Why is it hard to get a consistent anwer to why a specific piece of literature is good?
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The word “good” is empty of meaning in this statement, because the criteria for goodness have not been established. Universality of meaning? Beautiful language? Characters true to life? Characters larger than life? Devoid of violence? Full of action? Historically accurate? etc. The same work of literature can be judged by dozens of criteria, so one’s evaluation of “good” or “bad” begins with stating those criteria. Look at, for example, Da Vinci Code. Many would call it “good” because it explores an interesting approach to Catholicism and the history of the Church. Others would condemn it as blasphemous. Still others would lament its poor language use – oversimple, non-lyrical, non-quotable, a pedestrian, popularist piece of commercial pulp fiction. But these same criticisms could be leveled at a Dickens novel. “No taxonomies are innocent.” In other words, one ranks pieces of literature from bad to good based on what one seeks in literature. What puts a piece of literature in the canon as “good” is a consensus of opinions over time.
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