-contradiction underlying a judgement that B is judgement but A isn’t.  so here is another constraint on the likelihood of disputes.


            A corollary follows.  One may find oneself saying that if Mona lisa is not beautiful then nothing is or that if King Lear is not a tragedy then nothing is.  In that case one is claiming that Mona Lisa or King Lear or is touchstone.  Aesthetic touchstone are comparable to cultural prototypes (such as a ‘prototypical’ Petrarchan sonnet); and impressionistic touchstones are comparable to perceptual standards.  That such touchstones emerge in the course of history (this is so-called ‘verdict of time’ in the domain of art) strengthens the presumption that the felt impasse is not impasse is not impassable, that there is a way out.


            (4)  If one comes across a literary judgement made by anyone, one can make reasonable guesses about that person’s other literary judgements.  If one finds in actuality that most of these guesses are going wrong in the case of a certain person, one may judge such a person to be erratic in taste or lacking in taste.  One may even begin to suspect the authenticity of these judgements (‘He obviously doesn’t mean it when he says that B is beautiful and A is ugly’).  In any case of one is ruling such a person out of court-he is not fit to be a party to a literary argument, he is not to be taken seriously.


            (5)  If one comes across a set of literary judgements by one person, one can make a reasonable guess that other like-minded persons are likely to share all or at least most of these judgements.    Like-mindedness may be shared literary sensibility, shared literary tradition, shared communal life.  In the case of impressionistic judgements, one may even hope to see like-mindedness is shared humanity.


            Moralities differ, but every society has one.  Members of a society differ from one another in their moralities, but differ within limits.  Substitute ‘literary sensibilities’ for ‘moralities’ and the observations still hold good.  To the extent that a given literary sensibility yields consistent, even coherent literary judgements, it has crystallized into a critical position, an aesthetic ideology.


            The notion of a literary sensibility is preferred here to certain other comparable notions such as the notion of the author of a set literary judgements or the traditional notion of literary taste.  Consider how the same person may shift in his literary judgements at different periods in his life (in youth and in maturity, before and after a cultural ‘conversion’  or even in different mental states (relaxed and self-conscious, in town and back home at the village-a difference that is comparable to Sunday-best and weekday morality among some Christians). Again, a literary dispute between two sensibilities will be more substantial and more difficult to resolve than a literary dispute within the same literary sensibility shared by two persons.  Finally, literary judgements may remain implicit, even tacit rather than become explicit.  The notion of literary sensibility.


            To sum up, the impasse of literary judgement is not impassable. There is a way from specificity to generality: literary works are comparable and intertextual.  Single works add up to bodies of literature.  There is a way form subjectivity to intersubjectvity and even a degree of objectivity: literary sensibilities are comparable and participative.  Single judgements add up to critical positions.


            Let us follow these two trails in turn.





            No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone….You cannot value             him alone; you must see him, for contrast and comparison among the dead.  I           mean this as a principle of aesthetic, not merely historical criticism…What             happens when a New York of art is created is something that happens when a new   work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works             which preceded it.  The existing monuments form an ideal order among t            themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new)             work of art among them.

-T. S. Eliot (1919)


            What makes a body of literature? What makes a literary corpus? A literary corpus may be recognized at various levels—

            the literary collection, such as the gveda Sahitā, an Athenian triology (three                           tragedies to be allowed by a satyrplay), the Greek Ahthology, Bharthari’s Śatakatrayam, Shakespeare’s sequence of 154 sonnets;


            the collected works of a single author, such as the Sakespeare canon, the gāthā of                              Tukaram, the kulliyā of Ghalib;

            the historically and generically defined corpus, such as the Gothic novel                                         (of early 19th-            centrury Britain), the German Romantics (with their poetry                          and prose), the chāyāvād īkavitā (second quarter of the 20th centrury in                                Hindi);


the geographically and linguistically defined national literature, such as English and American literatures (united by the sea and divided by language, if one is to believe Bernard Shaw), the Indo-Persian literature (of 12th-17th centuries A.D.), the Hindi-heritage literature (Old Maithili, Old Avadhi, Old Braj, Old Khari Boli of 13th century-early 19th century passim, the ‘creation of Ramachandra Varma the literary historian critic);


The literature of a civilization, such as Western literature, Islamic literature, Medieval Indian literature.


