New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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RELATIVISM                                              151
backwater of human experience; triumphant, because it is done so perfectly." 971 agree; but why does Daiches conclude the same paragraph with the undiscussed pronouncement that "a first-rate minor work is worth many second-rate major ones"? This statement which apparently assumes that a criterion of artistic perfection is decidedly and decisively more valuable than one of artistic significance flatly contradicts, it is worth observing, the verdict of Longinus upon the same problem. After asking: "Is it not worth while, on this very point, to raise the general question whether we ought to give the preference, in poems and prose writings, to grandeur with some attendant faults, or to success which is moderate but altogether sound and free from error?" 98 Longinus concludes: "I do not waver in my view that excellences higher in quality, even if not sustained throughout, should always on a comparison be voted the first place, because of their sheer elevation of spirit if for no other reason." Contrary to these views of Daiches and Longinus, it seems more reasonable to assert that the relative values of artistic perfection and artistic significance cannot profitably be measured. Yet it is evident, if we apply the axiom of logical relativism, that all solutions to the problem at hand depend upon one's basic criteria; and it is also evident, if we apply the axiom of psychological relativism, that one should not claim universal or absolute validity for his own opinion.
(6) Comparative judgments in qualitative, as in intentional value, will be most useful when the objects compared are of the same general kind, e.g., of the same medium. On the basis, let us say, of carefully defined criteria either of triviality versus greatness, or of coarseness and obviousness versus refinement and subtlety, there would be little or no
97.  David Daiches, The Novel and the Modern World (Chicago, 1939), p. 183. Perhaps, through failure to understand Daiches correctly, my criticism at this point is unjust. So much depends upon the exact interpretation one gives to his words (which follow in the text) "many second-rate major ones."
98.  Longinus on the Sublime (New York, 1930), p. 109. C. S. Baldwin, ed.