The structuralism of the sixties made the question of value parenthetical. And yet the founder of structuralist aesthetics says: “Only the assumption of objective aesthetic value gives meaning to the historical evolution of art” (Jan Mukarovsky: Function, Norm, and Aesthetic Value as Social Facts, Prague, 1934). To examine an aesthetic value means: to try to demarcate and give name to the discoveries, the innovations, the new light that a work casts on the human world. Only the work acknowledged as value (the work whose newness has been apprehended and named) can become part of the “historical evolution of art,” which is not a mere succession of events but an intentional pursuit of values. If we reject the question of value and settle for a description (thematic, sociological, formalist) of a work (of a historical period, culture, etc.); if we equate all cultures and all cultural activities (Bach and rock, comic strips and Proust); if the criticism of art (meditation on value) can no longer find room for expression, then the “historical evolution of art” will lose its meaning, will crumble, will turn into a vast and absurd storehouse of works.
From Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel.
Look for an essay on this book on my blog in the next few days.