Historically this recognition, with various degrees and modes of conventional sanction, may come through authorial intent, biographical accident editorial effort, efforts of translators and adapters, the emergence of a more or less partially shared reading public, the emergence of a group or at least a community of writers, linguistic affinity and linguistic distance, the presence of common folklore or mythology or ideology, a shared ‘classical heritage’, or shared history.  What matters in critical terms in the presence of shared intertextuality (allusions, quotations, imitations, influences, contrary reactions, traditions, experiments, pendulum swings, and the like) and of shared models and pattern (literary figure such as metaphor, allegory, parallelism; literary forms such as sonnet, ghazal; epigram, proverb, joke; literary motifs such as the heroic, the erotic, the marvelous, the devotional; literary motives such as short story, novellalyric, tragedy, epic, etc. ;literary kinds such as prose of ideas, closet drama, song).  These two ensure a sharing of sensibility through setting constraints on what the author intends, how the recipient responds, what the two expect form each other, and what the two expect  form the work that is taking shape between them.


            It is customary to speak of comparative literary study as a special mode of literary study.  If the present argument holds, it will be seen that all literary study is comparative in intent and accomplishment in that it seeks to transcend the irreducible specificity of the

literary judgement by recognizing the intertexuality and the comparability of literary works.  Comparing two poetic traditions is only in continuity with comparing two poetic genres, comparing two poets, and comparing two poems.  Comparing across two poetic traditions is not different in kind from comparing within a single poetic tradition.  The only constraint on the legitimacy of literary comparison is the density of intertextuality and the degree of comparability.


            So much for the transcendence of specificity. (Transcendence, not reduction.)  Now for the transcendence of subjectivity.




            An judgement is personal or it is nothing, you cannot take over some one else’s.  the implicit form of a judgement is: This is so isn’t it?

--F. R. Leavis (1972: p.62)

It is certain my conviction gains infinitely the moment another will believe it.

--Novalis, cited as epigraph to Joseph Conrad’s novel Lord film


            Let us begin making a simple but very helpful distinction—between offering a definition, offering a reason, and offering an explanation in the course a literary argument—


            (1)  Earlier we established a distinction between three kinds of literary judgement on the basis of three kinds of literary predicates-aesthetic, critical, and impressionistic ascriptions.  A literary predicate can be defined if at all only in terms of other literary predicates of the same kind.  An argument of the following kind is valid—

                        This has unity.

                        This has diversity.

                        Therefore, this has unity in diversity.

                        Therefore this is beautiful.

The second premise cannot be accepted, as a definition equating beauty, an aesthetic predicate, with unity in diversity, a critical predicate.


            (2)  But how about the following?

                        This is beautiful.  Why?

                        Because  this has unity in diversity.

Here we are offering a critical judgement by way of an explanation for the occurrence of a critical judgement.  To accept such a explanation is to accept a technical insight.  Let us now return to the problem presented by the irreducible subjectivity of the literary judgement.


            To begin with, we have aesthetic exclamations (This is Beautiful!). Such an exclamation may give rise to –

            (1) An aesthetic report (This is found to be beautiful),

            (2)  An aesthetic judgement (This deserves to be found beautiful).

The two are linked by an invitation (I invite you to see that this is beautiful.  Isn’t that beautiful?).  The invitation marks the passage form (1) to (2).

            An aesthetic report calls for an explanation of the following sort:


            So-and-so finds this to be beautiful because so-and-so has inclinations, a make-up             of a certain sort which is impressionistically judged or naturalistically described             to be such-and-such.

This explanations may or may not be convincing.  If it is, that’s because we are accepting a generalization of the following sort:

            Persons of a certain make-up, a certain personal and social identity find works judged or described to be of a certain sort beautiful.


This is an explanatory generalization.

            Alternatively, an aesthetic judgement calls for not an explanation but a reason of the following sort:  


So-and-so judges this to be beautiful (or finds this deserving to be beautiful) for a reason flowing from so-and-so having sensibilities and a taste, or adopting strategies and a stance, of a certain sort which is critically stable as such-and-such.


This reason may or may not be convincing. If it is, in accepting it we are accepting a generalization of the following sort:


Persons with a certain taste or stance find works critically judged to be certain sort beautiful.


This is a reason-providing generalization

            These literary generalizations by offering explanations for the fact of a literary judgement  or, alternatively, by offering reasons for a literary judgement let us transcend (but not reduce) the essential egocentric, ethnocentric, or anthropocentric subjectivity of literary judgements.


II-D.    Where does the literary subject (understood here as the author of a literary judgement with a certain sensibility) look for reasons in defending his literary judgement in respect of a given literary object (understood here as the literary work being responded to) ?

