E491 OSCAR WILDE QUESTIONS

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Assigned: from "The Critic as Artist" (895-912).

From "The Critic as Artist"

1. On 900-01, how does Wilde's Gilbert define "the critical spirit," and what is its role with regard to artistic creation? In these first few pages of the selection, what notions about such creation does Gilbert oppose, and in what way does he prepare the ground for his reversal of the traditional hierarchy between art and criticism?

2. On 902-03, Gilbert insists that the critic is more cultivated than the artist. How is that so? And on the same pages, how does Gilbert invert the usual way of talking about the respective value of language and action? What problems does he tag as belonging to the realm of action, and what potential or promise does he attach to the realm of language?

3. On 904-05, Gilbert says that "the highest Criticism . . . is, in its way, more creative than creation." What exactly is this "highest Criticism," and how, according to Gilbert on 905-07, does its practitioner regard and relate to aesthetic objects? How is the best criticism "impressive" (i.e. impressionistic) rather than "expressive"?

4. On 908-09, Gilbert discusses the relative qualities of artistic media. What limitations does he ascribe to painting? Why is music "the perfect type of art"? How does the critic, according to Gilbert, deal "once for all {with} the problem of Art's unity"? What does Wilde's analogy between the decorative artist in the presence of nature and the critic beholding a work of art add to his explication of criticism's proper task and effects?

5. On 909-10, how does Gilbert put down the ordinary person's way of relating to great poets such as Milton and Shakespeare? According to Gilbert, what does it really take to do honor to these poets and their work? Why might Gilbert's demands be considered surprising given the impressionist theory of criticism he has been setting forth?

6. On 910-11, Gilbert addresses the "personality" of the aesthetic critic -- why is this such a vital component in his theory? What happens when a great performer or critic's personality meets an excellent work of art?

7. On 911-12, Gilbert defends something like "criticism for criticism's sake": the withdrawal of those most endowed with the critical spirit from practical life and usefulness to their fellow citizens. How does he justify his claims in this regard: what is the ultimate value of "the critical spirit," in Gilbert's view? What can this spirit do for the individual who cultivates it?

8. General question: if we have read Matthew Arnold and/or Walter Pater on culture, art, and criticism in this course, what echoes and inflections of those authors do you find in Wilde? What does he apparently find valuable in one or both of these authors, and what does he alter or reject?

9. General question: some would say that art has a moral duty to reflect life as it is and that the critic has a duty to explicate and judge art on that basis as well as to address a broad public. Wilde's Gilbert obviously rejects the idea that the critic should serve the work or art or the public. To what extent, then, is it possible to suggest that Gilbert's impressionist theory about criticism and art promises any degree of social progress?

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B., ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 1st ed. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN 0-393-97429-4.