The Vice Of Knobbery Analysis

1100 Words 5 Pages
In “The Vice of Snobbery,” Kieran confronts a major concern facing aesthetic knowledge: snobbery. Snobbery is a concern, he argues, precisely because it threatens the very foundation of aesthetic judgments. As a result, it is critical for Kieran to distinguish between virtuous art appreciators – whose aesthetic judgments are legitimate, and snobs – whose aesthetic judgments depend on irrelevant considerations. I will argue that while Kieran’s account of snobbery seems accurate, it brings with it its own concerns of elitism.
Kieran introduces snobbery with an illustration of how it manifests, drawing the example of ‘Illy’ coffee – which, for at least his purposes, is considered exceptional coffee. Preferring ‘Illy,’ and even acting on this preference
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Specifically, snobbery is to be understood as an appreciative vice because it is appreciation of the wrong kind. Because the snob’s appreciation is at base motivated by social advancement, their reasons or explanations for their appreciation also suffer. So, thinking of snobbery as an appreciative vice allows us to monitor and determine “where, when, and why [snobbery] lacks justification” (256). For Kieran, one of the reasons reliability is a limited criterion for assessing aesthetic judgments because it fails to account for the connective tissue between the ability to rattle off reliable judgments, and knowing how those judgments factor into and help enhance appreciation. It is one thing to be able to list off Jane Austen’s important works, citing which aesthetic features lead to their success, but quite another to have the faculty to use this knowledge to aid in “proper aesthetic understanding, and thus appreciation” (260). One might think of the cultural autodidact Leonard Bast, who despite his best efforts cannot intellectually keep up with the cosmopolitan Schlegel sisters:
“With an hour at lunch and a few shattered hours in the evening, how was it possible to catch up with leisured women, who had been reading steadily from childhood? His brain might be full of names, he might even have heard of Monet and Debussy; the trouble was that he could not string
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Yet, Leonard Bast also demonstrates a shortcoming of the Kieran’s account. There is a sense that this bridge, which is so important to aesthetic appreciation, is inaccessible to a lot of people. That is to say, there is a sense that true art appreciation, in the way Helen and Margaret retain, and in the way Kieran describes it, takes a lot of work. There is nothing inherently problematic about this, except that the kind of work true art appreciation requires might be unavailable to those without the privilege of having been brought up cultured, or those who have the resources to foster that cultural faculty later in life (such as in college). We see the cultural autodidact (in Leonard Bast) cannot attain what’s required – not for lack of reading material, but for lacking the experience it takes to discuss such things. Even if Leonard Bast weren’t motivated by what Kieran would claim to be “the wrong reasons;” even if social mobility by no means factored into his motivation for educating himself in the arts, he would still lack this necessary connection. There might still be a divorce between “the possession of aesthetic knowledge and the point of it” (260) precisely because his upbringing and social circumstances prevent him from catching up. While it’s

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