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From Ontology to Axiology: A Critical Problem

Author(s): Victor M. Hamm


Source: College English, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Nov., 1970), pp. 146-154
Published by: National Council of Teachers of English
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/374641
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VICTOR M. HAMM

From Ontologyto Axiology:


A Critical Problem

WHEN RENE WELLEK, in the twelfth implies, this is precisely the objection:
chapter of his and Austin Warren's The- Ingarden's analysis does not help us to
ory of Literature, comes to a considera- discriminate the good work from the
tion of "the mode of existence of the lit- poor, the better from the less good, for
erary work of art," he bases his analysis nowhere does he put his theory to the
on Roman Ingarden's Das Literarische test of practical criticism applied to par-
Kunstwerk (Halle, 1931; revised edition, ticular works; what use does his big
Tiibingen, 1960) as the soundest study of book have, then, as a critical tool?
the subject. Yet he complains that In- It is true that Ingarden does not give
garden shirks the final task of the critic, us practical criticism. He is a philos-
evaluation: "The error of pure phenom- opher; his sphere is theoretical knowl-
enology is in the assumption that such a edge. Others, particularly the "New
dissociation [between structure and val- Critics" or "Contextual Critics," as they
ue] is possible.... This error of analysis may be more justly called, have made the
vitiates the penetrating book of Roman practical application of his method.3 I
Ingarden, who tries to analyse the work shall argue, in what follows, that the
of art without reference to value."'1 Ingardenian analysis of the literary work
To this objection one might plausibly is intrinsically evaluative, and further
respond that the Polish phenomenologist that, in any case, only means other than
confined his treatise to the ontology of analysis can complete the work of eval-
the literary work of art, and was not uation.
attempting an axiology of it.2 But, Wellek
I
Mr. Hamm, who is Professor of English at Mar-
quette University, has published on literary crit-
icism and on eighteenth century British writers. The structure of a literary work of
art is, in Ingarden's words, "a structure
'Rene Welleck and Austin Warren, Theory
of Literature (Third edition, 1956), p. 156. I
built up out of various heterogeneous
have made a paraphrase and partial translation
of Ingarden's book in The Critical Matrix, ed. zur Bezeichnung eines jeden Werkes der sog.
Paul R. Sullivan (Georgetown Univ. Press, 'schonen Literatur' ohne Unterschied, ob es
Washington, D.C., 1961), pp. 171-209 ("The dabei url ein echtes Kunstwerk oder um ein
Ontology of the Literary Work of Art: Roman wertloses Werk handelt. Nur dort, wo wir
Ingarden'sDas LiterarischeKunstwerk"). diejenigen Seiten des literarischen Werkes
2The "Vorwort" to Ingarden's Das Litera- herauszuarbeiten suchen, die fur das literarische
rische Kunstwuerk" tells us as much. Cf. also Kunstwerk konstitutiv sind, verwenden wir
footnote 1, page 1 (First edition): "Wir ver- diesen letzteren Ausdruck."
wenden. . . den Ausdruck 'literarisches Werk' 3 Cf. footnote 7 below.

