Taste as a Subject of Systematic Analysis: Puškin’s Taste and Intertastes

The category of taste, central for European aesthetics and criticism in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries had been half forgotten in modern literary theory until not long ago. The characteristic attitude is expressed in Northrop Frye’s influential Anatomy of Criticism: “This sort of thing cannot be part of any systematic study …. The history of taste is no more a part of the structure of criticism than the Huxley-Wilberforce debate is a part of the structure of biological science.” The revival of the interest in taste was initiated by the works of F. Haskell and P. Bourdieu. The latter, particularly in his Distinction and Les règles de l’art, has shown that not only is taste an analyzable structure, but also that such an analysis is indispensable and central for the adequate reconstruction of the logic of a particular literary field.

The proposed paper is a part of an ongoing project centered around the idea of a systematic reconstruction of an individual’s taste (and not of a group taste as in Bourdieu). In the first part of my paper I will outline tentative theoretical notions for the approach I am trying to develop. The analysis presupposes that there exist underlying (“deep”) taste structures which determine the surface manifestation of the taste: particular aesthethic reactions, choices, preferences and hierarchies. As with the language, it is necessary to separate between the individual and collective taste utterances, between taste synchrony and taste diachrony of an individual or a community. It is also possible to introduce a typology of tastes: inclusive and exclusive tastes, more or less hierarchized tastes, etc.

The second part of the paper is an attempt to describe a particular fragment of Puškin’s taste: the system of literary evaluative judgments as represented in Puškin’s marginalia to Batjuškov’s Opyty v stixax i proze. Čast′ II. The material of the analysis is Puškin’s evaluative lexicon, in particular such evaluative concepts as: ènergija, garmonija, živost′, smelost′, neumestnost′, temnota, vjalost′; notes of the type: prelest′, čto takoe?, ne pojmu čto takoe?, drjan′, detskie stixi; use of underlining and question marks. The analysis focuses on Puškin’s attitude towards the following stylistic problems in Batjuškov: homogenity vs. heterogenity on the levels of language and imagery, explicitness vs. implicitness of the message, simple vs. compound metaphors and similes, anaphora, unintended semantical shifts. The goal is to explain what exactly Puškin likes or dislikes, what is the mechanism of aesthetic choice when he singles out a part of a poem as good or bad, according to what logic he applies a particular evaluative expression to a particular text. In the third part of my paper I will show that an individual system of evaluative judgments can influence other evaluative systems (I would coin a term “intertaste” for this phenomenon). Thus, Puškin’s notes on margins of Batjuškov’s Opyty v stixax i proze influenced Mandel′štam’s judgments on Pasternak, and in some cases, Mandel′štam used as subtexts Batjuškov’s and Vjazemskij’s lines underlined and commented on by Puškin.