            If the literary subject looks into his own personal and social identity, he is making explanations for the judgement to be its reasons—in other words, he is committing the affective fallacy of identifying the object with the way it affects the subject or (what comes to the same thing) identifying the literary judgement with the genesis of that judgement in the private and personal encounter with the object.

            If the literary subject looks into the personal and social identity of the author of the literary work, he is mistaking explanations for the generalization of the object to be the reasons for its aesthetic/critical/impressionistic status-in other words, he is committing the intentional fallacy of identifying the object of judgement with its genesis in the artist’s intentions.

            It should be apparent that both the affective fallacy and the intentional fallacy are examples of the genetic fallacy.  I am of course borrowing the expressions form Wimsatt an d Beardsley (1949, 1946)-the ideas going back at least to Eliot (respectively 1923, 1919).  I only hope that my reformulation avoids some of the pitfalls in the earlier formulations and is less liable to being misconstrued.  Perhaps to prevent confusion the present reformations may be called the doctrines of affective-genetic fallacy and international-genetic fallacy.

            There is one more fallacy which has been recognized by many but which hasn’t been given a name.  If the literary subject seeks to derive the literary judgement from some ‘first principles’ of criticism, he has lost sight of the irreducible specificity and subjectivity of literary judgements–in other words, he is committing the applicative fallacy of identifying the object with a pigeon-hole in some preconceived schema that is being applied.  (Literary object can’t be so identified, in them Hegel’s notion of the concrete universal finds an exemplification.)

It is singularly unfortunate, therefore, that the term ‘applied criticism’ is still in use and that the term ‘practical criticism’ is still understood as the practical application of some principles rather than simply taken to be somewhat misleading synonym for ‘critical practice’.  There is no a ‘applied criticism’ and there are no ‘critical first principles’.  There is only a dialectical interplay between critical practice   and critical and technical insights.  Such interplay clearly shows that critical activity is simply observant participation in literary interaction, in the literary life of the community (cf. Kelkar 1977): it is insightful appreciation and not the predictable exercise of a critical position.  A critical position is not a set body of proposed first principles, rather it is a body of evolving critical and technical insights (that is, generalizations that are currently accepted by the critic).  The saying “Consistency is the virtue of an ass” is particularly appropriate in the area of critical practice.

No matter what his critical position is, a literary subject must steer clear of the affective-genetic fallacy, and the applicative fallacy.  These three are not some paper tigers floated by formalist critics. Any literary subject, formalist or not, succumbing to them is simply trying to reduce (rather than transcend) the irreducible specificity and irreducible subjectivity of literary judgement, and necessarily failing in that enterprise.

In recognizing that literary judgements are irreducibly subjective, we recognize that literary predicates and literary insights are individually acquired through direct acquaintance with literary objects.  But then in recognizing that literary judgements are unavoidably persuasive we further recognize that literary predicates and literary insights need to be ratified. (By ‘literary insights’ are understood here both critical insights defined earlier in II-C.  Explanatory generalizations are entirely different matter and are being excluded in this context.)  it may be noted in passing that, while literary predicates and literary insights probably operate on quite different lines in that they are probably socially acquired and individually ratified.

To sum up literary criticism and technical analysis literature (the latter of course in close association with the former) are feasible in spite of the irreducible specificity and subjectivity of literary judgements because these two features are transcended respectively through the unavoidably comparative and persuasive dimensions of literary judgements.  These latter two features permit the crystallizations of critical positions in the shape of critical insights and technical insights.

And of course are several plausible critical positions (for an exploration of these see Kelkar 1983).


III.       The Metacritical Problem

            Some overhasty and over-sensitive critics have a habit of creating a new aesthetic A new aesthetic as soon as any new kind of writing appears…..If we derive the aesthetic criteria of a particular trend from the works belonging to this trend, they have ceased to be aesthetic which is afraid to approach the question of criteria, of the rightness of a particular trend or genre has abdicated from aesthetic.

--Georg Lukács (1962 : p.363, quoted in Pradhan 1980)

...I desire to avoid dogmatism even in opposing dogmatism.  It is of extreme importance to recognize not merely the relativity of taste, but what one may call its absoluteness in reference to a particular individual at a particular individual at a particular time….We shall trust ourselves, as we trust our own eyes and ears: while on the other hand, unless we wish to reduce our whole social life to chaos, we shall be willing to allow others to trust themselves.

