You are on page 1of 7

Literary criticism

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Literary criticism (or literary studies) is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary
criticism is often influenced by literary theory, which is the philosophical discussion of literature's goals and
methods. Though the two activities are closely related, literary critics are not always, and have not always been,

Whether or not literary criticism should be considered a separate field of inquiry from literary theory, or
conversely from book reviewing, is a matter of some controversy. For example, the Johns Hopkins Guide to
Literary Theory and Criticism[1] draws no distinction between literary theory and literary criticism, and almost
always uses the terms together to describe the same concept. Some critics consider literary criticism a practical
application of literary theory, because criticism always deals directly with particular literary works, while
theory may be more general or abstract.

Literary criticism is often published in essay or book form. Academic literary critics teach in literature
departments and publish in academic journals, and more popular critics publish their reviews in broadly
circulating periodicals such as the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Times Book Review, the New York
Review of Books, the London Review of Books, The Nation, and The New Yorker.

1 History
1.1 Classical and medieval criticism
1.2 Renaissance criticism
1.3 Enlightenment criticism
1.4 19th-century Romantic criticism
1.5 The New Criticism
1.6 Theory
1.7 History of the book
1.8 Current state
2 Value of academic criticism
3 Key texts
3.1 The Classical and medieval periods
3.2 The Renaissance period
3.3 The Enlightenment period
3.4 The 19th century
3.5 The 20th century
4 See also
5 References
6 External links

Classical and medieval criticism

Literary criticism is thought to have existed as long as literature. In the 4th century BC Aristotle wrote the
Poetics, a typology and description of literary forms with many specific criticisms of contemporary works of
art. Poetics developed for the first time the concepts of mimesis and catharsis, which are still crucial in literary
studies. Plato's attacks on poetry as imitative, secondary, and false were formative as well. Around the same
time, Bharata Muni, in his Natya Shastra, wrote literary criticism on ancient Indian literature and Sanskrit
Later classical and medieval criticism often focused on religious texts, and the several long religious traditions
of hermeneutics and textual exegesis have had a profound influence on the study of secular texts. This was
particularly the case for the literary traditions of the three Abrahamic religions: Jewish literature, Christian
literature and Islamic literature.

Literary criticism was also employed in other forms of medieval Arabic literature and Arabic poetry from the
9th century, notably by Al-Jahiz in his al-Bayan wa-'l-tabyin and al-Hayawan, and by Abdullah ibn al-Mu'tazz
in his Kitab al-Badi.[2]

Renaissance criticism

The literary criticism of the Renaissance developed classical ideas of unity of form and content into literary
neoclassicism, proclaiming literature as central to culture, entrusting the poet and the author with preservation
of a long literary tradition. The birth of Renaissance criticism was in 1498, with the recovery of classic texts,
most notably, Giorgio Valla's Latin translation of Aristotle's Poetics. The work of Aristotle, especially Poetics,
was the most important influence upon literary criticism until the late eighteenth century. Lodovico Castelvetro
was one of the most influential Renaissance critics who wrote commentaries on Aristotle's Poetics in 1570.

Enlightenment criticism

In the Enlightenment period (1700s to 1800s), literary criticism became more popular due to the invention and
use of the printing press. During this time period literacy rates started to rise in the public, no longer was
reading exclusive for the wealthy or scholarly. With the rise of the literate public and swiftness of printing,
criticism arose too. Reading was no longer viewed solely as educational or as a sacred source of religion; it was
a form of entertainment.[3] Literary criticism was influenced by the values and stylistic writing, including clear,
bold, precise writing and the more controversial criteria of the author's religious beliefs.[4] These critical
reviews were published in many magazines, newspapers, and journals. Many works of Jonathan Swift were
criticized including his book Gulliver's Travels, which one critic described as "the detestable story of the

