E491 WALTER PATER QUESTIONS
Assigned: "Preface" and "Conclusion" to Studies in the History of The Renaissance (835-41).
"Preface" to Studies in the History of The Renaissance
1. On 835-36, how does Pater first define beauty, and then borrow and yet transform Matthew Arnold's definition of criticism's aim as "to see the object as in itself it really is" (806)? What did Arnold apparently mean by the phrase? In Pater's view, what must the critic do first, before he or she can discern the "object" correctly? What, more generally, is the aesthetic critic's responsibility to the work of art (or indeed any significant object of perception) and to the audience?
2. On 837, how does Pater describe the proper critical "temperament"? How will an excellent critic deal with the differing styles of art from one age to the next, or handle the variations between one artistic movement and another? What is the right question to ask about any movement, author, or period, and how does Pater provide an example of appropriate critical discernment in his comments on Wordsworth's poetry?
3. On 837-38, how does Pater at first characterize the Italian Renaissance and situate it temporally (historically)? Against what other definition of this epoch does he say he has built his own interpretation of it? How does he develop his comments to address the most felicitous relationship between artists and the societies within which they create?
"Conclusion" to Studies in the History of The Renaissance
4. On 839-40, how does Pater describe the "tendency of modern thought"? What successive examples does he provide of this tendency, ranging from our understanding of external, impersonal forces to the processes involved in perception, and thence to the peculiarities of individual personality?
5. On 840, how does Pater define "success in life"? How does he enlist the language of scientific objectivity and discovery in this description and indeed in his rhetorical buildup to it on 839-40? In what sense is he also casting Paterian impressionism as a genuinely philosophical endeavor?
6. On 841, what does Pater, in his modern version of the ancient carpe diem argument, say is the "one chance" afforded to each human being? How does he characterize the deepest value of our engagement with art? How does he situate our experiences with art in relation to other kinds of experience, other sources of sensation and pleasure? Is contact with art better than these other kinds of experience, or should we interpret Pater's remarks otherwise? Explain your rationale for answering as you do to this last question.
7. General question: Pater suppressed for a time his original 1873 "Conclusion" to The Renaissance because some readers complained about its presence in the text. Why might this brief piece of rhetoric be an object of mistrust or disapproval for some Victorian readers? What is radical or heterodox about Pater's interpretation of life's purpose and the value of art?
8. General question: Why might it be said that Pater's aesthetic and critical philosophy amounts to a Victorian withdrawal from the "romantic project" of transforming the broad public's taste and spiritual priorities, as illustrated by treatises such as Wordsworth's "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads? How might Pater's program be defended against such a charge, or defended even if it be admitted?
9. General question: To what extent does the tone and argument of the "Conclusion" suit the statements about criticism Pater makes in the "Preface"? Explain your rationale for responding as you do.
Edition: Leitch, Vincent B., ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 1st ed. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN 0-393-97429-4.