Taste and Judgement

“Each of us must be loyal to his own taste, though always ready to enlarge it; for this very reason, we must rid ourselves of all prejudices, for a prejudice is always created by our social milieu without our conscious consent and frequently blinds is to what our real tastes are.”

“My taste tells me what, in fact, I enjoy reading; my judgement tells me what I must admire. There are always a number of poems that one must admire but that, by reasons of one’s temperament, one cannot enjoy. The converse is not necessarily true. I don’t think I like any poem that I do not also admire, but I have to remind myself that in some other fields–tear-jerking movies, for example–I revel in what my judgment tells me is trash.”

WH Auden, 19th Century British Minor Poets

9 thoughts on “Taste and Judgement

  1. Well, I would distinguish between the poems (or books or films) that I like and consume easily, and the others that I love and admire and remember forever. And the third category – yes, there are some that are worthy, that I might respect for their ambition or originality, but wouldn’t necessarily enjoy.

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  2. My response to the written word is always such an emotional one that I don’t know if I could adopt that distinction. The works that you might admire are not going to be the ones that stay with you, and I don’t think I ever read and remember something just because I’m told I should admire it – it has to touch me personally.

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    • To give an example, I admire greatly Thomas Bernhard’s fiction, but with some exception I don’t enjoy reading them. I can recognise their quality and see why others find them enjoyable. They are just not to my taste. Conversely, JG Ballard’s novels are very much my taste and I enjoy them immensely, while being able to see why many others not only dislike them, but also fail to find them admirable.

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  3. The idea of ridding ourselves of all prejudices is a troublesome one, isn’t it. Certainly true that they can obscure our tastes, but Auden’s model seems to require that we have a pure, innate taste that we can reach by stripping away every external blinder on our judgment. I don’t find that at all plausible. Or do you think Auden can have the point with a less otiose assumption?

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