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LITERARY CRITICISM

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LITERARY CRITICISM
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  literary criticism literary criticism,  the reasoned consideration of literary works and issues. It applies, as aterm, to any argumentation about literature, whether or not specific works areanalyzed. Plato’s cautions against the risky consequences of poetic inspiration in general inhis  Republic  are thus often taken as the earliest important example of literary criticism. Morestrictly construed, the term coers only what has been called !practical criticism, theinterpretation of meaning and the #udgment of quality. $riticism in this narrow sense can bedistinguished not only from aesthetics %the philosophy of artistic alue& but also from other matters that may concern the student of literature' biographical questions,  bibliography,historical knowledge, sources and influences, and problems of method. (hus, especially inacademic studies, !criticism is often considered to be separate from !scholarship. In practice, howeer, this distinction often proes artificial, and een the most single)mindedconcentration on a text may be informed by outside knowledge, while many notable works of criticism combine discussion of texts with broad arguments about the nature of literature andthe principles of assessing it.$riticism will here be taken to coer all phases of literary understanding, though theemphasis will be on the ealuation of literary works and of their authors’ places in literaryhistory. *or another particular aspect of literary criticism,  see  textual criticism. Functions (he functions of literary criticism ary widely, ranging from the reiewing of books as theyare published to systematic theoretical discussion. (hough reiews may sometimes determinewhether a gien  book  will be widely sold, many works succeed commercially despitenegatie reiews, and many classic works, including +erman Melille’s  Moby Dick  %-&,hae acquired appreciatie publics long after being unfaourably reiewed and at firstneglected. /ne of criticism’s principal functions is to express the shifts in sensibility thatmake such realuations possible. (he minimal condition for such a new appraisal is, of course, that the srcinal text surie. (he literary critic is sometimes cast in the role of scholarly detectie, unearthing, authenticating, and editing unknown manuscripts. (hus, eenrarefied scholarly skills may be put to criticism’s most elementary use, the bringing of literaryworks to a public’s attention.(he ariety of criticism’s functions is reflected in the range of publications in which itappears. $riticism in the daily press rarely displays sustained acts of analysis and maysometimes do little more than summarize a publisher’s claims for a book’s interest. 0eeklyand biweekly magazines sere to introduce new books but are often more discriminating intheir #udgments, and some of these magazines, such as The  %1ondon& Times LiterarySupplement   and The New York Review of Books , are far from indulgent toward popular works. 2ustained criticism can also be found in monthlies and quarterlies with a broadcirculation, in !little magazines for specialized audiences, and in scholarly #ournals and books.3ecause critics often try to be lawgiers, declaring which works desere respect and presuming to say what they are !really about, criticism is a perennial target of resentment.Misguided or malicious critics can discourage an author who has been feeling his way towarda new mode that offends receied taste. Pedantic critics can obstruct a serious engagementwith literature by deflecting attention toward inessential matters. 4s the *rench philosopher)critic 5ean)Paul 2artre obsered, the critic may announce that *rench thought is a perpetual colloquy between Pascal and Montaigne not in order to make those thinkers more alie but tomake thinkers of his own time more dead. $riticism can antagonize authors een when it performs its function well. 4uthors who regard literature as needing no adocates or   inestigators are less than grateful when told that their works possess unintended meaning or are imitatie or incomplete.0hat such authors may tend to forget is that their works, once published, belong to them onlyin a legal sense. (he true owner of their works is the public, which will appropriate them for its own concerns regardless of the critic. (he critic’s responsibility is not to the author’s self)esteem but to the public and to his own standards of #udgment, which are usually moreexacting than the public’s. 5ustification for his role rests on the premise that literary works arenot in fact self)explanatory. 4 critic is socially useful to the extent that society wants, andreceies, a fuller understanding of literature than it could hae achieed without him. Infilling this appetite, the critic whets it further, helping to create a public that cares aboutartistic quality. 0ithout sensing the presence of such a public, an author may either prostitutehis talent or squander it in sterile acts of defiance. In this sense, the critic is not a parasite but, potentially, someone who is responsible in part for the existence of good writing in his owntime and afterward.4lthough some critics beliee that literature should be discussed in isolation from other matters, criticism usually seems to be openly or coertly inoled with social and politicaldebate. 2ince literature itself is often partisan, is always rooted to some degree in localcircumstances, and has a way of calling forth affirmations of ultimate alues, it is notsurprising that the finest critics hae neer paid much attention to the alleged boundaries between criticism and other types of discourse. 