19th-century Romantic criticism

The British Romantic movement of the early nineteenth century introduced new aesthetic ideas to literary
studies, including the idea that the object of literature need not always be beautiful, noble, or perfect, but that
literature itself could elevate a common subject to the level of the sublime. German Romanticism, which
followed closely after the late development of German classicism, emphasized an aesthetic of fragmentation
that can appear startlingly modern to the reader of English literature, and valued Witz that is, "wit" or "humor"
of a certain sort more highly than the serious Anglophone Romanticism. The late nineteenth century brought
renown to authors known more for their literary criticism than for their own literary work, such as Matthew

The New Criticism

However important all of these aesthetic movements were as antecedents, current ideas about literary criticism
derive almost entirely from the new direction taken in the early twentieth century. Early in the century the
school of criticism known as Russian Formalism, and slightly later the New Criticism in Britain and in the
United States, came to dominate the study and discussion of literature, in the English-speaking world. Both
schools emphasized the close reading of texts, elevating it far above generalizing discussion and speculation
about either authorial intention (to say nothing of the author's psychology or biography, which became almost
taboo subjects) or reader response. This emphasis on form and precise attention to "the words themselves" has
persisted, after the decline of these critical doctrines themselves.

In 1957 Northrop Frye published the influential Anatomy of Criticism. In his works Frye noted that some critics
tend to embrace an ideology, and to judge literary pieces on the basis of their adherence to such ideology. This
has been a highly influential viewpoint among modern conservative thinkers. E. Michael Jones, for example,
argues in his Degenerate Moderns that Stanley Fish was influenced by his adulterous affairs to reject classic
literature that condemned adultery.[5] Jrgen Habermas in Erkenntnis und Interesse [1968] (Knowledge and
Human Interests), described literary critical theory in literary studies as a form of hermeneutics: knowledge via
interpretation to understand the meaning of human texts and symbolic expressionsincluding the
interpretation of texts which themselves interpret other texts.

In the British and American literary establishment, the New Criticism was more or less dominant until the late
1960s. Around that time Anglo-American university literature departments began to witness a rise of a more
explicitly philosophical literary theory, influenced by structuralism, then post-structuralism, and other kinds of
Continental philosophy. It continued until the mid-1980s, when interest in "theory" peaked. Many later critics,
though undoubtedly still influenced by theoretical work, have been comfortable simply interpreting literature
rather than writing explicitly about methodology and philosophical presumptions.

History of the book

Related to other forms of literary criticism, the history of the book is a field of interdisciplinary inquiry drawing
on the methods of bibliography, cultural history, history of literature, and media theory. Principally concerned
with the production, circulation, and reception of texts and their material forms, book history seeks to connect
forms of textuality with their material aspects.

Among the issues within the history of literature with which book history can be seen to intersect are: the
development of authorship as a profession, the formation of reading audiences, the constraints of censorship
and copyright, and the economics of literary form.

Current state

Today, interest in literary theory and continental philosophy coexists in university literature departments with a
more conservative literary criticism of which the New Critics would probably have approved. Disagreements
over the goals and methods of literary criticism, which characterized both sides taken by critics during the
"rise" of theory, have declined. Many critics feel that they now have a great plurality of methods and
approaches from which to choose.

Some critics work largely with theoretical texts, while others read traditional literature; interest in the literary
canon is still great, but many critics are also interested in minority and women's literatures, while some critics
influenced by cultural studies read popular texts like comic books or pulp/genre fiction. Ecocritics have drawn
connections between literature and the natural sciences. Darwinian literary studies studies literature in the
context of evolutionary influences on human nature. Many literary critics also work in film criticism or media
studies. Some write intellectual history; others bring the results and methods of social history to bear on reading

Value of academic criticism

The value of extensive literary analysis has been questioned by several prominent artists. Vladimir Nabokov
once wrote that good readers do not read books, and particularly those which are considered to be literary
masterpieces, "for the academic purpose of indulging in generalizations".[6] At a 1986 Copenhagen conference
of James Joyce scholars, Stephen J. Joyce (the modernist writer's grandson) said, "If my grandfather was here,
he would have died laughing ... Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man can be picked up, read,
and enjoyed by virtually anybody without scholarly guides, theories, and intricate explanations, as can Ulysses,
if you forget about all the hue and cry." He later questioned whether anything has been added to the legacy of
Joyce's art by the 261 books of literary criticism stored in the Library of Congress.[7]
Key texts
The Classical and medieval periods

