19 oct. 2010

Evaluative Criticism

Ezra Pound takes it for granted that criticism should mostly be evaluative. Figuring out where the best stuff is, why it's good, and using that as a model for one's own writing. There's a palpable excitement there when he's talking about Rochester or Calvacanti. Zukofsky does the same the A Test of Poetry. I come out of that tradition.

Northrop Frye, a literary theorist very famous in the age of New Criticism (though himself not a New Critic), argued that evaluation was not the proper function of criticism. That is only possible, however, if we already know what the good stuff is and why we should be studying it. In other words, evaluation has already taken place, but we just don't want to talk about it or justify our judgments. We just take the already existing canon as our standard of value and leave it at that.

What I find interesting is the situation in which values are uncertain. Then critical opportunity arises; we can argue again what the best stuff is, why it is good, what the stakes are. So Marjorie Perloff talking about poetry is always going to be interesting, because there's an argument there about value. Other "popular" critics like Vendler and Bloom also make arguments about what's worthwhile and why.

The idea that criticism should mostly be interpretive or hermeneutic,: telling us what the works mean, is foreign to someone like Pound. I'm not that interested in interpreting works myself. I mean, I still do derive meanings from works I read, and devise theories of what they mean, but those interpretations are not the main point of my criticism anymore.

4 comentarios:

Joseph Hutchison dijo...

The desire of critics to evaluate is understandable, but increasingly, it seems to me, susceptible to wandering far from the text. Here is an example of Perloff indulging in this kind of vagary; Ron Silliman frequently adopts this tactic as well (see here). The desire to artificially inflate the minor and make it seem major is behind this, I think, and it reveals itself in the distances traveled away from the words on the page. I don’t say that criticism can’t evaluate; that is its best function. But it shouldn’t stump like some flak for a candidate on the campaign trail.

Jonathan dijo...

Yet those were ideas you engaged with, that stimulated your own thoughtful responses. Evaluative criticism has the power to do that in a way that interpretations often do not.

Jordan dijo...

They're on a spectrum, though -- the valuation depends in part on many acts of interpretation, and vice versa each interpretation is inflected by the (general) valuation. I know you know this.

It is indeed a waste of time to interpret a work that has no effect, carries no force.

Speculation: interpretation replaced valuation when the English Department thought it would live forever.

Jordan dijo...

And now I'm remembering that the English Department (wasn't it invented by the same woman who wrote America the Beautiful, by the way?) was a mutant offspring of philology and rhetoric. A sort of valuation-assumption hot zone, in other words.