146
From Ontology to Axiology: A Critical Problem 147

strata."4These strata are: (1) the stratum physician a good that he recognizes as
of linguistic sound-configurations of var- a property of being, and its study a
ious sorts; (2) the stratum of meaning- branch of metaphysics that is known
units; (3) the stratum of represented ob- technically as ontology, the specific area
jects; (4) the stratum of manifold sche- concerned with value being called axiol-
matized views.5 These strata are organized ogy.
in the polyphony of the entity that is We are today blind and deaf to meta-
the literary work of art. This exists as physics, and yet we are metaphysicians
"a heteronomous structure which has its in spite of ourselves whenever we speak
source of being in the intentional acts of value. My eyes were opened to the
of the creative subject,6 and the source nature and complexity of the metaphy-
of its existence in two heteronomous ob- sics of value by reading Robert S. Hart-
jects: on the one hand in ideal concepts man's recent The Structure of Value:
and qualities, on the other in real word- Foundations of Scientific Axiology (Sou-
signs." "The various aesthetic values es- thern Illinois University Press, 1967), de-
tablish themselves...in various strata of scribed by Paul Weiss in his Preface to
the literary work of art; for this very the book as "a relentless systematic in-
reason they differ widely among them- quiry into the nature of value." Any
selves, and these very differences enable literary theorist or critic who wants to
them to build up a polyphonic harmony" clarify and subtilize his thinking about
(p. 387). What Ingarden does in his book value cannot afford to overlook this
is to identify the values that constitute searching study.
the being of the literary work of art, The central principle of Hartman's
and to show their contributions to the volume is that value is proportional to
value of the whole. His entire inquiry is fact. This may seem a tame concept, yet
concerned with value. it has important ramifications. In the first
And here it is necessary to examine the place, ther are three levels of fact: the
term "value" itself, a consideration that generic or conceptual, the particular, and
goes beyond semantics and lexicography. the singular. The singular is richer in
This word, which we employ so readily qualities than the particular, the particu-
and ingenuously, denotes to the meta- lar richer than the generic. (This is ob-
vious: Shakespeare is richer in qualities
4This and the following quotations are from than Elizabethan dramatist, and Eliza-
my translation of passages in Ingarden's book bethan dramatist than dramatist, since the
cited in footnote 1 above. The page reference is
to the first edition of Das Lit. Kunstwerk.
more general a fact, the thinner its
5To these four strata Ingarden adds what is equipment of qualities.) This threefold
really a fifth: the stratum of "metaphysical enrichment is enrichment of generic fact,
qualities or essences." that is, of being. "Being is specified in the
""Intentional acts": here we must resist the
temptation to think of "intention" as ulterior increasing scale of intensions" (p. 96),
motive or moral/practical end envisaged, and to use the terminology of logic.
advert to the meaning of this term in scholastic
and phenomenological epistemology: concep-
But fact must be conceptualized if it
tion, conceptual form. Cf. Jos. Kockelmans is to be known as fact. "Facts are com-
(ed.), Phenomenology (Anchor Books, 1967), plex, not easy to know; what were facts
118 ff.; E. D. Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation before
(Yale Univ. Press, 1967), 37 ff., 217 ff., and
Galileo and Lavoisier were not
passim. facts after them. Before them 'facts' were
148 COLLEGE ENGLISH

the empirical counterparts to philos- the matter: value now appears (or re-
ophies, to analytic concepts. After them, appears, for the Aristotelian tradition,
'facts' were the empirical counterparts to which did not know the term "value,"
sciences, to synthetic concepts" (p. 71). stood on the foundation of moderate
To be known as a fact the thing or Realism, not Nominalism) as being itself
quality must be assigned to its true place apprehended in its richness of qualities,
in the order of being. (And it is hard to not as something outside of reality and
find this.) Value is the attribute of this added to it. Evaluation is thus another
"is-ness." It is the special wealth of fact, name for recognition of the nature of
which the percipient mind apprehends any fact.
and appreciates. Ingarden's (and Wellek's) concept of
Fact is being, then, and being is value. the "strata" or "norms" (as Wellek calls
Thus value exists, like fact, in various them) discernible in the literary work of
degrees: generic, particular, singular. It art is, it seems to me, much like Hart-
is, so to speak, stratified. It is grounded man's. These "strata" are perspectives
in the real, intelligential order; it is ra- into the being of the literary construct.
tional. "I can value a thing only if I Isolable by an act of abstraction, they
know it, that is, if I know its name and are the voices that compose the "poly-
its properties. That this is true is con- phonic harmony" that is the concrete in-
firmed by the fact that when we want dividual literary work of art. Every-
to value something precisely we call in an where in the Ingardenian universe of
expert. The difference between him and discourse, therefore, we are concerned
us is that he knouws more about the thing with value. The presence and conso-
than we do" (109-110). A fact, then, is a nance of the phonetic, ideational, imagi-
fact by virtue of its essential nature, its nal, and affective values in a fused actual-
place in the order of being, that is, its ization is, indeed, what distinguishes the
value. It follows that "the normativity literary work of art from other types
for value is, from the point of view of of verbal constructs-history, science,
value, the very essence of the factual; philosophy, for example. It is the degree
it is that which defines the factual as of perfection achieved by these values,
factual" (p. 219). It is value that is fun- both in themselves and above all in their
damental, therefore, so that "rather than incarnation as the unified whole, that
value being a kind of fact, fact is a kind one has to discover. We may have an
of value... .Value is the reality, of which intuitive appreciation of the work to
fact is the measure" (p. 220). begin with, and resort to analysis to
This needs some pondering, but only articulate and assess our aesthetic judg-
perhaps because we have become incur- ment, or we may have to start with
ably subjective in our epistemology. Des- analysis and come to judgment through
cartes did his job altogether too well. If its instrumentality. Analysis is the in-
we can disabuse our thought of the in- strument in any case. Thus ontology be-
veterate positivism that has cut mind off comes axiology.
from reality by denying the objectivity The axiological judgment, however,
of the intellect in its apprehension of cannot be effected by reference to crite-
being, we should be able to see that ria residing in some transcendental realm
Hartman's analysis throws a new light on of essences. The platonic ghosts of the
From Ontology to Axiology: A Critical Proble7n 149