-E. E. Kellett (1981, quoted in Heyl 1943: 89)

 III-A.  In coping with the impasse arising out of the specificity and subjectivity of literary judgements by recognizing their comparative and persuasive dimensions, we hav e opened the door for a multiplicity of critical positions form which to make literary judgements.  The only way to argue about literary works is to oppose literary judgement to literary judgement and to support one literary judgement with other more general literary judgement.  Critical argumentation is primarily a matter of finding definitions and reasons, only secondarily a matter of finding explanations.  In any case it is not a matter of offering conclusive proofs, still less providing them.  (We can regard technical insights about literature as but an integral part of literary critical activity.  Stylistics is not a branch of linguistic science, it is a branch of literary criticism-offering definitions, reasons, explanations linking critical judgements to impressionistic judgements.)

            This inevitably leads us to a point where we are called upon to make judgements about literary judgements, to offer literary criticism, to choose between the multiplicity of critical positions.  How do we go about doing this ?  That is the metacritical problem.  To offer solutions to the metacritical problems is to take up metacritical/impressionstic/naturalistic predicates assignable to the literary object and the sensibilities and taste assignable to the literary subject.  In short—

            Literary predicate is seen as a function of the literary object and the taste of the        literary subject.

In either case the literary judgement is bound by the literary object and the literary subject.  It is irreducibly specific and irreducibly subjective.  Let us say it has an object bondage and a subject bandage. The object bondage may be-

            (i)   maximum : this object here and now,

           (ii)   medium : this object belonging to this genere or tradition or period,

          (iii)   minimum : this object belonging to the world of man.

The subject bondage, in tum, may be—

            (i)   maximum : this subject here and now.

            (ii)  medium : this subject belonging to this community of subjects.

           (iii)   minimum : this subject belonging to this mankind.

(The nineteenth-century English saying ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’s is a proverbial recognition of maximum subject bondage.)


III-B.   The choose a metacritical position is to choose the degree of object bondage and of subject bondage—that is to say, to decide as to how much one ought to seek to transcend to specificity and subjectivity to literary judgements.


            Broadly speaking there are three metacritical positions (for earlier but somewhat less adequate formulation of these see Heyl 1943 : Part II)—

            (1)   critical amrchism with maximum object bondage and maximum subject                                 bondage,

            (2)   critical relativism with either object bondage reduced to medium or subject                                 bondage reduced to medium or both,

            (3)    critical absolutism with minimum object bondage and minimum subject                                  bondage.

(Other terms have been suggested-subjectivism or pluralism for anarchism and objectivism or monism  for absolutism; but presently it will be seen that these terms are inexact and so infelicitous.  Incidentally, Heyl calls the three positions respectively subjectivism, relativism, and objectivism.)

            The point is that the choice of the metacritical position has to do not only with the question as to how far the subjectivity of the literary judgement is transendable but as much with the question as to how far the specificity of the literary judgement is transcendable.  The twin questions are: (a) Can criticism be objective or even intersubjective? (b) Can criticism be abstractive or even semi abstractive?  In any case, all three positions have to accept that literary predicates selected to actually vary both object-wise, i.e. in accord with a literary work being responded to we subject-wise,  i.e. in accord with the literary sensibility and critical position of the recipient responding to the work.  The actual variation is a fact of life, so to say.  But they differ in their assessment of this variation in literary judgements.  They don’t offer to pick out from alternate literary judgements may be text-interpretative no less than evaluative.  The metacritical positions are as much concerned with text-interpretation as they are with evaluation.)

            Critical anarchism says that literary judgements not only do vary object-wise but ought to so vary. In other words, there is one and only one valid judgement for every object-subject dyad.  Critical anarchism accepts maximum object-bondage.  (The word ‘subjectivism’ as sometimes applied to it will thus be seen to be a misnomer, unless we are thinking of critical anarchism that has succumbed to the affective-genetic fallacy.  The word ‘pluralism’ is also inexact in that it could and often does apply to critical relativism as well.)  Critical anarchism expects near-congruence between liking and approving, between personal and social identity of the subject and his taste.  But it does not except near-congruence between the descriptive predicates assignable to the object with the ascriptive literary predicates assignable to it.  Critical anarchism holds that all interpretations are valid.  (The Medieval Latin saying ‘De gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum’ is a proverbial recognition of critical anarchism.)

            Critical relativism holds that literary judgements ought to vary object-wise and subject-wise within limits (i.e. so long as they don’t lapse into arbitrariness and eccentricity). Critical relativism accepts either medium object-bondage or medium subject-bondage or both. Indeed one has to recognize three sub-varieties of critical relativism:

            (a)    subject-oriented : maximum subject bondage and medium object bondage;                              some interpretations are implausible, the rest being valid;

            (b)   neutral: medium object and subject bondage; some interpretations are valid                                    and some invalid;

            (c)   object-oriented: maximum object bondage and medium subject bondage;                              some interpretations are invalid, the rest being plausible.

