Steve wrote:

> Now, here's the problem:  I think TSE wanted to say not only that he was
> judging art by his pet standard (Classicism), but, more importantly, that
> standard was "better" than other standards (better than, for instance, the
> standard of WCW). Because if all standards are arbitrary and equally
> it seems to me impossible to say that any particular thing is "not art"
> (since by SOME standard you could find a basis for which THAT thing WOULD
> art).  So Jon, even if I agree that art is defined by "an accepted
> within a culture or a time-period", is there a way to make distinctions
> competing standards?  Is there a way to say that one standard is "better"
> than another?  What would the word "better" even mean when looking at
> different aesthetic standards?  More "true" to the human condition,

I think Pat and Nancy have already addressed many of the issues here in a
way that I need not add more to.  If anything, I would like to simplify,
rather than complicate the issue.

There is a canon out there, I think we're both agreed on that, but it isn't
a universal one, and different people have different standards within it.
I'm not great at maths, but I tend to look at Art as a big Venn diagram.
There is a canon of Art out there, and within that canon are a multitude of
sub-groups, some of which overlap, some of which never connect, some of
which are wholly contained within a larger group.

As for ways of making distinctions between which Art is 'better', that
really depends where you are within the Venn diagram.  For instance,
everybody on this list has *at least some* interest in TSE, and therefore
presumably considers him 'better' than some, if not all, other poets.
Subscribers to a similar Shelley list will have a different slant.  The
groups may overlap a bit, but we'll probably have different notions about
'good art'.   Equally, because we're interested in TSE, we're that much more
likely to explore his sources than other people may be - Dante being the
most obvious beneficiary of this.  We share a common pool of sources that
we're perhaps prepared to give more time and patience to than non-TSE
readers.  There's probably a generic, superficial agreement on this list
about at least some of what constitutes 'good poetry' that would bear little
relation to the poets chosen by a list of Wordworth or Spenser readers.
This is not so different to what you were saying to Pat about your son.
People on this list will hear a lot of discussion about poets such as Dante
and Pound, go off and explore them if they haven't done so previously, and
be more receptive to them afterwards.  I've certainly never seen a post on
this list saying, 'Ezra is rubbish and shouldn't be considered Art'; but
it's probably happened on another list.

There is no absolute standard to Art (otherwise we'd have nothing to argue
about, and we'd all 'know' what the greats works were without any dispute),
so whether anything is 'better' really comes down to personal preference or
prejudice (ie where one is - and where one's friends are - in the Venn
diagram); and how loudly one is prepared to shout about that and declaim
other things as Not Art is perhaps as much a matter of psychology and
territoriality as it is relative to objective notions of Art.  If, as you
asked in your reply to Pat, TSE's position was Absolutist, no, I personally
don't think that (or indeed any other Absolutist position) is defensible.
Comprehensible, but not defensible.

As a last point, I always find it worth remembering that free time is
finite, and the Art corpus very large.  I may consider TSE as one of the
pinnacles of literature, but I am equally conscious that it's not impossible
that I'm so locked into this that I'm missing out on the 16-year old rap
poet down at the local pub on a rainy Wednesday night, who might blow my
mind away with her brilliance, only I've never actually going to bother
going to see her, because it's not naturally my cup of tea.  Whatever else
Art may be, one can only usefully discuss that which you have
seen/read/heard, and been receptive to at the time, and there's a far larger
world out there which an individual can never have time to take on board.
TSE may be one of the 'best' I've read; that says nothing about whether he's
one of the 'best' there is; which alone is sufficient to make me cautious
about Absolutist pronouncements.