The principal questions Wellek takes up are, "What is the real poem [as an example of literature], where should we look for it, how does it exist?" To begin with he provides a critique of some answers to this question, namely that literature is an artifact (ink and paper); that its essential quality is a sequence of uttered sounds (which are transferred to paper); that literature resides within the domain of the reader or the experience of the reader (though it must be noted that Wellek does believe that there are "good" readers as distinguished from bad readers, an important point to note for later on in his essay); and, finally, that literature is the experience of the author (comprised of both the author's conscious intentions and the total conscious and unconscious experience at the time of creation). In short, Wellek dismisses any psychological or purely social explanation.
Instead, what Wellek argues for is a "system of norms, realized only partially in the actual experience of [the work's] many readers. Every single experience (reading, reciting, and so forth) is only an attempt--more or less successful and complete--to grasp this set of norms or standards." These norms are implicit and can be detected in all "real" literature by an educated reader. It cannot be denied, he suggests, that links can be identified between qualities in individual works.
The question that remains concerns how these norms exist.
They exist as "a system of norms of ideal concepts which are
intersubjective. They must be assumed to exist in collective
ideology, changing with it, accessible only through individual
mental experiences, based on the sound-structure of its
sentences." (John R. Durant.)
Michael Hancher Department of English, University of Minnesota URL: http://umn.edu/home/mh/ebibjd2.html Comments to: email@example.com Created 31 May 1995 Last revised 17 September 1996