Saturday, December 04, 2004

some auden

i've been reading w.h. auden's essay 'criticism in a mass society' (in the 1941 collection The Intent of the Critic), and thought the following passage was interesting enough to pass along. feel free to comment at will, all the better as it pertains to study of the ancients.

The contemporary critic has two primary tasks. Firstly he must show the individual that though he is unique he has also much in common with all other individuals, that each life is, to use a chemical metaphor, an isomorph of a general human life and then must teach him how to see the relevance to his own experience of works of art which deal with experiences apparently strange to him; so that, for example, the coal miner in Pennsylvania can learn to see himself in terms of the world of Ronald Firbank, and an Anglican bishop find in The Grapes of Wrath a parable of his diocesan problems.

And secondly the critic must attempt to spread a knowledge of past cultures so that his audience may be as aware of them as the artist himself, not only simply in order to appreciate the latter, but because the situation of all individuals, artist and audience alike, in an open society is such that the only check on authoritarian control by the few, whether in matters of esthetic taste or political choice, is the knowledge of the many. We cannot of course all be experts in everything; we are always governed, and I hope willingly, by those whom we believe to be expert; but our society has already reached a point in its development where the expert can be recognized only by an educated judgment. The standared demanded of the man in the street (and outside our own special field, we are all men in the street) rises with every genereation.

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