Critical relativism expects only partial congruence between liking and approving, between the personal and social identity of the subject and his taste, and between the descriptive predicates assignable to the subject and his taste, and between  the descriptive predicates assignable to the object and the ascritptive literary predicates assignable to it.  (The seventeenth-century English  proverb ‘It takes all sorts to make a world’ will be an appropriate motto for a critical relativist.)

            Critical absolutism holds that literary judgements ought not to vary either subject-wise or object-wise.  In other words, there is only one valid judgement for every object no matter who the subject is and there is only one valid literary generalization for every subject no matter what the object is.  Critical absolutism accepts minimum object bondage and minimum subject bondage.  (The word ‘objectivism’ as sometimes applied to it will this be seen to be a misnomer.  The word ‘monism’ is infelicitous in that it suggests that there are only two metacritical positions—as we have just seen, there are actually five, 1+3+1.) Critical absolutism expects near-congruence between right judgement and mature and unspoiled taste and does not expect ever near-congruence between liking and approving.  Any departure from the right ascriptive judgement is dismissed as impressionistic judgement and attributed to immaturity or debauching of taste.  Critical absolutism holds that there is one valid interpretation, the rest being invalid.  (The classical Sanskrit notion of adhikāra, authority based on competence’, fits well with critical absolutism.)

            It will be useful at this point to spell out the relationship between the three fallacies described just now. Anarchism and subject-oriented relativism are apt to fall into the genetic-affective fallacy, though they could very well steer clear to it. Anarchism and object-oriented relativism are apt to fall into the genetic-international fallacy, though they could very well steer clear of it.  Anarchism and object-oriented relativism are apt to fall into the applicative fallacy, though they could very well steer clear of it.  Any literary judgement has to be authentic, but the grounds offered in order to validate it have to be rooted in a sensibility if they are to be taken seriously.  Absolutism and neutral relativism merely point put that authenticity does not guarantee validity.  On the other hand anarchism and subject-oriented relativism insist that there can be more than one validating sensibility.  Again, any literary judgement has to be specific, but the grounds offered in order to validate it have to be rooted in a literary generalization if they are to be taken seriously. Absolutism and neutral relativism merely point out that specificity does not guarantee validity.  On the other hand anarchism and object-oriented relativism insist that there can be more than one validating criterion: a literary generalization valid for an object belonging to a genre, tradition, or period need not be valid for an object belonging to a different genre, tradition, or period.

            The question at issue is whether out of the many possible and possibly even many plausible points of view there can be only one point of vantage (absolutism), or many points of view there can be only one point of  vantage within limits (relativism), or only one point of vantage---the point of view that appeals to the subject (anarchism).  Adapting and extrapolating from an earlier discussion of this more general question (Weiler 1976) one could present the issue in some such terms.

            The philosopher-observer (as in the Hegelian system) is credited with the only current point of view—the other points of view being mistaken, at best merely plausible.  Discussion is designed only for removing the error.  In Leibnizian terms, he is God-like in his awareness of the reestablished harmony of the plenum.  The conviction that there is a world by itself strengthens the hope that one can rise diverse points of view.  (This is absolutism.)

            But to have an at least partially inalienable position is to be an individual and respond to an individual with respect to the available view.  The point of view may be defined by special access (hence specificity) or by special interest (hence subjectivity).  If it settles into a set bias, rational discussion is ruled out. (This is anarchism.)

            Recognizing points of view other than one’s own is an invitation to open-ended rational discussion, to joint of intellectual democracy.  But of course as soon as one qualifies a claim form a specific point of view (his, our, out, my…), then necessarily one thereby weakens the force of that claim, undermines the positions or system even as one postulates it.  (This is relativism.  The weakening is seen when one passes form an aesthetic judgement to an aesthetic report—from ‘This is so’ to ‘I find this so’.)

            One may also note in passing that the moment that the relativism hedges from the need to choose a clear point of view no matter how agonizing the resulting rejections may prove to be, the moment relativism recommends instead a search for moderation, synthesis, the golden mean relativism turns into neutral relativism.  But this need not happen, relativism may remain tough-minded enough to accept the need for a clear, even agonizing choice.  That would be non-neutral, subject-oriented or object-oriented relativism, relativism of special interest or relativism of special access.

