Barbara Herrnstein Smith (1932–) from “Contingencies of Value,” Contingencies of Value (1988)
When we consider the cultural re-production of value on a larger timescale, the model of evaluative dynamics outlined above suggests that both (a) the “survival” or “endurance” of a text and, it may be, (b) its achievement of high canonical status not only as a “work of literature” but as a “classic” are the product neither of the objectively (in the Marxist sense) conspiratorial force of establishment institutions nor of the continuous appreciation of the timeless virtues of a fixed object by succeeding generations of isolated readers but, rather, of a series of continuous interactions among a variably constituted object, emergent conditions, and mechanisms of cultural selection and transmission. These interactions are, in certain respects, analogous to those by virtue of which biological species evolve and survive and also analogous to those through which artistic choices evolve and are found “fit” or fitting by the individual artist. The operation of these cultural-historic dynamics may be briefly indicated here in quite general terms.
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