English and drama

For Love: Taste, Evaluation, and Aesthetics in Criticism and Culture

Module code: Q3266
Level 5
15 credits in autumn teaching
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Coursework

"I don't know art, but I know what I like," goes the disclaimer. In this writing-oriented seminar, we will seek to unpack the relationship between "art" and "what I like" by examining a variety of cultural objects together with accounts of "taste." What makes us care about art? What is the place of evaluation in an age of analytical criticism? What are the uses of an art that nobody likes? Could "annoyance" be an aesthetic principle? What is the role of money in taste? What are the ethics of aesthetics? Under what circumstances is an aesthetic pleasure "guilty"? When should the appreciation of art works be a matter of disinterested judgment, and when a matter of passionate engagement? Does "love" blind? What is the difference between a "fan" and a "critic"? What are the affordances and limits of the "formulaic" and the "generic"? Students will consider concepts like beauty, the sublime, cuteness, the gimmick, and formula through texts by Edgar Allan Poe, Marianne Moore, T.S. Eliot, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Christian Bök, as well as an assortment of recent evaluative criticism and theoretical writings by Immanuel Kant, Thorstein Veblen, Clement Greenberg, Pierre Bourdieu, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Franco Moretti, and Sianne Ngai. In order for students to engage intensively with the concepts of taste, three weeks of this module will be devoted to workshopping students' critical writing, examining the roles of description, praise, blame, analysis, and enthusiasm in writing about culture. Students will also therefore be asked to think reflexively and deliberately about constructive responses to one another's writing. Students will be encouraged to consider pitching their writing to a publication.

Module learning outcomes

  • understand key theoretical concepts in aesthetics and their relation to form
  • understand sociological and historical accounts of aesthetics
  • recognize evaluative criticism and assess its role in contemporary criticism
  • write meaningful, motivated, and illuminating evaluative criticism