On Marianna Scheffer’s art blog we have a quotation from Benjamin and then a brief commentary from Marianna.
In the appreciation of a work of art or an art form, consideration of the receiver never proves fruitful. Not only is any reference to a certain public or its representatives misleading, but even the concept of an “ideal” receiver is detrimental in the theoretical consideration of art, since all it posits is the existence and nature of man as such. Art, in the same way, posits man’s physical and spiritual existence, but in none of its works is it concerned with his response. No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener.
“What [Benjamin] means, I think, is that the raw act of creation comes out of a place that is in some sense impersonal and universal. This raw creativity needs to be brought down to earth, of course, and that is the job of editing, cleaning up, refining and so on, and it’s necessary but not the creative part. If the creative part is missing, no refinements or modifying for the audience will make a piece a work of art.
“Response is fair. . . . But in the moment of insight, the response of the future observer is irrelevant.”
For the introduction to literature, I stopped using a textbook anthology even though there are good ones, annotated for historical references and vocabulary, that are very helpful to students. I stopped because they all kept emphasizing that literature was communication and expression.
I think of it as an instance of language and I wonder whether this is a difference, or the difference, between people who study literature in their native language or in the one foreign language — usually understood, furthermore, as a national language and thus, even this far away from Montesquieu and Hegel, still a language often considered a vehicle of expression for a “people” — and people from Comparative Literature with a serious interest in language as such, like me.
I keep telling the students to look at what is in the text, not behind it, and talking about grammar. Students trained in English departments tend to say I do not discuss “feelings” enough although I disagree — I would only say “feelings” are not all I discuss.