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TSE  August 2001

TSE August 2001

Subject:

Re: Definition of art

From:

"Nancy Gish" <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 15 Aug 2001 13:30:34 -0400

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I think Perl seems to be very much simplifying WCW if he is suggesting 
that Williams did not have "standards" in the sense of aesthetic definitions. 
The issue, it seems to me, is not standards vs. no standards but what kind 
of values and aesthetic criteria were at work in the two poets.  There is a 
very thoughtful essay by Denise Levertov (who deeply admired Williams but 
focused on the different ways these poets defined art) called "Williams and 
Eliot" (1989)  It is in the collection _Denise Levertov:  New and Selected 
Essays_ along with her very careful discussions of line and of her notion of 
Williams's aesthetics as exacting and capable of "a Franciscan sense of 
wonder that illumines what is accounted ordinary"--"Williams and the 
Duende" (1972), same book.  Her writing on Williams is a fine way to start 
thinking about his work because she was also a major poet; she was very 
influenced by Williams; and she was also a fine critic who wrote in a clear, 
lucid, readable style.  I think her comments on Eliot and Williams, whether 
one ends up sharing her positions or not, aptly set out more valuable 
distinctions than "everything is art" or "only a few things with clear 
standards are art."

I also think you could find all the same differences in current discussions of 
aesthetics as you find in the Modern period.  Neo-tradionalists want 
sonnets.  L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets want to efface the subject and 
experiment with form.  Given that, a discussion here that tried to go beyond 
simple dichotomies would be fascinating.  I don't think there is any 
agreement on even the term.
Nancy   



Date sent:      	Wed, 15 Aug 2001 11:08:12 EDT
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Subject:        	Definition of art

8/15/01

   One of the questions that jumped out at me from the Perl lectures was
   the 
notion of a definition of art.  It seems that people like William Carlos
Williams took a very general view of the question of "what is art?".
Recall the Williams' quote, "There is nothing sacred about literature. It
is damned from one end to the other. There is nothing in literature but
change, and change is mockery. I'll write whatever I damn please, whenever
I damn please, and as I damn please, and it will be good if the authentic
spirit of change is on it."  The notion that art must have a very broad
definition seems echoed in Williams' line, "Better than to deprive birds
of their song, to call them all nightingales." In his poem "The Red
Wheelbarrow", Williams calls our attention not to nightingales but rather
to "white chickens".

   On the other hand, people like Eliot had 'standards' for art. As Perl
   said 
(referring to the Williams' quote about nightingales), "I think you're now
in a position to understand that that sentence is a Paleo-Modernist's
nightmare. What Eliot or Pound or Yates or James or D.H. Lawrence most
feared was that the attempt to reconcile high culture with egalitarian or
democratic ethics would cause us to accept as art things that were NOT
art; would cause us to accept that all birds are nightingales. Some of
them are chickens."

   I am very suspicious of some 'authority' deciding what is and what is
   not 
art, but, at the same time, I am sympathetic to the view that not
EVRYTHING is art. What do the scholars have to say about the existence 
of
artistic standards in art and literature? What is the current thinking
about the question of "what is art?".

-- Steve --

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