perfect tragedy or "the abstract per- tedious and otiose to attempt still an-
fection of the epic," as W. P. Ker called other example of this approach, now
it, or any other assumed absolute, must established in our schools, textbooks, and
perhaps still be laid. We cannot, in short, critical journals. Let me simply refer to a
appeal to the Idea of Beauty as our recent brilliant essay, William K. Wim-
evaluative norm. The act of nlaking, the satt's "What to Say About a Poem."8 His
artistic enterprise, is performed by men model lesson showing how the critic-
on earth working with such materials as teacher should handle a poem-his choice
this world supplies: stone, wood, metals, is Blake's "London"-is almost a summary
pigments, movements, musical and arti- of the Ingardenian method applied to his
culated sounds, and with such skill as paradigm, though Wimsatt may never
they can command. The artist makes actually have read Ingarden's book. That
what he can, and he learns from the tra- only illustrates how basic the Polish
ditions and the theory of his art (wheth- phenomenologist's procedure is. I can
er consciously formulated by him or not) here merely refer the reader to Wim-
how to make. We are here in the realm satt's deployment of all the strategies of
of the contingent and the artificial, not phenomenological analysis (pp. 216 ff.),
in that of the absolute and necessary. from phonetic stratum to imagery, tone,
The platonic, neo-platonic, and neo-clas- literal meaning, tension, and finally to
sical faiths in an absolute standard of revelation of the poet's central vision
perfection are in art an illusion, a mirage, (what Ingarden calls "metaphysical qual-
whatever they are in theology, and can ities or essences"). After his expert exam-
be of no real use in helping us to evaluate ination of Blake's poem has been com-
the literary work of art, or, for that pleted, he asks:
matter, any work of art.
Is there not another activity which
For this reason literary analysis must has been going on in our minds, almost
proceed from within out, by examining inevitably, all this while? The activity of
the structure of the work in itself. This is appreciation. All this time, while reading
the Ingardenian method, applied to the the poem so carefully, have we not also
literary work as a generic entity. If been liking or disliking it? . . . Presum-
ably we have. And presumably we ought
Ingarden has given us no practical ex- now to ask ourselves this further .ques-
ample of applied analysis, we have seen, tion: Is there any connection between the
in the long pedagogic effort of the New things we have managed so far to say
Criticism since the thirties, the success about the poem and the kind of response
we experience towards it? (p. 239)
of a method much like Ingarden's in
applied contextual analysis. "We track Wimsatt does not grapple with this ques-
him everywhere in their snows," whether tion except to remark: "Our discourse
they acknowledge it or not.7 It would be
New Critics was not, however, based on a single
7 Cf. the documentation of my. article referred integrated aesthetic theory. Cf. Sheldon N.
to in footnote 1 above (pp. 207-9), where I cite Grebstein, "The Formalist Critic," in Perspec-
works (including C. Brooks's Well Wrought tives in Contemporary Criticism (N.Y., 1968),
Urn, Frye's Anatomy of Criticism, Elizabeth pp. 82, 84-6; Murray W. Krieger, The New
Sewell's The Structure of Poetry, etc.) that Apologists for Poetry (Minneapolis, 1956).
show the influence of Ingarden's analysis as this 8Hateful Contraries: Studies in Literature and
came either directly or through intermediaries Criticism (Univ. of Kentucky Press, 1965), pp.
and cognate developments. The work of the 215-244.
150 COLLEGEENGLISH