            Before we proceed to take up considerations that have a bearing on the choice of the metacritical position, let me offer a set of terms for use in modern Indian languages—

            anarchism                                anāgraha

            relativism                                 mitāgraha

            subject-oriented                      vttilakī

             neutral                         śuddha

             object-oriented                        vastulakṣī

             absolutism                                satyāgraha (or adhyāgraha)

III-C.            Obviously we are not going to tolerate at this point an infinite regress of the following sort-the choice between critical positions is a metacritical problem, the metacritical solutions offer certain metacritical positions, the  choice between metacritical positions is a metacritical problem, the metacritical solution offers certain metacritical positions, etc., etc.  Fortunately such a regress does not present itself at this point.  The choice between metacritical positions brings in considerations that also have a relevance to higher-order problems.  Literary arguments call for more literary judgements, and not for more and more abstract theories.  Let us now make a rapid survey of various metacritical positions. No distinction will be made between explanations and reasons for adopting these positions.

            (1)  The desire for consistency in critical discourse strengthens absolutism.  But the recognition of unresolvable contradistinctions strengthens relativism.  (Consistency may be asinine but inconsistency is all too human, it may even be a divine.)  anarchism seeks to meet both the demands somehow or other.  Some may even call it a counsel of despair or an easy way out.

            (2)  The recognition of a discontinuity between literary creation and literary reception strengthens absolutism.  But the desire to make reception a form of recreation, if not subcreation, if not cocreation favours relativism if not anarchism.

            (3)  Interpretative literary judgements may be exegetic (for whose purposes absolutism is plausible), hermeneutic (for whose purposes relativism is plausible), or homiletic (for whose purposes anarchism is plausible.) (for whose purposes anarchism is plausible.)  (For the three levels of literary interpretations see Kelkar 1985.)

            (4)  The desire for continuity between descriptive statements and ascriptive judgments and between explanations and reasons in critical discourse favours anarchism. But the recognition of a discontinuity between facts and interpretations-of-facts favours absolutism.  Relativism seeks to meet both the demands somehow or other.

            (5)    The recognition of continuity between the world in literature and the ‘real’ world favours absolutism.  The recognition of discontinuity between them also favours absolutism.  Attempts to meet both the demands move away from absolutism.

            (6)   The recognition of the irreducible specificity of the literary judgement leads to a move towards anarchism.  The immediacy of the object favours absolutism or even anarchism. The recognition of the comparative dimension of the literary judgement favours object-oriented relativism.  Object-oriented relativism will recognize that our critical position may have to shift in moving form one body of literature (literary collection, the collected works of an author, a historically and generically defined corpus, a national literature, or the literature of a civilization) to another in order to understand the work better and consequently to be in a better position to be ‘fair’ to it  such a shift may especially to be called for if the literary community of the recipient and the literary community of the author of the work are different and separated by time, geography, or social grouping.  (This last is critical relativism motivated by cultural relativism.)  Indeed  one may make a distinction between responding to a work with the recipient enjoying an inwardness, even an involvement (whether inherited or acquired) with the body of literature the one hand (this is the endocentric response) and responding to a work with the recipient taking up an attitude that is rooted elsewhere or an altogether detached attitude (whether inherited or acquired) towards the body of literature on the other hand (this is the excentric response).  Anarchism or absolutism goes with the endocentric response; relativism goes with the excentric response. Both kinds of response may yield their special insights and serve as a basis of literary translation and adaptation.

            (7)  The recognition of the irreducible subjectivity of literary judgement leads to a move towards anarchism. The privacy of creation or encounter favours absolutism or even anarchism. (See Appendix.)  The recognitions of the persuasive dimension of literary judgements favours subject-oriented relativism.  Subject-oriented relativism will recognize that our critical position may have to shift in moving form works inspired by a certain mode of sensibility to works inspired by another mode of sensibility in order to understand the work better and consequently to be in a better position to be ‘fair’ to it. Ordinarily, however, the immediately of the authentic literary response makes it difficult for the unsophisticated recipient to refrain form anarchism (I know what I like) or absolutism (of course what I find out there).  One can no more doubt one’s gut feeling about an art object than one could doubt one’s perceptual judgement.


            (8)  The recognition of continuity between the world of literary activity (creation and reception and criticism)and the ‘practical’ world is typical of the amateur, the ‘layman’ in literary matters.  The amateur is all for the spontaneity that anarchism encourage.  The recognition of discontinuity between the world of literary activity and the ‘practical’ world is typical of the professional, the ‘insider’ in literary matters who values a maturing of sensibilities and taste and a search for strategies and a stance.  The consider may be the academic whose detachment goes better with relativism or the intensely involved whose involvement as critic or artist goes better with absolutism.  Occasionally, however, one comes across a Goethe or a Shakespeare whose ‘negative capability’ (to use Keat’s justly celebrated phrase) enables him to move from one mode of sensibility to another with an enviable ease.  Have they any counter parts among critics?

