The Literary Life

Home » Taste » ARE STANDARDS FOR LITERARY TASTE IMPORTANT? WHAT ABOUT LITERARY SENTIMENT?

ARE STANDARDS FOR LITERARY TASTE IMPORTANT? WHAT ABOUT LITERARY SENTIMENT?

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September 2015
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So far as a beginning for this blog dedicated to examining the literary life, I have tried to bring up the really big questions of literary taste, big questions that have been unpopular to ask for several decades now. But why aren’t we asking such questions anymore?

In recent blogs I have asked the questions: Who has taste anymore? Is there even anything such as taste anymore? Especially, what about taste in literature? Are you a person of taste? Is good taste in literature merely a matter of opinion? Is good taste indisputable? and what about the obvious great variety of literary tastes?

As always, give your responses to these ideas. I’m not preaching some sort of doctrine here. Now, for a while I would like to expand on some of these topics.

And possibly we ought to attack the pretty major problems of why, perhaps, a standard of taste might be important at all.

I have been using as a basis for our investigation David Hume’s Of the Standard of Taste, the Enlightenment’s standard treatise that is thoroughly out of fashion—out of taste?—nowadays. But Hume makes such extreme claims that his ideas are easy enough to play off of.

Hume claims a universal standard for taste is crucial. And he starts, as we already have seen, by acknowledging the great variety of tastes everywhere, by admitting to the obvious idea that all people have individual preferences, standards, for what they like and don’t like.

But Hume makes a distinction between literary sentiment and literary judgment. See what you think: Our sentiments toward literature are our own individual opinions, our personal likes and dislikes, based upon whatever whim we might have.

Essentially, what Hume labels sentiment is really what most of us mean when we refer to individual tastes. When we say something like “This is what I like, what I consider good taste, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks,” we are simply expressing what Hume calls our sentiment. It is personal. It is our opinion.

Nobody can dispute a claim that begins with “In my opinion,” can they? Not unless we can prove that it’s not really their opinion.

For Hume, sentiment is what it is–indisputable because it lies solely within us personally.

But what about literary judgment? Stay tuned. My laptop is running low and I forgot the cord. But keep with me for the next blog post. Make comments. Re-blog. Follow The Literary Life. The more readers who are posting comments the better.

Paul Varner

 

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