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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, theorists.
Whether or not literary criticism should be considered a separate field of inquiry from literary theory is a matter of some controversy. For example, the Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticismdraws 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 Dublin Review of Books , The Nation , Bookforum , and The New Yorker .
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 and catharsis, 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.
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.
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.
The seventeenth-century witnessed the first full-fledged crisis in modernity of the core critical-aesthetic principles inherited from classical antiquity, such as proportion, harmony, unity, decorum, that had long governed, guaranteed, and stabilized Western thinking about artworks.Although Classicism was very far from spent as a cultural force, it was to be gradually challenged by a rival movement, namely Baroque, that favoured the transgressive and the extreme, without laying claim to the unity, harmony, or decorum that supposedly distinguished both nature and its greatest imitator, namely ancient art. The key concepts of the Baroque aesthetic, such as “conceit” (concetto), “wit” (acutezza, ingegno), and “wonder” (meraviglia), were not fully developed in literary theory until the publication of Emanuele Tesauro's Il Cannocchiale aristotelico (The Aristotelian Telescope) in 1654. This seminal treatise - inspired by Giambattista Marino's epic Adone and the work of the Spanish Jesuit philosopher Baltasar Gracián - developed a theory of metaphor as a universal language of images and as a supreme intellectual act, at once an artifice and an epistemologically privileged mode of access to truth.
In the Enlightenment period (1700s to 1800s), literary criticism became more popular. During this time 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".
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.
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. –including the interpretation of texts which themselves interpret other texts.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
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.
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.
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.[ citation needed ]
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 nontraditional texts and women's literature, as elaborated on by certain academic journals such as Contemporary Women's Writing, [ citation needed ]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. And postcritique has sought to develop new ways of reading and responding to literary texts that go beyond the interpretive methods of critique. 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 literature.
Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic is one of the three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the techniques writers or speakers utilize to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. Aristotle defines rhetoric as "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion" and since mastery of the art was necessary for victory in a case at law, for passage of proposals in the assembly, or for fame as a speaker in civic ceremonies, he calls it "a combination of the science of logic and of the ethical branch of politics". Rhetoric typically provides heuristics for understanding, discovering, and developing arguments for particular situations, such as Aristotle's three persuasive audience appeals: logos, pathos, and ethos. The five canons of rhetoric or phases of developing a persuasive speech were first codified in classical Rome: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.
Literary theory is the systematic study of the nature of literature and of the methods for literary analysis. Since the 19th century, literary scholarship includes literary theory and considerations of intellectual history, moral philosophy, social prophecy, and interdisciplinary themes relevant to how people interpret meaning. In the humanities in modern academia, the latter style of literary scholarship is an offshoot of post-structuralism. Consequently, the word theory became an umbrella term for scholarly approaches to reading texts, some of which are informed by strands of semiotics, cultural studies, philosophy of language, and continental philosophy.
Herman Northrop Frye was a Canadian literary critic and literary theorist, considered one of the most influential of the 20th century.
Mimesis is a term used in literary criticism and philosophy that carries a wide range of meanings, including imitatio, imitation, nonsensuous similarity, receptivity, representation, mimicry, the act of expression, the act of resembling, and the presentation of the self.
Fredric Jameson is an American literary critic, philosopher and Marxist political theorist. He is best known for his analysis of contemporary cultural trends, particularly his analysis of postmodernity and capitalism. Jameson's best-known books include Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) and The Political Unconscious (1981).
Aristotle's Poetics is the earliest surviving work of Greek dramatic theory and first extant philosophical treatise to focus on literary theory. In this text Aristotle offers an account of ποιητική, which refers to poetry and more literally "the poetic art," deriving from the term for "poet; author; maker," ποιητής. Aristotle divides the art of poetry into verse drama, lyric poetry, and epic. The genres all share the function of mimesis, or imitation of life, but differ in three ways that Aristotle describes:
Russian formalism was a school of literary criticism in Russia from the 1910s to the 1930s. It includes the work of a number of highly influential Russian and Soviet scholars such as Viktor Shklovsky, Yuri Tynianov, Vladimir Propp, Boris Eichenbaum, Roman Jakobson, Boris Tomashevsky, Grigory Gukovsky who revolutionised literary criticism between 1914 and the 1930s by establishing the specificity and autonomy of poetic language and literature. Russian formalism exerted a major influence on thinkers like Mikhail Bakhtin and Juri Lotman, and on structuralism as a whole. The movement's members had a relevant influence on modern literary criticism, as it developed in the structuralist and post-structuralist periods. Under Stalin it became a pejorative term for elitist art.
