Most suited aesthetic qualities to judge a literary workWhat aesthetic qualities do you think are the most highly valued in a literary work? Since 'beauty' is obviously subjective to each person,...

Most suited aesthetic qualities to judge a literary work

What aesthetic qualities do you think are the most highly valued in a literary work?

Since 'beauty' is obviously subjective to each person, what aspects of, or how would you define aspects of aesthetic beauty to best suit criteria for judging western and non-western literature?

Just an example, would you go for aesthetic qualities of storytelling, metaphorical language, poetic prose, or something else?

Would the aesthetic qualities have to comment on or satirize certain issues?


Expert Answers
e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This question is even more difficult than your last one on beauty...It'll be difficult to answer without evading, to some degree, because of the variety of elements that go into a work of fiction (in addition to the hurdles pointed to in the second post). 

As I take it, this is your goal:

  • To create a positive set of criteria to judge literay work fairly across cultures in an effort to determine how to assign merit to texts and how to select award winners for international prizes. 
  • The goal isn't necessarily to raise European/Western esteem for "world literature" but to provide a set of criteria that will allow for equal treatment of works coming from non-western, non-European cultures. 

In generating a positive set of criteria, you seem to be tending toward a notion of beauty as an essential or unavoidable factor in judging a text. This makes sense to me, but I'm having a hard time making the leap from aesthetic beauty as a general concept to aesthetic beauty as the basis for a critical framework. 

My first problem is the complexity of the novel as a form. There are so many "working parts" of a novel... 

But here is one idea: Identify a number of literary elements that characterize a form of literature. Create a set of criteria that essetially ask the question of each element: How well was this element presented, utilized, performed or produced? 

A novel might be judged in this way looking at: character; orginality of language; specificity/vividness of language; perspective; setting, atmosphere, landscape; plot; theme; structure. 

Looking at these categories, I guess they don't directly relate to beauty but to "perceived quality" or perceived effectiveness, which could be said to be judged on aesthetic grounds. 


mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly there are only a limited number of themes to literature.  What makes one work stand out is the freshness of approach, the originality that singles it from others. Truly, beauty of language, universality of theme, originality of style, and verisimilitude are aspects of the aesthetic that readers seek.

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One alternative route that seems open to you is to simply decide what you want a book to do as a work of art (make a political statement, offer insight into the human condition, etc.) and use this functional criteria as the basis for judging a work's quality. 

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are too many different types of literature to be able to give one set of "aesthetic qualities" as being "most highly valued." Judging a fictional novel would involve different criteria than evaluating a poem, a play, or an autobiography, for example.

mjay25 | Student

Thank you very much. What you highlighted as my goals are spot on! And you seem to really understand what I'm getting at, even though I didn't make it very clear.

I'm still considering possibilities, but aesthetically-pleasing makes sense as one criterion, as naturally, if the language isn't engaging or there are no aesthetic qualities to attract, then the instrumental message I see as important cannot be communicated as effectively. And so, for a possible second criterion, was looking to say the book must communicate a positive ethical message.

I was considering merging aesthetically-beautiful language and certain aesthetic techniques with the importance of conveying a specific ethical message as one criterion, as I see aesthetic beauty and instrumental concerns as working together.

mjay25 | Student

I agree, and it is problematic, but if you were asked to set up criteria to judge a novel for example, written in English, but not limited to western writers. How would you go about it? :)