(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, theorists.
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
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.
Classical and medieval criticism
Literary criticism is thought to have existed as far back as the classical period.
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
, which are still crucial in literary studies. Plato
's attacks on poetry
as imitative, secondary, and false were formative as well. The Sanskrit Natya Shastra
includes literary criticism on ancient Indian literature
and Sanskrit drama.
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
translation of Aristotle
. 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
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. (August 2010)
In the Enlightenment period (1700s to 1800s), literary criticism became more popular. 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, the swiftness of printing and commercialization of literature, criticism arose too.
Reading was no longer viewed solely as educational or as a sacred source of religion; it was a form of entertainment.
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.
These critical reviews were published in many magazines, newspapers, and journals. The commercialization of literature and its mass production had its downside. The emergent literary market, which was expected to educate the public and keep them away from superstition and prejudice, increasingly diverged from the idealistic control of the Enlightenment theoreticians so that the business of Enlightenment became a business with the Enlightenment.
This development – particularly of emergence of entertainment literature – was addressed through an intensification of criticism.
Many works of Jonathan Swift, for instance, were criticized including his book Gulliver's Travels
, which one critic described as "the detestable story of the Yahoos".
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 Arnold
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 own adulterous affairs to reject classic literature that condemned adultery. Jürgen Habermas
in Erkenntnis und Interesse
 (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 expressions – including 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
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.
Today, approaches based in literary theory
and continental philosophy
largely coexist in university literature departments, while conventional methods, some informed by the New Critics
, also remain active. 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.
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". Terry Eagleton
attributes an unsung stature to literary critics and to criticism in academia. He believes that critics are not so well-known and praised, to his disappointment, and that literary criticism is declining in its value because of the manner the general audience is directing it towards that underappreciated state.
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
The Classical and medieval periods
The Renaissance period
The Enlightenment period
- Thomas Hobbes: Answer to Davenant's preface to Gondibert
- Pierre Corneille: Of the Three Unities of Action, Time, and Place
- John Dryden: An Essay of Dramatic Poesy
- Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux: The Art of Poetry
- John Locke: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
- John Dennis: The Advancement and Reformation of Modern Poetry
- Alexander Pope: An Essay on Criticism
- Joseph Addison: On the Pleasures of the Imagination (Spectator essays)
- Giambattista Vico: The New Science
- Edmund Burke: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful
- David Hume: Of the Standard of Taste
- Samuel Johnson: On Fiction, Rasselas, Preface to Shakespeare
- Edward Young: Conjectures on Original Composition
- Gotthold Ephraim Lessing: Laocoön
- Joshua Reynolds: Discourses on Art
- Richard "Conversation" Sharp Letters & Essays in Prose & Verse
- James Usher :Clio: or a Discourse on Taste (1767)
- Denis Diderot: The Paradox of Acting
- Immanuel Kant: Critique of Judgment
- Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
- William Blake: The Marriage of Heaven or Hell, Letter to Thomas Butts, Annotations to Reynolds' Discourses, A Descriptive Catalogue, A Vision of the Last Judgment, On Homer's Poetry
- Friedrich Schiller: Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man
- Friedrich Schlegel: Critical Fragments, Athenaeum Fragments, On Incomprehensibility
The 19th century
- William Wordsworth: Preface to the Second Edition of Lyrical Ballads
- Anne Louise Germaine de Staël: Literature in its Relation to Social Institutions
- Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling: On the Relation of the Plastic Arts to Nature
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Shakespeare's Judgment Equal to His Genius, On the Principles of Genial Criticism, The Statesman's Manual, Biographia Literaria
- Wilhelm von Humboldt: Collected Works
- John Keats: letters to Benjamin Bailey, George & Thomas Keats, John Taylor, and Richard Woodhouse
- Arthur Schopenhauer: The World as Will and Idea
- Thomas Love Peacock: The Four Ages of Poetry
- Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Defence of Poetry
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Conversations with Eckermann, Maxim No. 279
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: The Philosophy of Fine Art
- Giacomo Leopardi: Zibaldone (notebooks)
- Francesco De Sanctis Critical Essays; History of the Italian Literature
- Thomas Carlyle: Symbols
- John Stuart Mill: What is Poetry?
- Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Poet
- Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve: What Is a Classic?
- James Russell Lowell: A Fable for Critics
- Edgar Allan Poe: The Poetic Principle
- Matthew Arnold: Preface to the 1853 Edition of Poems, The Function of Criticism at the Present Time, The Study of Poetry
- Hippolyte Taine: History of English Literature and Language
- Charles Baudelaire: The Salon of 1859
- Karl Marx: The German Ideology, Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy
- Søren Kierkegaard: Two Ages: A Literary Review, The Concept of Irony
- Friedrich Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, Truth and Falsity in an Ultramoral Sense
- Walter Pater: Studies in the History of the Renaissance
- Émile Zola: The Experimental Novel
- Anatole France: The Adventures of the Soul
- Oscar Wilde: The Decay of Lying
- Stéphane Mallarmé: The Evolution of Literature, The Book: A Spiritual Mystery, Mystery in Literature
- Leo Tolstoy: What is Art?