6specially in modern 6urope, literarycriticism has occupied a central place in debate about cultural and political issues. 2artre’sown What s Literature!  %789& is typical in its wide)ranging attempt to prescribe the literaryintellectual’s ideal relation to the deelopment of his society and to literature as amanifestation of human freedom. 2imilarly, some prominent 4merican critics,including4lfred :azin, 1ionel (rilling, :enneth 3urke, Philip ;ah, and Iring +owe, began as political radicals in the 7<=s and sharpened their concern for literature on the dilemmasand disillusionments of that era. (rilling’s influential The Liberal ma ination  %7=& issimultaneously a collection of literary essays and an attempt to reconcile the claims of  politics and art.2uch a reconciliation is bound to be tentatie and problematic if the critic beliees, as (rillingdoes, that literature possesses an independent alue and a deeper faithfulness to reality than iscontained in any political formula. In Marxist states, howeer, literature has usually beenconsidered a means to social ends and, therefore, criticism has been cast in forthrightly partisan terms. >ialectical materialism does not necessarily turn the critic into a mereguardian of party doctrine, but it does forbid him to treat literature as a cause in itself, apartfrom the working class’s needs as interpreted by the party. 0here this utilitarian iew preails, the function of criticism is taken to be continuous with that of the state itself,namely, furtherance of the social reolution. (he critic’s main obligation is not to his texts butrather to the masses of people whose consciousness must be adanced in the designateddirection. In periods of seere orthodoxy, the practice of literary criticism has not always been distinguishable from that of censorship.  #istorical $evelopment  Antiquity 4lthough almost all of the criticism eer written dates from the ?=th century, questions first posed by Plato and 4ristotle are still of prime concern, and eery critic who has attempted to  #ustify the social alue of literature has had to come to terms with the opposing argumentmade by Plato in The Republic . (he poet as a man and  poetry as a form of statement bothseemed untrustworthy to Plato, who depicted the physical world as an imperfect copy of transcendent ideas and  poetry as a mere copy of the copy. (hus, literature could only mislead  the seeker of truth. Plato credited the poet with diine inspiration, but this, too, was cause for worry@ a man possessed by such madness would subert the interests of a rational polity.Poets were therefore to be banished from the hypothetical republic.In his   %oetics  Astill the most respected of all discussions of literatureA 4ristotle counteredPlato’s indictment by stressing what is normal and useful about literary art. (he tragic poet isnot so much diinely inspired as he is motiated by a uniersal human need to imitate, and what he imitates is not something like a bed %Plato’s example& but a noble action. 2uchimitation presumably has a ciilizing alue for those who empathize with it. (ragedydoesarouse emotions of pity and terror in its audience, but these emotions are purged in the process % katharsis &. In this fashion 4ristotle succeeded in portraying literature as satisfyingand regulating human passions instead of inflaming them.4lthough Plato and 4ristotle are regarded as antagonists, the narrowness of their disagreement is noteworthy. 3oth maintain that poetry is mimetic, both treat the arousing of emotion in the perceier, and both feel that poetry takes its #ustification, if any, from itsserice to the state. It was obious to both men that poets wielded great power oer others.Bnlike many modern critics who hae tried to show that poetry is more than a pastime,4ristotle had to offer reassurance that it was not socially explosie.4ristotle’s practical contribution to criticism, as opposed to his ethical defense of literature,lies in his inductie treatment of the elements and kinds of poetry. Poetic modes are identifiedaccording to their means of imitation, the actions they imitate, the manner of imitation, andits effects. (hese distinctions assist the critic in #udging each mode according to its proper ends instead of regarding beauty as a fixed entity. (he ends of tragedy, as 4ristotle conceiedthem, are best sered by the harmonious disposition of six elements' plot, character, diction,thought, spectacle, and song. (hanks to 4ristotle’s insight into uniersal aspects of audience psychology, many of his dicta hae proed to be adaptable to genres deeloped long after histime.1ater Creek and ;oman criticism offers no parallel to 4ristotle’s srcinality. Much ancient criticism, such as that of $icero, +orace, and Duintilian in ;ome, was absorbed in technical rules of exegesis and adice to aspiring rhetoricians. +orace’s erse epistle The &rt of  %oetry  is an urbane amplification of 4ristotle’s emphasis on the decorum or internal proprietyof each genre, now including lyric, pastoral, satire, elegy, and epigram, as well as 4ristotle’s epic, tragedy, and comedy. (his work was later to be prized by Eeoclassicists of the 9thcentury not only for its rules but also for its humour, common sense, and appeal to educatedtaste. 'n the Sublime , by the ;oman)Creek known as !1onginus, was to become influentialin the -th century but for a contrary reason' when decorum began to lose its swayencouragement could be found in 1onginus for arousing eleated and ecstatic feeling in thereader. +orace and 1onginus deeloped, respectiely, the rhetorical and the affectie sides of 4ristotle’s thought, but 1onginus effectiely reersed the 4ristotelian concern with regulationof the passions.

Edward VII

Jul 23, 2017
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