New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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76                                     PROBLEMS IN MEANING
quoted: "I can see no necessity for waiving the intellectual standards on behalf of poets. If Dante's beliefs cannot be accepted by his reader, it is the worse for Dante with that reader, not a matter of indifference as Eliot has argued. If Shelley's argument is foolish, it makes his poetry foolish/'143
A third alternative, held by still other competent critics, suggests an intermediate position between the two foregoing ones: namely, that the critic should judge the truth of the artistic insights on the basis both of the artist's standards and of his own. Thus Norman Foerster states:
Let me explain by describing how, it seems to me, a good critic will read a book new to him. He will read it in two ways, first one way and then the other, or else in the two ways simultaneously. One way we may speak of as 'feeling the book/ the other as 'thinking the book/ By feeling the book I mean passively responding to the will of the author, securing the total impression aimed at. If the book accords with the critic's tastes and beliefs, this will be easy; otherwise, he will have to attempt an abeyance of disbelief, a full acceptance of the work for the time being, in order to understand it. But understanding is not criticism, and therefore he must read it another way, 'thinking the book/ that is, analyzing closely the esthetic pattern and the ethical burden, and reflecting upon these in terms of his criteria until he is ready with a mature opinion of the book's value. If obliged to suspend disbelief when reading the first way, he is now obliged to state and justify his disbelief.144
143.  The New Criticism, p. 208. That the view expressed by Mr. Ransom is not entirely exceptional may be seen from the following extraordinary words of W. H. Auden: "The poem ["The Waste Land"] is about the absence of belief and its very unpleasant consequences; it implies throughout a passionate belief in damnation: that to be without belief is to be lost. I cannot see how those who do not share this belief, those who think that truth is relative or pragmatic, can regard the poem as anything but an interesting case history of Mr. Eliot's neurotic state of mind" ("Criticism in a Mass Society," The Intent of the Critic, pp. 140-141).
144.  "The Esthetic Judgment and the Ethical Judgment," The Intent of the Critic, p. 85.