            (9)  Any literary tradition that aspires to a continuity in literary activity over an appreciable length of time  has to facilitate three things

                        entry of the really new,

                        exit of the worn out, and

                        storage of the enduring.

Relativism with its openness tends to favour entry of the really new-especially experimental elitist work or vigorous, even barbarous popular (or populist) work. Anarchism with its uncompromising insistence on not approving what one does not like tends to favour exit of the worn out-especially decadent elitist work (the merely correct or the merely chic) or regressive popular work (the kitch).  Absolutism with its insistence on continuity tends to favour storage—especially of the innovative and the celebrative within the tradition, yielding a repertory of major classics and minor classics.

            The weakness relativism can be failure to ensure the exit of the merely correct work or the merely chic work.  The weakness of anarchism can be failure to afford entry to the genuine but difficult work (approving which often precedes its understanding and/or liking).  The weakness of absolutism can be a failure to ensure the exit of the mererly correct work and to afford entry to the genuinely experimental work and the vigorous, even barbarous popular work.

            (10)  One consequence of the continuity between the world of  literary activity and the ‘practical’ world is the likelihood of a certain ‘learning transfer’ (in either direction) between the literary participant’s metacritical  position and his sociopolitical philosophy.  Anarchism goes with the open society (Gesellschaft), the prizing of liberty, the advocacy of non-aggression (the Duthch proverb ‘Live and let live’, the Jain epistemic maxim yt, ‘could be’, as an intellectual ahisā),  subversive behaviour, and alienation from the in-group.  Relativism goes with the open society (Gesellschaft), the prizing of equality,  the advocacy of cosmopolitanism, and conciliatory strategy.  Absolutism goes with the closed society (Gsmeinschft), the prizing of internal faternity and security, the advocacy not nativism, conformative behaviour, and confrontative strategy.

            If one takes due cognizance of all these considerations, one could make out a case in-turn for critical anarchism, critical relativism, or critical absolutism. If one  simultaneously finds these three metacritical positions plausible and ‘useful’, then one has ipso facto embraced critical relativism.  (One need not postulate a metacritical level for that!).

            It will be of some interest to compare the realm of aesthetic values with the realm of ethical values and the realm of political values. Such comparison will revel ‘bridges’ between the world of facts and the world of values-worlds, since there are more than one world of valued.  Descriptions and ascriptions will then be seen to be good neighbours in spite of some resolute  philosophic moves to sunder them.



At III-C (7) we have said, “The privacy of creation or encounter favours absolutism or even anarchism.”  Creation is here included along with the recipient’s encounter with the work since literary sensibility or taste involves both processes: there is a critic lurking in the author of the work no less than its recipient.

            In some communities most literary artists operate within a tradition which they accept implicity—at the metacritical level such artists are very likely to accept absolutism.  In some communities most literary artists have to beat their own path—at the metacritical level such artists are very likely to accept anarchism.

            Here is a vivid account of the process (Wilbur 1949, quoted by Mehrotra 1980: pp.18-19): “In order to write in earnest it is necessary to choose and to make a way of writing, and this involves rejecting other ways of writing, past and present.  In some writers this rejection encompasses almost the entire body of literature, and that is perfectly healthy.  Very few good writers can afford to admit the existence of ‘literature’ as critics mean that term. The critic…has the privilege of seeing the good in everything.  But in proportion as a poet sees the good in everything, his own work is likely—just likely—to lack focus and character.   His attitudes toward other poets, and toward critical notions about writing poems, will probably be extreme, and are bound to be intimately connected with his own projects…The younger French poets of today have made Valery into a blacker villain than he could be; this is a necessary piece of personal strategy and has to do with safeguarding the novelty and the integrity of the poem each will write tomorrow.”

            Consider also the following shrewd observation by Auden (1956: 11-12): “If an undergraduate announces to his tutor one morning that Gertrude Stein is the greatest writer  who ever lived or that Shakespeare is no good, he is truly only saying something like this : ‘I don’t know that to write  yet or how, but yesterday while reading Gertrude Stein, I thought I saw a clue’ or ‘Reading Shakespeare  yesterday, I realized that one of the faults in what I write is a tendency to rhetoric bombast.’ ”


            In classical Sanskrit literary life there are frequent allusions to the poets’ intense jealousies about each other.  While these are no doubt to be traced in part to their being rivals for the patronage of royalty and aristocracy, there is a strong possibility that they may also in part to be traced to the creative need for an anarchistic  stance of intolerance within an essentially absolutist literary community.