upon the poem will almost inevitably be lofty must have been referred to time."
charged with implications of its value" (Preface to Shakespeare.)
(p. 240). Precisely; because the value of Analysis, even without comparison to
the poem is the polyphony of its values, help it, can discover and partly appraise
the sounding together of all the strata he the quality of a literary work; it can
has appraised. What more can one do by help us determine "that it is round or
way of analysis? Hartman himself sug- square," to use Johnson's analogy, even
gests, when he speaks of "intrinsic value if we cannot tell how "spacious and
as applied to words as unique values," lofty" it is. We can see that it is
good,
that "here we have the yet unborn science but not how good. Analysis will take
of private and other intrinsic languages, us far, but without concrete
points of
belonging to Value Linguistics, and the triangulation, to adapt a metaphor from
science of Poetry or Literary Criticism"
trigonometry, our judgment may fall
(p. 309).9 wide of the mark. Experience with a sub-
II stantial field of reading enabling us to
make comparisons with other works of
Analysis, however, is not enough. We its author, its period, its genre, will give
can confidently judge quality in style, in us a surer
grasp of the particular work
artistic conception, in generic propriety, and will corroborate or correct our taste.
only by making use of that "other tool" Who can tell whether a mountain is
of criticism, as T. S. Eliot (and David high or low or merely average, unless he
Hume before him) called it, namely com- has seen other mountains to measure it
parison. Henty will thrill a boy until he by?
grows up to Stevenson, and Stevenson
will fall in his estimation when and if he So pleas'd at first the tow'ring Alps we
learns to appreciate Conrad and Melville. try,
Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread
As Dr. Johnson put it with his usual
the sky;
clarity and force: "As among the works Th' eternal snows appear already past,
of nature no man can properly call a And the first clouds and mountains seem
river deep, or a mountain high, without the last:
the knowledge of many mountains, and But, those attain'd, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthen'd
many rivers; so in the productions of
way,
genius, nothing can be stiled excellent Th' increasing prospect tires our wand'r-
till it has been compared with other ing eyes,
works of the same kind.... Of the first Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps
building that was raised, it might be with arise!
certainty determined that it was round Who, for instance, an fully appreciate
or square; but whether it was spacious or Shakespeare's accomplishment in a play
9Whatever one may think of Hartman's rig- like Richard II or Henry IV if he has no
orous logical method and his exhaustive form- knowledge of other history plays, both
ulization of sets and sub-sets of value, he has
some acute applications of axiological analysis by Shakespeare and by his contempora-
to literature. Read his analyses of a passage in ries, and of the stages in the evolution
Mann's Magic Mountain and of the opening of and decline of this genre? A reading of
Plato's Euthyphro (280-292), attentive perusal
of which will open vistas of possibilities to the
such an expert study as Irving Ribner's
literary critic. The English History Play in the Age of
From Ontology to Axiology: A Critical Problem 151