The 20th century
- Benedetto Croce: Aesthetic
- Antonio Gramsci : Prison Notebooks
- Umberto Eco: The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas; The Open Work
- A. C. Bradley: Poetry for Poetry's Sake
- Sigmund Freud: Creative Writers and Daydreaming
- Ferdinand de Saussure: Course in General Linguistics
- Claude Lévi-Strauss: The Structural Study of Myth
- T. E. Hulme: Romanticism and Classicism; Bergson's Theory of Art
- Walter Benjamin: On Language as Such and On the Language of Man
- Viktor Shklovsky: Art as Technique
- T. S. Eliot: Tradition and the Individual Talent; Hamlet and His Problems
- Irving Babbitt: Romantic Melancholy
- Carl Jung: On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry
- Leon Trotsky: The Formalist School of Poetry and Marxism
- Boris Eikhenbaum: The Theory of the "Formal Method"
- Virginia Woolf: A Room of One's Own
- I. A. Richards: Practical Criticism
- Mikhail Bakhtin: Epic and Novel: Toward a Methodology for the Study of the Novel
- Georges Bataille: The Notion of Expenditure
- John Crowe Ransom: Poetry: A Note in Ontology; Criticism as Pure Speculation
- R. P. Blackmur: A Critic's Job of Work
- Jacques Lacan: The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience; The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason Since Freud
- György Lukács: The Ideal of the Harmonious Man in Bourgeois Aesthetics; Art and Objective Truth
- Paul Valéry: Poetry and Abstract Thought
- Kenneth Burke: Literature as Equipment for Living
- Ernst Cassirer: Art
- W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley: The Intentional Fallacy, The Affective Fallacy
- Cleanth Brooks: The Heresy of Paraphrase; Irony as a Principle of Structure
- Jan Mukařovský: Standard Language and Poetic Language
- Jean-Paul Sartre: Why Write?
- Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex
- Ronald Crane: Toward a More Adequate Criticism of Poetic Structure
- Philip Wheelwright: The Burning Fountain
- Theodor Adorno: Cultural Criticism and Society; Aesthetic Theory
- Roman Jakobson: The Metaphoric and Metonymic Poles
- Northrop Frye: Anatomy of Criticism; The Critical Path
- Gaston Bachelard: The Poetics of Space
- Ernst Gombrich: Art and Illusion
- Martin Heidegger: The Nature of Language; Language in the Poem; Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry
- E. D. Hirsch, Jr.: Objective Interpretation
- Noam Chomsky: Aspects of the Theory of Syntax
- Jacques Derrida: Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences
- Roland Barthes: The Structuralist Activity; The Death of the Author
- Michel Foucault: Truth and Power; What Is an Author?; The Discourse on Language
- Hans Robert Jauss: Literary History as a Challenge to Literary Theory
- Georges Poulet: Phenomenology of Reading
- Raymond Williams: The Country and the City
- Lionel Trilling: The Liberal Imagination;
- Julia Kristeva: From One Identity to Another; Women's Time
- Paul de Man: Semiology and Rhetoric; The Rhetoric of Temporality
- Harold Bloom: The Anxiety of Influence; The Dialectics of Poetic Tradition; Poetry, Revisionism, Repression
- Chinua Achebe: Colonialist Criticism
- Stanley Fish: Normal Circumstances, Literal Language, Direct Speech Acts, the Ordinary, the Everyday, the Obvious, What Goes Without Saying, and Other Special Cases; Is There a Text in This Class?
- Edward Said: The World, the Text, and the Critic; Secular Criticism
- Elaine Showalter: Toward a Feminist Poetics
- Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar: Infection in the Sentence; The Madwoman in the Attic
- Murray Krieger: "A Waking Dream": The Symbolic Alternative to Allegory
- Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
- René Girard: The Sacrificial Crisis
- Hélène Cixous: The Laugh of the Medusa
- Jonathan Culler: Beyond Interpretation
- Geoffrey Hartman: Literary Commentary as Literature
- Wolfgang Iser: The Repertoire
- Hayden White: The Historical Text as Literary Artifact
- Hans-Georg Gadamer: Truth and Method
- Paul Ricoeur: The Metaphorical Process as Cognition, Imagination, and Feeling
- Peter Szondi: On Textual Understanding
- M. H. Abrams: How to Do Things with Texts
- J. Hillis Miller: The Critic as Host
- Clifford Geertz: Blurred Genres: The Refiguration of Social Thought
- Filippo Tommaso Marinetti: The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism
- Tristan Tzara: Unpretentious Proclamation
- André Breton: The Surrealist Manifesto; The Declaration of January 27, 1925
- Mina Loy: Feminist Manifesto
- Yokomitsu Riichi: Sensation and New Sensation
- Oswald de Andrade: Cannibalist Manifesto
- André Breton, Leon Trotsky and Diego Rivera: Manifesto: Towards a Free Revolutionary Art
- Hu Shih: Some Modest Proposals for the Reform of Literature
- Octavio Paz: The Bow and the Lire
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