Reconciling Poetic Autonomy and Poetic Relevance

Proceedings of ‏The 3rd International Conference on Research in Humanities

Year: 2021


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Reconciling Poetic Autonomy and Poetic Relevance

Arindam Modak



It was the New Critics who sought to establish the ontological existence of a work of literature by focusing on the aesthetic experience provided by literature. They also sought to disengage literature from non-aesthetic considerations for its evaluation and appreciation. By their insistence on the aesthetic evaluation of literature, they divested literature of its existence as a cognitive discourse. The words that make up a piece of literature, it may be noted, are not mere self-referring independent units limited by their spatial existence. Besides their aesthetic existence, they also have thought-content and culture content. They refer to the world outside their spatial boundaries. The monistic focus on the aesthetic ontology of literature excludes the contextual relevance and moralistic significance of poetic statements.  Similarly, judgement of literature solely on the basis of its content in exclusion of the aesthetic considerations equally leads to a biased appreciation of literature and holds it up as a sociological document. Insistence on the pedagogical and moralistic value deprives literature of its significance as a source of delight and pleasure. This leads to the conclusion that neither aesthetic nor moralistic criteria alone, in exclusion of one or the other, can help us to have a holistic appreciation of literature. Deployment of pluralistic principles alone can bring out the objective relevance of a work of art.

Keywords: self-sustaining; aesthetic; cognitive; sociological; moralistic.