Prix ​​Goncourt: can we say that a book is better than another?

We’re talking about books this morning, while yesterday the Goncourt Prize was awarded…and you’re therefore wondering if one book can really be said to be better than another?

Yes Eva, so don’t worry, I didn’t suddenly turn into a literary critic and besides, it’s not so much the novel that won the Goncourt prize yesterday that interests me, but it’s the very principle of a literary prize, and the value judgment that this implies. My problem is quite simply to know if this book, since it had the price, is better than the others? When you win a medal at the Olympic Games, for example, it’s because you were the strongest, the fastest or the most efficient. But is it the same when you win a Goncourt prize or a Palme d’Or or a César? Or do all these prizes rewarding works of art in fact only express the subjectivity of the jurors or the spirit of the times?

Especially since all these jurors, starting with the Prix Goncourt jurors, sometimes make mistakes or make questionable or controversial choices, even years later….

What is this price and all the others for?

Well, if the problem arises, it is because these books that are rewarded are not objects like the others. They are literary creations which therefore resemble artistic objects more than technical or technological objects. We can compare two cars or two computers on objectively measurable characteristics. But how do you compare the aesthetic qualities of two books? How can you really say that one book is better written than another? That he is more important than another? That he is more valuable than another?

In delivering their verdict, the Prix Goncourt jurors issue what the philosopher Kant calls an aesthetic judgement**.** And this aesthetic judgment has a very special status, so special that Kant devotes a very large book to it, the 3rd of his famous “Critics”: the Critique of the faculty of judging, after its Critique of pure reason and after his Critique of practical reason. Bless you ! For Kant aesthetic judgment expresses taste and it is necessarily subjective since it arises from the way a person is touched by an object or a representation. Apparently therefore the value of a book rewarded with a prize is therefore always relative, because it depends on the subjectivity of the jurors.

But it is not that simple. And that’s why Kant needs to write a big book. An aesthetic judgment is certainly a subjective judgment but which at the same time claims a certain objectivity or a certain universality. To say that such a book deserves such a prize because it is the best is to suppose, as Kant would say, that everyone should agree on the qualities of this book. To have taste is to affirm a particular sensitivity, but assuming that it is valid for everyone. This is what we do when we are seized by the beauty of a landscape or music and we want to share it with others at all costs, being sincerely convinced that they too will love it…

The paradox of the Goncourt prize is therefore that it expresses good literary taste: both completely linked to particular jurors and to a particular year and at the same time completely linked to a universal value. It is not proof that one book is better than another, but it is an invitation to discuss its potential value for all. And through the discussions that we can have about it, it creates links, refines everyone’s taste and ultimately contributes to creating a common culture.

🎧 To find out more, listen to the show…

4 mins

We wish to give thanks to the writer of this post for this awesome web content

Prix ​​Goncourt: can we say that a book is better than another?