Plato: Ion, Republic, Cratylus Christine de Pizan: The Book of the City of
Aristotle: Poetics, Rhetoric Ladies
Horace: Art of Poetry Bharata Muni: Natya Shastra
Longinus: On the Sublime Rajashekhara: Inquiry into Literature
Plotinus: On the Intellectual Beauties Valmiki: The Invention of Poetry (from the
St. Augustine: On Christian Doctrine Ramayana)
Boethius: The Consolation of Philosophy Anandavardhana: Light on Suggestion
Aquinas: The Nature and Domain of Sacred Cao Pi: A Discourse on Literature
Doctrine Lu Ji: Rhymeprose on Literature
Dante: The Banquet, Letter to Can Grande Liu Xie: The Literary Mind
Della Scala Wang Changling: A Discussion of Literature
Boccaccio: Life of Dante, Genealogy of the and Meaning
Gentile Gods Sikong Tu: The Twenty-Four Classes of Poetry

Christine de Pizan: The Book of the City of

The Renaissance period

Lodovico Castelvetro: The Poetics of Aristotle Translated and Explained

Philip Sidney: An Apology for Poetry
Jacopo Mazzoni: On the Defense of the Comedy of Dante
Torquato Tasso: Discourses on the Heroic Poem
Francis Bacon: The Advancement of Learning
Henry Reynolds: Mythomystes
John Mandaville: Composed in the mid-14th century--most probably by a french physician

The Enlightenment period

Thomas Hobbes: Answer to Davenant's preface Edward Young: Conjectures on Original

to Gondibert Composition
Pierre Corneille: Of the Three Unities of Action, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing: Laocon
Time, and Place Joshua Reynolds: Discourses on Art
John Dryden: An Essay of Dramatic Poesy Richard "Conversation" Sharp Letters & Essays
Nicolas Boileau-Despraux: The Art of Poetry in Prose & Verse
John Locke: An Essay Concerning Human James Usher :Clio: or a Discourse on Taste
Understanding (1767)[8]
John Dennis: The Advancement and Denis Diderot: The Paradox of Acting
Reformation of Modern Poetry Immanuel Kant: Critique of Judgment
Alexander Pope: An Essay on Criticism Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the
Joseph Addison: On the Pleasures of the Rights of Woman
Imagination (Spectator essays) William Blake: The Marriage of Heaven or
Giambattista Vico: The New Science Hell, Letter to Thomas Butts, Annotations to
Edmund Burke: A Philosophical Inquiry into Reynolds' Discourses, A Descriptive Catalogue,
the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the A Vision of the Last Judgment, On Homer's
Beautiful Poetry
David Hume: Of the Standard of Taste Friedrich Schiller: Letters on the Aesthetic
Samuel Johnson: On Fiction, Rasselas, Preface Education of Man
to Shakespeare Friedrich Schlegel: Critical Fragments,
Athenaeum Fragments, On Incomprehensibility

