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Friday, October 23, 2009


We began with an etymological understanding of the word ‘canon’. Then the discussion moved on to whether it is possible to talk objectively about aesthetic judgement.
The idea of authenticity can be traced to religious texts. A classic example being the Bible and the existence of multiple scripts. In such a case, which one do we accept as the primary text? In talking about religious canons though we cannot question the assumed and accepted ‘greatness’ of the text it is fortunate that we don’t have to deal with such rigidity in talking about literary canons. A case in point would be how T.S. Eliot’s The Metaphysical Poets brought back Donne and the rest, after the Romantics and more specifically, the publication of the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads seem to have pushed them into a seemingly obscure space.
Though literary creative output maybe as old as the history of mankind itself, discussions on theorisations as to the concerns of value is comparatively new – dating back to the 18th and the 19th centuries. Much as in the 20th and 21st century such a definitive idea of value has been continuously challenged. Today with the increasing popularity of cultural relativism, we tend to approach texts from a pluralistic perspective.
A post modernist understanding refutes the existence of boundaries and emphasises the illusion of boundaries. Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon and his idea of aesthetic value has been challenged by Terry Eagleton who talks about aesthetic value as an ideological construct. For Eagleton, political identity and aesthetic value are inseparable. A marxist understanding would necessary entail that philosophy of aesthetics is but a natural culmination of the class struggle between the bourgeois and the aristocrats.
In the last 50 years or so, literary critisim and not just literature has come to be characterised by a kind of self-reflexivity. So that today, there is a strong desire amongst literary scholars and critics to stay away from giving value judgments. Their main contention is that no free position exist outside of culture.
To sum it all. What is art? If we look at art as an imitation of reality in accordance to the mimetic theory , then, when reality is the representation and there is no gap between reality and the represented, how do we define art? Can art be simultaneously real and a representation? As problems of definition persists so do problems of value.

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