New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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"ARTISTIC TRUTH"                                         73
way contradict the view of Richards? Does it not rather approach the same problem from another point of view which, for Wheelwright, is a more valuable one?139
However that may be, the conclusion I wish to stress is that Wheelwright's distinction is confusing rather than helpful in regard to the problem of truth as artistic insight, for it at once claims validity for "poetic truth," yet fails to explain with precision either the meaning of this kind of truth or the relation which it bears to the two types of language just considered. All we learn is that a poetic statement, by comparison with a logical one, "does not assert its claims so heavily as a proposition; its truth is more fragile." 140 But what, exactly, is meant by "fragile truth" and what relation does it bear, on the one hand, to scientific facts and, on the other, to "imaginative assents"? The mere notion of fragility leaves the crux of the matter unanswered, and to suggest, as Wheehvright does, that these relationships are unimportant considerations for art is to ignore questions central to the meaning of "truth." Finally, I suggest that here and elsewhere141 Wheelwright's vagueness regarding his interpretation of truth results from his organic
139.  It is worth inquiring to precisely what extent the disagreement between Wheelwright and Richards is verbal. I incline to believe that Wheelwright's concept of poetic truth is in fact remarkably similar to Richards' concept of "imaginative assent." For example, in a discussion of the line from "Macbeth": "What bloody man is that?" Wheelwright remarks that the literal meaning of "bloody" requires no comment, and then proceeds to consider the imagistic and symbolic significance for the entire play of "bloody." Now the point I would urge is that this "imagistic and symbolic significance" admirably illustrates what Richards means by the "Gesture" as opposed to the "Sense" of a work of art; it performs precisely the function which Richards' pseudo-statements perform, i.e., "it suits and serves some attitude or links together attitudes which on other grounds are desirable" (quoted by Wheelwright, p. 271).
140.  Ibid., p. 275.
141.  See "The Failure of Naturalism," The Kenyon Review, Autumn, 1941; "Poetry, Myth and Reality," The Language of Poetry (Princeton, 1942); "Religion and Social Grammar," The Kenyon Review, Spring, 1942; and "A Preface to Phenosemantics," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, June, 1942.