Some Literary Theory Ramblings

“When, for instance, we say that a literary work is good or bad, we are making a value judgement. But when we are asked to substantiate that judgement, we have recourse to criteria that are not values in themselves, but simply denote features  of the work under discussion. We may even compare these features with those of other works, but in differentiating between them we are merely extending the range of our criteria, which still does not constitute a value. The comparisons and differences only serve to condition the value judgement and cannot be equated with it. If, for instance, we praise a novel because its characters are realistic, we are endowing a verifiable criterion with a subjective assessment, whose claim to validity lies at best in a consensus. Objective evidence for subjective preferences does not make a value judgement itself objective, but merely objectifies the preferences. This process brings to light those predilections that govern us. These can then be seen as an expression of personal norms – i.e. not objective value judgement – and in being exposed they open up an intersubjective means of access to our value judgement.”

-Wolfgang Iser, The Act of Reading

Yeah, I’m making a little effort to look into reader-response theory of literary criticism on a sort of indirect recommendation from stormingtheivory since it was mentioned once that I apparently had some views about criticism that was similar to it. Enjoying Iser’s book so far, and I plan on digging into some of John Dewey’s aesthetics because I’ve enjoyed his other stuff so far and it seems to be in a similar vein in that aesthetics isn’t some objective measure independent within the work but an act involving the person viewing the work.

…obviously more to that and I’m sure there are differences, but should still be interesting nonetheless to see any similarities.

The paragraph that Iser writes after the one I quoted brought up an interesting thought to my mind though. In this next paragraph he discussed C.S. Lewis vs F.R. Leavis’s views on the work Paradise Lost, quoting C.S. Lewis as saying “It is not that he and I see different things when we look at Paradise Lost. He sees and hates the very same that I see and love.”

The reason I considered that interesting was it got me thinking about the episode Magical Mystery Cure”, and the divisiveness of the episode being a musical. I recall a lot of people disliking it because the songs basically compressed a lot of the action into a few short minutes while there were others, like myself, who liked the songs…because it compressed a lot of action into a few short minutes XD.

So for example, let’s take “What My Cutie Mark is Telling Me.” We both probably wanted the same thing such, as, say, to get a real sense of the confusion and mayhem this cutie mark mixup was having on the group. The difference being then, I think, is that those who hated the song hated it because they wanted to see individualized scenes played out. Meanwhile, I thought the song was fine because I would have found those scenes repetitive, with the song getting the point and emotions across in a much shorter and more compact method.

Not sure if that’s exactly what Iser meant, but it’s what I thought of at least *shrug*.


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