            This Appendix should indicate the sort of exploration and elaboration that is needed to lend body of the somewhat abstract formulations scattered throughout the text-especially the generalizations in Section III-C.





Auden, W. H. 1956.  Making, knowing and judging: An Inaugural lecture. Oxford:

            Clarendon Press. Rptd. in his : The Dyer’s Hand  and other essays.  London:

            Faber & Faber, 1963.

Buber, Martin 1923.  Ich and Du. Leipzig: Insel. E-tr. Smith, Ronald Gregor. I and thou.             Edinburgh: Clark, 1937.

Carritt, Edgar F. 1949. An Introduction to aesthetics. London : Hutchinson.

… 1929. Aesthetics. Encyclopaedia britannica, 14th ed.

… 1962. The Theory of beauty. London: Methuen.

Eliot, T. S. 1919. Tradition and the individual talent. Egoist, Oct. Rptd. in his:

            The Scared Wood. London : 1920. Selected essays. London : Faber, 1932.

            … 1925.  The Function of criticism.  Reptd. in his : Selected essays. London:             Faber, 1932.

Heyl, Berned C. 1943.  New bearings in aesthetics and art criticism.  New Haven,

            CT: Yale University Press.

Kelkar, Ashok R. 1969.  On aesthesis. Humanist review [Bombay, defunct] no. 2, 211-28,             Apr.-June. Marathi tr. ĀSvādavyāpā raviayī. Satykathā, Feb. 1972, pp. 35-52.      Hindi tr. ĀSvā davyā pā ra  Ke sambandha me. In: Vāgvikalpa [Festschrift A. P.         Dixit]. Delhi: Vibhuti, 1986.

…1977. The Critic, as a participant-observer.  In: Rajnath, ed. Twentieth century             American criticism: Interdisciplinary approaches. New Delhi: Arnold-Heine-            mann. Pp 131-45. Hindi tr. Alochanā, July-Sept. 1976. Marathi tr. Satakathā, Jan.             1977.

…1983. Kavitece Sāgatepaa-karatepaa. In: Saundaryvicāra [proceedings, 1980 symposium]             Bombay: Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh. Hindi tr. Kavitā kucha kathe-kucha kare.              Puravgraha [Bhopal] nos. 56-7. 93-104, May-Aug. 1983.  English tr.  The             meaning of a poem and the meaning of poetry.  Unpublished ms, 1985.

….1985.  Interpretation of literature: Discriminating levels and approaches.  Unpublished ms.


Kellett, E. E. 1931.  Fashion in literature.  London: Routledge.

Kristeva, Julia 1968.  Probléme de la structure  du texte.  La Nouvelle critique, numéro spécial, Linguistique et litérature, pp. 55-64.

Leavis, F. R. 1972.  Nor shall my sword, London: Chatto & Windus.

Luccs, Georg 1962.  The Historical novel.  Harmoundsworth, Middlesex, England:            Penguin.

Mehtrotra, Arvind Krishna 1980-2.   The Emperor has no clothes.  Chandarabhg             [Cuttack, defunct] no. 3. 17-27.  Summer 1980; no. 7.1-32, Summer 1982.

Pradha, S. V. 1980. A Passage to India: Realism versus symbolism, a Marxist analysis.  Dalhousie review  60, 300-17, Summer.

Weiler, Gershon 1976, Points of view.  In: Kasher, Asa, ed. Language in focus. Dordrecht,. Netherlands: Reidel. Pp. 661-74.

Wilbur, Richard 1949.  The Bottles become new, too.  Quarterly review of literature [Princeton, Nl] 7. 188-92.

Wimsatt, William K., jr. 1954.   The Verbal Icon: Studies in the meaning of poetry. Lexington, KY: The University of Kentucky Press.  London: Methuen.

…; Beardsley, Monroe C 1946.  The International fallacy.  Sewanee review 54. 455-88

Rptd. in Wimsatt  1954.

…; … 1949.  The Affective fallacy.  Sewanee review 57.31-55. Retd. In Wimsatt 1954.




            This was presented at an  intentional seminar on Cultural Relativism and Literary Value at the Department of Comparative Literature, Jadarpur University, Kolkata, March 1987, and published in Jadapur journal of Comparative Literature 26-27, 1988-89: p. 69-96, published June 1989.