Wilmsatt and Beardsley’s “The Affective Fallacy” rejects emotional reader response as a productive tool of criticism. They summarize the ineffectiveness of the emotional reader response: “it begins by trying to derive the standard of criticism from the psychological effects of the poem and ends in impressionism and relativism” (31). They make a distinct difference between connotation and denotation, suggesting that emotion is predominantly triggered by connotation. Since connotation is subjective, it follows that the emotion it triggers cannot be a useful in discovering the universal meaning of a poem. While the emotional response of the common man is, to them, apparently irrelevant, they also argue that the critic can productively use emotion as a tool of criticism so long as he/she consciously articulates how and by what objects a specific “shade” of emotion arises.
My sculpture seeks to illustrate the theory represented in “The Affective Fallacy.” The encaged rainbow figures represent a diverse community of subjective individuals, subject to a variety of different emotional responses. In accordance with Wilmsatt and Beardsley’s theory, they are caged so as to prevent their unworthy emotional responses from polluting space for more valuable critical analyses, such as one that might come from a colorless figure who is devoid of emotion and consciously aware of his/her higher intellectual value than the lowly, emotional common man.
It makes since that Wilmsatt and Beardsley would seek to reject subjective emotional response after having made claim to an attainable objective meaning in “The Intentional Fallacy,” for it would be contradictory to also allow subjective meaning as productive and meaningful (how can there be many if there is only one?). Unfortunately, in attempt to prevent one contradiction, they make way for many. For example, they reject emotion as subjective and meaningless but write of emotion’s cultural or “mob-like” significance: “emotion, it is true, has a well-known capacity to fortify opinion, to inflame cognition, and to grow upon itself in surprising proportions to grains of reason. We have mob-psychology, psychosis, and neurosis” (38). If emotion is powerful and mob-like, why should we assume that the critics and poets 1. are immune to it, and 2. whether or not they are immune, should or even can meaningfully analyze art in a way which alienates and rejects the rest of society? Why make claim to an objective universal if it is available only to a select few elite?