“It was long ago observed by Burke that it is the understanding alone which distinguishes good from bad taste. The presence of criticism as a body of knowledge democratizes literature: it provides for literature an educational discipline, something that can be taught and learned; it makes literature accesible to any student with good will, and prevents it from stagnating among groups of mutually unintelligible élites.
This structure of knowledge is all the more essential in criticism, because direct experience, and the intuitions of value it brings, cannot be directly communicated. The kind of “dialogue”, as it is now fashionable to call it, that can be established between teacher and student on a basis of experience and value-judgement alone is not helpful. Thus: (Teacher) Yeats’s Among School Children is one of the great poems of the twentieth century. (Student) But I don’t like it; it seems to me a lot of clap-trap; I get a lot more out of The Cremation of Sam McGee. (Teacher) The answer is simple: your taste is inferior to mine. (Student) But how do you know it’s inferior? (Teacher) I just know, that’s all. All teaching of literature is based on the indefinite postponing of this dialogue until the student learns enough about literature, as an ordered body of knowledge, to sing a more harmonious antiphony. For the values we want the student to acquire from us cannot be taught: only knowledge of literature can be taught. Without the possibility of criticism as a structure of knowledge, culture, and society with it, would be forever condemned to a morbid antagonism between the supercilious refined and the resentful unrefined”.
Northrop Frye, The well-tempred critic