Shakespeare, or better, of course, a read- veloped over the last decades, it really
ing of the plays Ribner treats, and under succeeds in letting us view the object in
the tutelage of his book, will illustrate its landscape. We see the woods, but we
what I am saying. see the trees in the woods too, and can
Wilbur Sanders' recent The Drama- judge how tall and strong and shapely
tist and the Received Idea: Studies in each one is.
the Plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare There used to be a neater and easier
(Cambridge University Press, 1968) is way to deal with the problem. In the
perhaps an even better example of bril- neo-classical tradition comparability was
liant modern comparative criticism. A a function of literary genres and species
sensitive and beautifully written book, it formally, almost logically considered.
is at once superbly informed by scholar- There were the great forms and genres
ship and critical in the best sense of the (using the terms in La Driere's sense);11
word. Sanders has not forgotten that, as there was the doctrine of high, middle,
Croce (whom he quotes) says that "all and low styles; there was the concept of
history is contemporary history," and "poetic diction," and so on. Rhetoric
that "it is evident that only an interest and poetic had pretty well laid out the
in this present life can move us to in- provinces of literary criticism in a sys-
vestigate a fact of the past.... Man is a tematic fashion. All this has been
microcosm, not in the natural sense, but changed. It was changed first by the
in the historical sense, a compendium of Romantic aesthetic of expression; Croce
universal history" (p. 5). Keeping this articulated its systematic. It has been
in mind, Sanders has given us criticism changed again in our day by the findings
that is no less historical than evaluative, and theories of cultural anthropologists
and history penetrated with splendid and linguistic analysts and also, it must
literary insights. be added, by a renewed understanding
Such studies as these two I have just and utilization of classical and medieval
mentioned-and they are only a small rhetoric and poetic. We must, according-
fraction of the body of expert, well- ly, make new adjustments and invent
rounded criticism our scholar-critics are new strategies of analysis and interpre-
now producing-show us what analysis tation. One can combine all possible ap-
linked with historical and comparative proaches, as Frye does, as modes of
study can perform, and what evaluation criticism constituting so many perspec-
really means. For modern historically tives into the literary work, or one can
based criticism is not the dry record of opt for one or several, making as in-
dates and the unimaginative narration of telligent use as one can of the work of
plots and parallels that it used to be, our scholars, never forgetting that "the
though some of the shortcomings of the play's the thing," and that we must
older approach still appear occasionally.10 above all humanize our study of the hu-
Using all the resources of structural and manities.
textural criticism that have been de- If the old-fashioned historical critic
(or rather his stereotype) shied away
10See, for example, L. C. Knight's strictures from evaluation and took refuge in facts
on Virgil K. Whitaker's Shakespeare'sUse of
Learning, in Further Explorations (Stanford 11See J. C. La Driere's article "Form"in Ship-
Univ. Press, 1965), pp. 138 ff. ley's Dictionary of World Literature.
152 COLLEGEENGLISH

about the author, his time, and his work, Urizen is called "a clod of clay" (line
rather than confronting the work itself, 12), and from other poems of this time,
the weakness of the formal or "contex- that "one must read it ['The Clod and the
tual" critic in historical knowledge and Pebble'] in its 'infernal or diabolical sense'
concern is an ever recurring obstacle to -the sense in which Blake was trained
his claims to be the evaluative critic by the revolutionary devil to read his
par excellence. We must be sure that we Bible.... In such a reading of the poem,
have the true text of the work and value resides with the Pebble, who makes
understand it before evaluating it. Even a revolutionary hell out of heaven, not
the professional scholar mav falter here. with the Urizenic Clod, who makes a
Cleanth Brooks, in a recent essay,12shows conventional heaven out of hell" (p.
the formal critic turning the tables on 385). "Blake's attack on false, Urizenic
the scholar by correcting an error of piety began early," Hagstrum points out,
the latter, in this instance C. H. Hart- "long before he had created Urizen, his
mann's failure to explain a puzzling spot solid and unforgettable personification of
in Lovelace's "The Grasse-Hopper"-a social and intellectual evil" (p. 386). What
point Mr. Brooks settled by means of a a blow to the formal critic this is! 14
little historical research Hartmann had Well, Blake is a special case. Is he?
scanted. Sweet revenge! Not all critics What of Wordsworth? In a widely ac-
go to so much trouble. claimed and thoughtful essay that makes
They will have to go to more trouble fuller and more informed use of the
now. The population explosion in our phenomenological method than I have
Graduate Schools, and the great scholar- yet seen in other critical writing in En-
ly explosion in our journals and books glish, Professor E. D. Hirsch asks wheth-
have stimulated the most thoroughgoing er the outer horizon of an author's
and minute historical (as well as formal) Weltanschauung impinges on the mean-
investigations into literature. Our swell- ing of a literary work.'5 Centering his at-
ing bibliographies testify to this fact. tention on Wordsworth's short poem,
Yet the critic must take all these findings "A Slumber Did my Spirit Seal," he
into account, even though the labor in- inquires whether the dead Lucy of the
volved be distressing to the devotee of poem has become part of insentient phys-
"close reading" and "pure" criticism. ical nature-"Rolled round in earth's
A case in point. Jean Hagstrum, in a diurnal course, With rocks and stones
paper on Blake's "The Clod and the and trees," or whether her life has been
Pebble,"'3 argues that "the Pebble, not assimilated into "the spirit that moves in
the Clod, is Blake's raisonneur," thus
14 In a critique of Hagstrum's essay ("Point
overturning the traditional reading of this of View in Blake's 'The Clod and the Pebble,' "
apparently simple poem. Hagstrum con- Papers on Language and Literature, Summer,
cludes from Urizen, nearest in date to 1966, pp. 217-224), Max F. Schulz, though he
does not agree entirely with Hagstrum's reading,
this poem (published 1794), in which admits that "Hagstrum has made it impossible
for us to return with ease to our old certainty
12"Literary Criticism: Poet, Poem, and Read- that the Clod speaks more wisely of love than
er," in Varieties of Literary Experience (N.Y., the Pebble."
1962). 15"Objective Interpretation," PMLA, LXXV
13 See Carroll Camden, ed. Restoration and (1960), 463-479. This essay has been incorpor-
Eighteenth Century Literature (Univ. of Chi- ated into Hirsch's Validity in Interpretation as
cago Press, 1963), pp. 381-8. Appendix I.
From Ontology to Axiology: A CriticalProblem 153

