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What's so special about "objective"?

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Forgive me for plunging back into this, but something was rattling around in my head while this discussion was going on, and I couldn't quite place it. I only recently realized that it's a quote from C.S. Lewis' collection God in the Dock:

I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered fifth rate poetry set to sixth rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren't fit to clean those boots.

Now, I tremble to invoke Lewis because he's thoroughly over-used. But I think this quote just about nails the positive side of the whole "I like Bach, you like Bon Jovi; Praise God anyway!" stance.


I'll call, and then raise you with an excerpt from Mark Helprin's novel, Refiner's Fire -

“... Marshall passed them as they stood in front of a religious articles store, its window crammed with garish unholy implements. The grandmother held the child’s hand and pointed to one of the plaster castings, saying: ‘Look. Isn’t it beautiful? A beautiful statue. Beautiful.’

What would his classmates and the teacher have said about that? By absolute standards it was indefensible, and yet even if the love which the woman had for the plaster statue were formulaic, automatic, and artificial, it was all she had, and because of that the indefensible gained a great power and came up behind arguments assembled against it. It was all she had and she approached it with dignity and love, and as the little boy’s hand stroked the cold window, learning the lines of an object of beauty, Marshall felt a strong bond. Sitting on his high platform shielded by darkness and beams of bright lights, he thought that not everyone can be schooled rigorously in art, not everyone can be lean and aristocratic, not everyone can win. But he would. And if he failed, he expected to die rather than live an uncharmed life. No Dyckman Street for him, and no contempt for it either, if he could keep his distance ...”


Acknowledging objective standards does not demand that we hold those who are uneducated in great art and great literature in contempt. If someone can find power or beauty in something, like oh say, the paintings of Thomas Kinkade or kitsch from Disneyland, then I'd suggest that that proves something about human nature and the human soul rather than anything about the kitsch itself. Just because I found joy or beauty in bad music or poorly written books when I was younger doesn't mean objective standards are of no value. Just because my grandparents find high value in trendy mass-produced nick-nacks from the Christian bookstore does not mean (1) that they aren't still distressingly bad artificial substitutes for great art, or (2) that I should hold my grandparents in contempt.

Just because my friends and family use Christian Contemporary music to sincerely and wholeheartedly worship God does not mean CCM is good music, but neither does it mean that they aren't really worshiping God.

The virtue of respecting other people and what they possess is a worthy and even necessary virtue. It does not, however, prove that learning to cultivate standards and taste (existing outside of merely one individual's limited experience) in painting, music, literature, theater or film is not still valuable and refreshing to the soul.

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  • 1 year later...

Here's a few excerpts from some of my recent reading.


From Centuries of Meditations, by Thomas Traherne:

"... Can you then be Righteous, unless you be just in rendering to Things their due esteem? All things were made to be yours; and you were made to prize them according to their value: which is your office and duty, the end for which you were created, and the means whereby you enjoy ..."


From A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, by Edmund Burke, 1757, pgs. 22-23:

"... Indeed it is for the most part in our skill in manners, and in the observances of time and place, and of decency in general, which is only to be learned in those schools to which Horace recommends us, that what is called Taste by way of distinction, consists; and which is in reality no other than a more refined judgement ... For sensibility and judgment, which are the qualities that compose what we commonly call a Taste, vary exceedingly in various people.  From a defect in the former of these qualities, arises a want of Taste; a weakness in the latter, constitutes a wrong or a bad one ... The cause of a wrong Taste is a defect of judgment.  And this may arise from a natural weakness of understanding (in whatever the strength of that faculty may consist of) or, which is much more commonly the case, it may arise from a want of proper and well-directed exercise, which alone can make it strong and ready.


Besides that ignorance, inattention, prejudice, rashness, levity, obstinacy, in short, all those passions, and all those vices which pervert the judgment in other matters, prejudice it no less in this its more refined and elegant province.  These causes produce different opinions upon every thing which is an object of the understanding, without inducing us to suppose, that there are not settled principles of reason.  And indeed on the whole one may observe, that there is rather less difference upon matter of Taste among mankind, than upon most of those which depend upon the naked reason; and that men are far better agreed on the excellence of a description of Virgil, than on the truth or falsehood of a theory of Aristotle."


From Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning, by Owen Barfield, 1928, pg. 42:

"In view, however, of the predominantly personal direction taken by literary criticism during the last few decades, it may be well to point out here that to start from personal experience does not necessarily mean to finish with it.  One may start from direct, personal, aesthetic experience without prejudice to the possibility of arriving in the end at some objective standards of criticism - standards which a young critic might set before himself as an aid to the eliminations of just those personal affections and associations - the accidents rather than the substance of poetry - which are always at hand to distort his judgement."

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  • 4 weeks later...

Popping in to recommend a book I've been going through this past week or so: An Aesthetics of Junk Fiction by Thomas J. Roberts.


[M]y purpose in this book is to show how it is that good readers find deep pleasure and lasting satisfaction not only when they are reading the good stories their favorite genres produce but even when they are reading stories that they feel are poor [...] [W]e can say of [paperback fiction] that it is authentically a literature that deserves the respect that the word connotes today, but [...] it is a literature without texts. This is to say that it is a literature even when it is not giving us stories that are distinguished in their own right. [4, 5]



It may be that there are readers who have only low taste, but there are no readers who have only good taste. Even the most sensitive readers of literature enjoyably read, watch, or listen to some form of vernacular fiction as well [...] If the taste of our most cultivated sensibilities were too refined for them to find something rewarding in some form of pulp fiction--some television, some paperbacks, some jokes, some comic monologues--they would not be able to remain in contact with the rest of us. If only in self-defense, our psyches find ways of turning what seems dross to gold. If our psyches cannot do that, we withdraw from the human conversation. [51]



His chapter on bookscapes is especially good at highlighting what I said earlier about a given work being good for the kind of work it wants to do. Citizen Kane is a rotten action movie.


EDIT: Cross-referencing our threads on ideology and groupthink.

Edited by NBooth
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One more quote from Roberts--his conclusion:


Studying, and not reading, is the appropriate response to the monumental. It is appropriate not because it is respectful of greatness but because it is the response that most richly repays us. Studying handicaps only when we begin to feel that anything that does not elicit that kind of attention from us is worthless. There are materials that do not reward us when we attempt to study them but do reward us very richly indeed when we are content to read them. [250]


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