New Criticism was a formalist movement in literary theory that dominated American literary criticism in the middle decades of the 20th century. It emphasized close reading, particularly of poetry, to discover how a work of literature functioned as a self-contained, self-referential aesthetic object. The movement derived its name from John Crowe Ransom's 1941 book The New Criticism.
Ivor Armstrong Richards CH, known as I. A. Richards, was an English educator, literary critic, poet, and rhetorician. His work contributed to the foundations of the New Criticism, a formalist movement in literary theory which emphasized the close reading of a literary text, especially poetry, in an effort to discover how a work of literature functions as a self-contained and self-referential æsthetic object.
William Kurtz Wimsatt Jr. was an American professor of English, literary theorist, and critic. Wimsatt is often associated with the concept of the intentional fallacy, which he developed with Monroe Beardsley in order to discuss the importance of an author's intentions for the creation of a work of art.
Cleanth Brooks was an American literary critic and professor. He is best known for his contributions to New Criticism in the mid-20th century and for revolutionizing the teaching of poetry in American higher education. His best-known works, The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry (1947) and Modern Poetry and the Tradition (1939), argue for the centrality of ambiguity and paradox as a way of understanding poetry. With his writing, Brooks helped to formulate formalist criticism, emphasizing "the interior life of a poem" and codifying the principles of close reading.
The Chicago School of literary criticism was a form of criticism of English literature begun at the University of Chicago in the 1930s, which lasted until the 1950s. It was also called Neo-Aristotelianism, due to its strong emphasis on Aristotle's concepts of plot, character and genre. It was partly a reaction to New Criticism, a then highly popular form of literary criticism, which the Chicago critics accused of being too subjective and placing too much importance on irony and figurative language. They aimed instead for total objectivity and a strong classical basis of evidence for criticism. The New Critics regarded the language and poetic diction as most important, but the Chicago School considered such things merely the building material of poetry. Like Aristotle, they valued the structure or form of a literary work as a whole, rather than the complexities of the language. Despite this, the Chicago School is considered by some to be a part of the New Criticism movement.
Murray Krieger was an American literary critic and theorist. He was a professor at the University of Minnesota, the University of Iowa from 1963, and then the University of California, Irvine. In 1999, the University of California, Irvine dedicated a building, Murray Krieger Hall, to Krieger in recognition of his contributions to the school.
Poetics is the theory of structure, form, and discourse within literature, and, in particular, within poetry.
"The Frontiers of Criticism" is a lecture given by T. S. Eliot at the University of Minnesota in 1956. It was reprinted in On Poetry and Poets, a collection of Eliot's critical essays, in 1957. The essay is an attempt by Eliot to define the boundaries of literary criticism: to say what does, and what does not, constitute truly literary criticism, as opposed to, for example, a study in history based upon a work of literature. The essay is significant because it represents Eliot's response to the New Critical perspective which had taken the academic study of literature by storm during Eliot's lifetime. It also presents an analysis of some of its author's own poetic works, an unusual characteristic for modern criticism—it has become far more usual today for poets and critics to be in separate camps, rather than united in one individual. Perhaps even more importantly, it demonstrates the progress and change in Eliot's own critical thought over the years between 1919 and 1956.
Gerald Frank Else was a distinguished American classicist. He was professor of Greek and Latin at University of Michigan and University of Iowa. Else is substantially credited with the refinement of Aristotelian scholarship in aesthetics in the 20th century to expand the reading of catharsis alone to include the aesthetic triad of mimesis, hamartia, and catharsis as all essentially linked to each other.
An Apology for Poetry is a work of literary criticism by Elizabethan poet Philip Sidney. It was written in approximately 1580 and first published in 1595, after his death.
In Defense of Reason is a three-volume work of literary criticisms by the American poet and literary critic Yvor Winters. First published in 1947, the book is known for its meticulous study of metrical verse and for its examples of Winters' system of ethical criticism.
Criticism in the Wilderness: The Study of Literature Today is a 1980 book by literary critic Geoffrey Hartman. In the book, Hartman argues for literary criticism to be taken as seriously as a form of creative literature in its own right, and he discusses the difficulties that literature professors face in the contemporary American university.
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