all things," that "something far more plays, for example, merely parts of the
deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the total Shakespearian opus or oeuvre? But
light of setting suns," that is, the pan- why stop even here? Northrop Frye
theistic "Nature" of the Wordsworth logically includes the whole body of
before 1805. It makes a difference, not world literature as the macrounit or uni-
only semantically but affectively, in the verse of literature and therefore of liter-
total response of the reader to the poem. ary study-the "myth of literature," as it
Cleanth Brooks, as Hirsch notes, takes might be called, analogous in its pro-
the first view, F. XV.Bateson the second. cessional structure to the seasonal cycle
Which one is right? It is perhaps im- in nature.18 Does criticism or does mad-
possible to answer that question, at least ness lie that way? (Frye seems to imply,
on the premises of the contextual critic, at the end of his Anatomy of Criticism,
unless his context is that of the young that something like mathematics lies that
Wordsworth's metaphysical stance rath- way.)
er than that of the literal sense of this Our evaluation of the literary work
particular poem as a self-enclosed unit. of art is perhaps, in the final analysis,
Hirsch concludes that sometimes we the total response of our being to its
simply cannot tell what a poem means, being. "A poem is like a person," Donald
at least we can't be sure we know.'6 Stauffer said.l9 What goes into this re-
These are two examples. There could sponse? Our life experiences, our expe-
be others-Hamlet, ParadiseLost, Moby riences with other artistic and literary
Dick-you name it. Almost any piece of works, our intuitions-both native and
literature may raise this difficulty inci- informed by our whole education-of
dent to interpretation. Are we obliged to being and its attributes, what one can
study the entire body of a writer's work only call (without making platonic
as his "work of art" before we can deal claims) the good, the true, and the beau-
with any unit of it? Hyatt Waggoner tiful. How to untangle and apprehend
says just this: "What is needed is a recog- all the factors in this process is very
nition... that a poem is just a part of
the total body of poems the poet wrote. 1967), p. 211. Waggoner is criticizing Wimsatt's
This body of work is the most immediate "What to Say About a Poem."
is Cf. Wm. K. Wimsatt, "Northrop Frye; Crit-
and essential part of the context in which icism as Myth," in M. W. Krieger (ed.),
the poem exists and from which it gets Northrop Frye in Modern Criticism (New
part of its meaning."17Are Shakespeare's York, 1966), pp. 75-107. In an essay contributed
to this volume, Mr. Frye says explicitly (p.
145): "There is thus an objective mythical
16Hugh Sykes Davies ("Another New Poem structure, which is the world of literature it-
by Wordsworth," Essays in Criticism, XV self, and which criticism as a whole seeks to
(1965), 135 ff.) labors mightily to prove that the
articulate."
"she" in line 3 of the second stanza of the poem
9The Nature of Poetry, p. 154.
refers, not to Lucy, but to "spirit" in line 1 of
20Harrman (p. 215) finds that "the total
the samIe stanza, because Lucy is not mentioned
value product for a ten-propertied thing, for
by name in the poem, and therefore the only
possible antecedent for "she" is "spirit." But example, is 3,500." But if the various value prod-
this reading, as H. F. Storch points out in a later ucts are multiplied, that "product of value prod-
issue of EC, makes nonsense of the last two lines ucts or secondary value product of the thing is
of the poem. Vp = Vp X Vp X . . . V (n2-1). In the
p 1 2
17"A Poem is Just a Part," CEA Chap Book 2
(1963), p. 21. Cited by Murray W. Krieger, case of a ten-propertied thing, this is 453,600,000,-
The Play and Place of Criticism (Baltimore, 000 or 4.5 X 101l." (!)
154 COLLEGE ENGLISH

