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Literary criticism


Literary criticism is the study, discussion, evaluation, and interpretation of literature . Modern literary criticism is often informed by literary theory , which is the philosophical discussion of its methods and goals. Though the two activitiesare closely related, literary critics are not always, and have not always been,theorists.

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


History of literary criticism

Classical and medieval criticism

Literary criticism has probably existed for as long as literature. Aristotle wrote the Poetics , a typology and description of literary forms with manyspecific criticisms of contemporary works, in the 4th century BC .Poetics developed for the first time the concepts of mimesis and catharsis , which are still crucial in literary study. Plato 's attacks on poetry as imitative, secondary, and false were formativeas well.

Later classical and medieval criticism often focused on religious texts, and theseveral long religious traditions of hermeneutics and textual exegesis have had a profound influence on the study of secular texts.

Renaissance criticism

The literary criticism of the Renaissance developed classical ideas ofunity of form and content into a literary neoclassicism which proclaimedliterature to be central to culture and entrusted the poet or author with thepreservation of a long literary tradition.

(Much more could be said about pre-19th-century literary interpretation.)

19th-century criticism

The British Romantic movement of the early nineteenth century brought new aesthetic ideas tothe study of literature, including the idea that the object of literature did not always have to be beautiful, noble, or perfect,but that literature itself could elevate a common subject to the level of the sublime . German Romanticism , whichfollowed closely after the late development of German classicism , emphasized anaesthetic of fragmentation which can seem startlingly modern to a reader of English literature, and valued Witz -that is, "wit" or "humor" of a certain sort - more highly than the apparently serious Anglophone Romanticism.

The late nineteenth century brought several authors betterknown for their critical writings than for their own literary work, such as Matthew Arnold .

The New Criticism

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


In the British and American literary establishment the New Criticism was more or less dominant until the late 1960s . Around that time Anglo-Americanuniversity 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 influencedby theoretical work, have been comfortable simply interpreting literature rather than writing explicitly about methodology andphilosophical presumptions.

The current state of literary criticism

Today interest in literary theory and Continental philosophy coexists in university literaturedepartments with a more conservative literary criticism of which the New Critics would probably have approved. Acrimoniousdisagreements over the goals and methods of literary criticism, which characterized both sides taken by critics during the "rise"of theory, have declined (though they still happen), and many critics feel that they now have a great plurality of methods andapproaches 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 andwomen's literatures, while some critics influenced by culturalstudies read popular texts like comic books or pulp/genre fiction. Many literary critics also work in film criticism or mediastudies . Some write intellectual history ; others bringthe results and methods of social history to bear on readingliterature.

See also

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