RELATIVISM AND LITERARY JUDGEMENT
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
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:
Literary judgements are clearly not exclamations, such as—
Aha ! Ah ! Techa ! Ugh ! Ouch !
Alas ! What ?!
They are not even aesthetic exclamations
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
Literary judgements are clearly not descriptions such as—
This is opaque/magnetized.
These are all round/square/parallel/on the same level/thirty
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.
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.
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—
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
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
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.
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
I-B. A literary work, being a work of art, is so
unique. (Ānandavardhana, fl. 850, spoke of apūrvavastumirmāṇa; 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 !
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.
that they lack any real subject to attach the predicate to.)
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—
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.
call something beyond compare is only a rhetorical way of comparing
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
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
This is beautiful.
This has unity in diversity.
This is saccharine.
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
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.
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
(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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
What makes a body of literature? What
makes a literary corpus? A literary corpus may be recognized at various
the literary collection, such as the
Saṁhitā, an Athenian
tragedies to be allowed by a satyrplay), the Greek Ahthology,
Bhartṛhari’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
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
literature of a civilization, such as Western literature, Islamic
literature, Medieval Indian literature.
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
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
is certain my conviction gains infinitely the moment another will
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—
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.
second premise cannot be accepted, as a definition equating beauty,
an aesthetic predicate, with unity in diversity, a critical predicate.
But how about the following?
This is beautiful. Why?
Because this has unity in diversity.
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),
An aesthetic judgement (This deserves to be found beautiful).
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
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.
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.
is an explanatory generalization.
Alternatively, an aesthetic judgement
calls for not an explanation but a reason of the following sort:
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
Persons with a certain taste or stance find works critically
judged to be certain sort beautiful.
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
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
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
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
And of course are several plausible critical
positions (for an exploration of these see Kelkar 1983).
III. The Metacritical
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.
(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.)
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—
is seen as a function of the literary object and the taste of the
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
The subject bondage, in tum, may be—
(i) maximum : this subject here and now.
(ii) medium : this subject belonging to this community
(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.
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
(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.)
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
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
satyāgraha (or adhyāgraha)
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 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.
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
(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
sāyt, ‘could be’, as an intellectual ahiṁsā), 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
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.”
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
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.
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.
Martin 1923. Ich and Du. Leipzig:
Insel. E-tr. Smith, Ronald Gregor. I and thou.
Edinburgh: Clark, 1937.
Edgar F. 1949. An Introduction to aesthetics. London : Hutchinson.
1929. Aesthetics. Encyclopaedia britannica, 14th ed.
1962. The Theory of beauty. London: Methuen.
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The Scared Wood. London : 1920. Selected
essays. London : Faber, 1932.
… 1925. The Function of criticism. Reptd.
in his : Selected essays. London: Faber, 1932.
Berned C. 1943. New bearings
in aesthetics and art criticism.
CT: Yale University Press.
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Apr.-June. Marathi tr. ĀSvādavyāpā
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davyā pā ra Ke sambandha
me. In: Vāgvikalpa [Festschrift A. P.
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[proceedings, 1980 symposium]
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kucha kathe-kucha kare.
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English tr. The meaning of a poem and the meaning of
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levels and approaches. Unpublished
E. E. 1931. Fashion in literature. London: Routledge.
Julia 1968. Probléme
de la structure du texte. La Nouvelle critique, numéro
spécial, Linguistique et litérature,
F. R. 1972. Nor shall my sword,
London: Chatto & Windus.
Georg 1962. The Historical
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Arvind Krishna 1980-2. The
Emperor has no clothes. Chandarabhg
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Summer 1980; no. 7.1-32, Summer 1982.
S. V. 1980. A Passage to India: Realism versus symbolism, a
Marxist analysis. Dalhousie
review 60, 300-17, Summer.
Gershon 1976, Points of view. In:
Kasher, Asa, ed. Language in focus. Dordrecht,. Netherlands: Reidel.
Richard 1949. The Bottles
become new, too. Quarterly
review of literature [Princeton, Nl] 7. 188-92.
William K., jr. 1954. The
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University of Kentucky Press. London:
Beardsley, Monroe C 1946. The
International fallacy. Sewanee
review 54. 455-88
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