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.

    • I abandon the first category with impunity, saving myself for those that appear to offer the possibility of transformation, even in small measure,

  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.

    • 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.

  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?

    • There is aways a danger in extracting a paragraph from its context.

      I’m not at all sure that Auden would entertain the notion of pure or innate taste, at least in the sense of being bestowed in its entirety since birth. Auden believed wholeheartedly in the necessity of cultivating ones taste. He goes on to argue that the function of an anthology such as this one of 19th century British poets is partially educative: it should form taste as well as reflect it.

      Auden thought a lot about how tastes are constrained within social classes; how taste is a product of conditioning that serves as a core component of social identity. His reference to prejudice, I suspect, is mostly about social class.

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