Taste

By Perloff, Marjorie | English Studies in Canada, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Taste


Perloff, Marjorie, English Studies in Canada


Taste in a physical sense has been in English since C13, though its earliest meaning was wider than tasting with the mouth and aver to the modern touch or feel. It came from fw taster, oF, tostare, IT-feel, handle, touch. A predominant association with the mouth was evident from C14, but the more general meaning survived, for a time as itself but mainly by metaphorical extension. "Good toast" in the sense of good understanding is recorded from 1425 The word became significant and difficult ... in Cub, when it was capitalized as a general quality: "the correcting of their Taste, or Relish in the concerns of Life" (Shaftesbury).... The became equivalent to discrimination: 'the word Taste ... means that quick discerning faculty or power of the mind by which we accurately distinguish the good, bad, or indifferent (Barry, 1784).

Raymond Williams, Keywords

Not surprisingly, Raymond William, has little use for the eighteenth-century sense of taste as discrimination, a mental faculty that can (and should) be trained by education and example. The Den tells us-in a definition Williams omits-that taste was originally equivalent to test "a trial, test, examination;' as in Lear's speech (1.2.47), "I hope for my brother's justification he wrote this but as an essay, or taste of my Virtue." The notion that taste is a kind of test of one's ability to make judgments was bound to become a bugbear for a Marxist critic like Williams, for whom the very notion that "correct" taste can be acquired by the right kind of training represents nothing but the imposition of class privilege. "The idea of taste," writes Williams, "cannot now be separated from the idea of the CONSUMER ... exercising and subsequently showing his taste" (315).

Indeed, late twentieth -century theory has witnessed a wholesale deconstruction of the notion of good taste. For Marxist critics like Janet Wolff and Terry Eagleton, taste is no more than "the power of certain classes and nations to select cultural artifacts for special attention and to denigrate as base or savage the artifacts both of popular, nonelite provenance and of alien cultures."' And Pierre Bourdieu offers a devastating critique of taste in his book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1984). As a practical sociologist, Bourdieu was able to demonstrate in this study and elsewhere that taste is never "natural"; it is always socially produced. What e call good taste in an, fashion or food is only that which is preferred by the dominant social classes. Enjoyment of classical music, by this account, is no different from the taste for fine wines or cuisine-a marker of a cultural elite. Accordingly, discussions of taste must shift from statements like "John has no taste when it comes to modern painting "to the analysis of the actual social, national, and gender determinants of taste in a given time and place. In the modern world, Bourdieu argues, systems of domination find expression in virtually all areas of cultural practice, including preferences in dress, sports, food, and music, as well as literature. "Taste," Bourdieu concludes, "classifies and it classifies the classifier" (Johnson 1-2).

As a demonstration of who likes what art or who listens to what music and why, Bourdieu's account is largely convincing. But its implication that there is therefore nothing inherently artistic, nothing that makes one work of art more successful than another flies in the face of simple common sense. For, like it or not, there is simply no way of talking about poetry or painting, architecture or fashion design without resorting to expressions of taste and the making of judgments. And even if cultural conditioning does play a major role in the creation of taste, those so conditioned continue to want to debate the virtues and shortcomings of this or that artwork and by no means agree even when they do belong to the same class and have undergone the same education. Deviance, it seems, is more interesting to most of us than group identification: one wants to know, for example, why John Ashbery prefers the Thomas Lovell Beddoes of Death's Jest Book to Byron or Shelley, or why William Carlos Williams never quite caught on in England. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Taste
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.