Summary of "Value/Evaluation" by Barbara Hernstein Smith Essay

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Summary of "Value/Evaluation"
In her essay "Value/Evaluation," Barbara Herrnstein Smith reflects upon the shifting nature of the evaluation process, and what exactly the meaning of "value" is. She begins by pointing out that the dispute on the value of something occurs whenever any social activity becomes the focal point of a discussion. However, Smith points out, the perspective on value and evaluation has changed dramatically, and is still a topic of debate. These new perspectives indicate that value judgments are made by entire societies, not necessarily individuals; they also give rise to skepticism and question traditional ideas about how evaluations are made.
Pointing out the importance of attempting to define a term before
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This great work would "produce some purely sensory/perceptual…or some purely passive and intellectual gratification, independent of any practical, active, or material response to the text" (179). Smith then regresses to her previous point that this idea of "value" is being consistently questioned and re-defined by calling attention to the critique of this specific sense of "value". This skepticism questions how possible this definition really is: whether or not there is something there once everything material and relevant has been subtracted, if it is possible to really pinpoint this indescribable characteristic as is necessary, and whether it really is even possible to have such an absolute reaction to a text. It is for this reason, Smith states, that it is impossible "to reduce the value of anything… to a single, simple property or possession" (180). Smith first alludes to her ongoing model here, when she refers to the complexity of Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre and the many combining forces defining the value of the text, including, but not exclusive to, its sales, its use within cultures and communities, and the revelations and memories within the text.
It is only after defining "value" that Smith moves on to describe the more complex idea of "evaluation." She begins by questioning the traditional idea that evaluations are made by people with some sort of qualification to be critiquing some form of art or literature;

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