likely beyond solution.20 That is why we see (usually with hindsight), and here be-
are so helpless in the face of the ultimate low we have no key to infallible judg-
question of value, i.e., as Hartman teach- ment. But if our human limitations be-
es us, of being. One cannot resume the come more obvious every day, at least in
history of thought and of literature, the literary criticism they are not as damag-
aesthetics of art and poetry, every time ing in their consequences as they are in
one makes a critical evaluation. Implicit- politics and ethics, though poor literary
ly the serious critic does this. Irving judgment could well be symptomatic of
Babbitt used to say that the literary a variety of failures in perceptual and
critic ought to read a library every conceptual thinking. As Hartman says
morning before breakfast. If that is im- (p. 111), "One can see the thing wrong-
possible, is literary criticism impossible? ly; one can believe that it has another
I for one am not ready to affirm so name from what it has; one can mis-
desperate a conclusion. We have con- understand the dependence of the value
fidence in the conviction that judgment predicate on the natural predicates of
matures with experience and exercise. the thing, and so on."
As Etienne Gilson says: "Every acting There is no easy way out of the laby-
subject is not merely a theoretic agent rinth in which the seeker after critical
composed of reason and will, but a living certitude finds himself. But an Ariadne's
being influenced in its action by disposi- thread is still available. I mean the norms
tions and habits which leave their mark of literary excellence woven of analytic
on him."21 The dispositions to like and perspicacity (informed and corrected by
dislike, developed by innumerable spe- historical and comparative study) and
cific judgments, and the habits of choice that knack or expertise which comes
and rejection gradually built up over from firsthand experience with literary
the years, can be trusted in the case of works of art in all their range and depth,
literary valuation as in other sorts of from Homer to Hemingway and be-
valuation, to beget a sort of wisdom. yond, a subtle thread, of perception and
The surgeon and the lawyer must have apperception all compact. This "golden
the same trust in their expertise, and thread" is there for all who work to
people grant them this confidence.22 The possess it, but it will not automatically
act of critical judgment, in the arts in remain if we neglect to remake it con-
general, whether useful or "fine," is after tinually. For only he who masters the
all not the same kind of thing as the knowledge and appreciation of literature
assent to or dissent from an alebraic by means of the only procedures avail-
equation or a logical proposition (and able to us-individual acquisition and
this is where one feels some reservations analysis joined with comparison-will
about such a "calculus of values" as have the wisdom to appraise the quality
Hartman's); it is a complex, concrete of this treasure. As Longinus said long
act, like a judgment in moral matters; ago, "the judgment of literature (krisis
it is human, synthetic, situational. logon] is the last and crowning fruit of
The "failures of criticism"-to use long experience." If this sounds like a
Henri Peyre's phrase-are there for all to retreat to a truism, it is a truism that
21 Le Thomis7ne.
must, it seems, be recovered again and
22Cf. Hartman, 109-110, cited p. 148 above. again.