Edward Young: Conjectures on Original

The 19th century
William Wordsworth: Preface to the Second Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve: What Is a
Edition of Lyrical Ballads Classic?
Anne Louise Germaine de Stal: Literature in Edgar Allan Poe: The Poetic Principle
its Relation to Social Institutions Matthew Arnold: Preface to the 1853 Edition of
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling: On the Poems, The Function of Criticism at the Present
Relation of the Plastic Arts to Nature Time, The Study of Poetry
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Shakespeare's Hippolyte Taine: History of English Literature
Judgment Equal to His Genius, On the and Language
Principles of Genial Criticism, The Statesman's Charles Baudelaire: The Salon of 1859
Manual, Biographia Literaria Karl Marx: The German Ideology, Contribution
Wilhelm von Humboldt: Collected Works to the Critique of Political Economy
John Keats: letters to Benjamin Bailey, George Sren Kierkegaard: Two Ages: A Literary
& Thomas Keats, John Taylor, and Richard Review, The Concept of Irony
Woodhouse Friedrich Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy from
Arthur Schopenhauer: The World as Will and the Spirit of Music, Truth and Falsity in an
Idea Ultramoral Sense
Thomas Love Peacock: The Four Ages of Walter Pater: Studies in the History of the
Poetry Renaissance
Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Defense of Poetry mile Zola: The Experimental Novel
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Conversations Anatole France: The Adventures of the Soul
with Eckermann, Maxim No.279 Oscar Wilde: The Decay of Lying
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: The Stphane Mallarm: The Evolution of
Philosophy of Fine Art Literature, The Book: A Spiritual Mystery,
Thomas Carlyle: Symbols Mystery in Literature
John Stuart Mill: What is Poetry? Leo Tolstoy: What is Art?
Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Poet

The 20th century

Benedetto Croce: Aesthetic John Crowe Ransom: Poetry: A Note in
A. C. Bradley: Poetry for Poetry's Sake Ontology; Criticism as Pure Speculation
Sigmund Freud: Creative Writers and R. P. Blackmur: A Critic's Job of Work
Daydreaming Jacques Lacan: The Mirror Stage as Formative
Ferdinand de Saussure: Course in General of the Function of the I as Revealed in
Linguistics Psychoanalytic Experience; The Agency of the
Claude Lvi-Strauss: The Structural Study of Letter in the Unconscious or Reason Since
Myth Freud
T. E. Hulme: Romanticism and Classicism; Gyrgy Lukcs: The Ideal of the Harmonious
Bergson's Theory of Art Man in Bourgeois Aesthetics; Art and Objective
Walter Benjamin: On Language as Such and On Truth
the Language of Man Paul Valry: Poetry and Abstract Thought
Viktor Shklovsky: Art as Technique Kenneth Burke: Literature as Equipment for
T. S. Eliot: Tradition and the Individual Talent; Living
Hamlet and His Problems Ernst Cassirer: Art
Irving Babbitt: Romantic Melancholy W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley: The
Carl Jung: On the Relation of Analytical Intentional Fallacy, The Affective Fallacy
Psychology to Poetry Cleanth Brooks: The Heresy of Paraphrase;
Leon Trotsky: The Formalist School of Poetry Irony as a Principle of Structure
and Marxism Jan Mukaovsk: Standard Language and
Boris Eikhenbaum: The Theory of the "Formal Poetic Language
Method" Jean-Paul Sartre: Why Write?
Virginia Woolf: A Room of One's Own Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex
I. A. Richards: Practical Criticism Ronald Crane: Toward a More Adequate
Mikhail Bakhtin: Epic and Novel: Toward a Criticism of Poetic Structure
Methodology for the Study of the Novel Philip Wheelwright: The Burning Fountain
Georges Bataille: The Notion of Expenditure Theodor Adorno: Cultural Criticism and
Society; Aesthetic Theory
Roman Jakobson: The Metaphoric and Elaine Showalter: Toward a Feminist Poetics
Metonymic Poles Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar: Infection in
Northrop Frye: Anatomy of Criticism; The the Sentence; The Madwoman in the Attic
Critical Path Murray Krieger: "A Waking Dream": The
Gaston Bachelard: The Poetics of Space Symbolic Alternative to Allegory
Ernst Gombrich: Art and Illusion Gilles Deleuze and Flix Guattari: Anti-
Martin Heidegger: The Nature of Language; Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
Language in the Poem; Hlderlin and the Ren Girard: The Sacrificial Crisis
Essence of Poetry Hlne Cixous: The Laugh of the Medusa
E. D. Hirsch, Jr.: Objective Interpretation Jonathan Culler: Beyond Interpretation
Noam Chomsky: Aspects of the Theory of Geoffrey Hartman: Literary Commentary as
Syntax Literature
Jacques Derrida: Structure, Sign, and Play in Wolfgang Iser: The Repertoire
the Discourse of the Human Sciences Hayden White: The Historical Text as Literary
Roland Barthes: The Structuralist Activity; The Artifact
Death of the Author David P. Gontar: "Hamlet Made Simple" and
Michel Foucault: Truth and Power; What Is an "Unreading Shakespeare"
Author?; The Discourse on Language Hans-Georg Gadamer: Truth and Method
Hans Robert Jauss: Literary History as a Paul Ricoeur: The Metaphorical Process as
Challenge to Literary Theory Cognition, Imagination, and Feeling
Georges Poulet: Phenomenology of Reading M. H. Abrams: How to Do Things with Texts
Raymond Williams: The Country and the City J. Hillis Miller: The Critic as Host
Lionel Trilling: The Liberal Imagination; Clifford Geertz: Blurred Genres: The
Julia Kristeva: From One Identity to Another; Refiguration of Social Thought
Women's Time Filippo Tommaso Marinetti: The Foundation
Paul de Man: Semiology and Rhetoric; The and Manifesto of Futurism
Rhetoric of Temporality Tristan Tzara: Unpretentious Proclamation
Harold Bloom: The Anxiety of Influence; The Andr Breton: The Surrealist Manifesto; The
Dialectics of Poetic Tradition; Declaration of January 27, 1925
Mina Loy: Feminist Manifesto
Poetry, Revisionism, Repression Yokomitsu Riichi: Sensation and New Sensation
Oswald de Andrade: Cannibalist Manifesto
Chinua Achebe: Colonialist Criticism Andr Breton, Leon Trotsky and Diego Rivera:
Stanley Fish: Normal Circumstances, Literal Manifesto: Towards a Free Revolutionary Art
Language, Direct Speech Acts, the Ordinary, the Hu Shih: Some Modest Proposals for the
Everyday, the Obvious, What Goes Without Reform of Literature
Saying, and Other Special Cases; Is There a Octavio Paz: The Bow and the Lire
Text in This Class?
Edward Said: The World, the Text, and the
Critic; Secular Criticism

See also
Book review
Comparative literature
Critical theory
Feminist literary criticism
Genre studies
History of the book
Literary critics
Literary translation
Philosophy and literature
Poetic tradition
Social criticism
Translation criticism
1. Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-
2. van Gelder, G. J. H. (1982), Beyond the Line: Classical Arabic Literary Critics on the Coherence an
Unity of the Poem, Brill Publishers, pp. 12, ISBN 90-04-06854-6
3. Murray, Stuart A.P. (2009). The Library: An Illustrated History. Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. p. 132-133.
ISBN 978-1-61608-453-0.
4. Regan, Shaun; Dawson, Books (2013). Reading 1759: Literary Culture in Mid-Eighteenth-Century
Britain and France. Lewisburg [Pa.]: Bucknell University Press. p. 125-130. ISBN 9781611484786.
5. Jones, E. Michael; Degenerate Moderns: Modernity as Rationalized Sexual Misbehaviour; pp. 79-84;
published 1991 by Ignatius Press. ISBN 0-89870-447-2
6. Vladimir Nabokov Lectures on Literature, chap. L'Envoi p. 381
7. D. T. Max (June 19, 2006). "The Injustice Collector" (
he-injustice-collector?printable=true). The New Yorker.
8. Ussher, J. (1767). Clio Or, a Discourse on Taste: Addressed to a Young Lady (
d=gYFKAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA3). Davies. p. 3. Retrieved 2014-10-10.

External links
Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Literary Criticism
Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism Award Winners
Internet Public Library: Literary Criticism Collection of Critical and Biographical Websites
A Bibliography of Literary Theory, Criticism, and Philology (University of Zaragoza)

Retrieved from ""

This page was last edited on 7 July 2017, at 04:08.

Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may
apply. By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Wikipedia is a registered
trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization.