Literary Criticism: A Study in details

“Abuse is often of service. There is nothing so dangerous to an author as silence.”
Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784)

Introduction: Criticism, specifically Literary Criticism, is perhaps one of the most hotly debated and contentious issue of the 20th century, and it would be specially important for student of literature to take a view on the role and nature of criticism.In general it is a discussion of literature, including description, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation of literary works. T.S. Eliot in his essay The Function of Criticism compares critics to a “Sunday park of contending and contentious who have not been arrived at the articulation of their differences. “Perhaps the same may be said about the diversity of opinion about what criticism itself is. Not only do some people consider it to be a futile “Towers of Babel”, but also questions the very existence of criticism. For a layman criticism means judgments and this sense commonly colours our use of it even when it is most broadly employed. The critic is therefore, regarded as an expert who brings his special faculty to examine the merits and deflects of a work and to pronounce a verdict upon it. As criticism is occupied with the evolution of the creative works, the critics of criticism would only be too glad to call it a parasitic literature. Yes, criticism is nothing more than books about books. There are also criticism commentary upon the theory of criticism itself and thus implies books about books. So, if the first was parasitic, is not the second saprophytic. But this opinion of criticism as merely a false siren which is of no particular benefits to the regarding publics, is not only extreme but positively fallacious. Criticism is in the world of T.S. Eliot the common pursuit of true judgment. Mathew Arnold in his well known essay, Function of Criticism at the Present Time, asserts that criticism is an eminently useful activity for its function is to “know the best that is known and thought in the world and in his turn making his known to create a current true and fresh idea”. Thus criticism seeks to guide the common readers to enhance the judgment and to stimulate appreciation literary works. As Bacon has said, “some books may be read to deputy”, though he qualified his statements by saying that “the distilled books are like conformational judgment criticism can never invalidated the function criticism serves.

Remote Antiquity: Criticism can be said to have its beginnings in remote antiquity. The Western tradition’s earliest extended instance of literary criticism occurs Greek philosopher Plato’s dialogue The Republic (about 380 bc), in Greek philosopher Aristotle’s Poetics (about 330 bc) , in Roman poet Horace’s  practical advice in Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry, about 20 bc), or in a 1st-century ad treatise, On the Sublime, long attributed to a 3rd-century philosopher named Longinus.

In fact criticism is almost contemporaneous with the first creative activity, and the first poem must also have been a critic of his own creation. But of course the ancient critic who immediately comes to mind is Plato, and even more that him is Aristotle. Aristotle in his Poetics almost taxonomically classified the branches of poetry and drama and lays down the general rules that drama must have an exposition, a middle with a climax and a satisfying end, that tragedy must deal with a sublime person and comedy with a lowly one, that the play must be passes the unity of action, and that tragedy must serve that function of Catharsis. Many of the terms that he uses have become critical jargons and used also invariably to judge a particular drama. The terms like harmantia, Peripetia, anagnorisis, and hurbris are terms that are both a help in the judgment of literature and also a hindrance the sense that they have frequently jackets from whose imitation lesser critics have scarcely been able to free themselves. Jet Humphrey House says the Poetics serves the great function. Even if only as a “questionnaire”. Another renowned critic was Longinus, a Roman who in his book On the Sublime gave a view which was in many ways different from the approach of Aristotle for it emblessed the spontaneity and inspiration that lies behind the work of art. It is again he who pointed out that the value art can be measure from the work ability to imprint itself on our mind. 
Medieval Europe And Renaissance: In medieval Europe, Italian writers Dante Alighieri and Giovanni Boccaccio and Averroës are renowned critics. There have numerous critics since then but the first time English critics was Sir Philip Sidney who in the Apology for Poetry laid stress on the romantic exuberance of the Elizabethan age.He also  defended the poetic imagination against attacks from English Puritans in his Defence of Poesie . Unlike historians or philosophers, argued Sidney, a poet affirms nothing and therefore never lies, because a poet’s works are “not affirmatively but allegorically and figuratively written.”  According to Sidney, philosophers outshine poets when it comes to abstract teaching, but the power to move (or, in today’s language, to motivate) makes the poet ultimately superior because, for teaching to be effective, we need first “to be moved with desire to know” and then “to be moved to do that which we know.”There have a host of other critics like Ben Jonson, Dryden, Hazlitt, Coleridge, Dr. Jonson, Arnold and many more in the 20th century.
 Evolution of criticism:The traditional criticism of most of these critics is based on the one hand and comparative on the other. The aim of this method is to account for work from the genius of its author and from the turn this genius takes from the circumstances amidst which it was developed. For example in the study of Paradise Lost the first task will be to eliminate as far as possible a personal bias arriving, from individual preferences and to account for the poem by exhaustive analysis for Millions genius and environment of the man himself. To a great extent this criticism undid the former judicial criticism which has long crusade individual task by the dead writer of authority of a priory nation. To see the Latin or  Greek master as the as the permanent standard of excellence was done away with and recognized that criticism ought to change with Time for the formulation of the formal roles did not have the knowledge of the works produced subsequent to them.
Mathew Arnold introduced almost a new concept when declared that poetry must abide by and be in conformity with the supreme piece of literature that have been produced till now. One must have always in ones mind lines and expressions of the great masters and to apply them as a touchstone to other poetry. In his essay The Study of Poetry, he begins with what he calls the simple but perfect single line.
  The Modern Era:  Until the end of the First World War this critical tradition of biographical, historical, didactic and impressionistic criticism was dominant, but this proved of dolorous importance to a world that was wholly changed after the Great War. This led to the new critical jargon of ‘new criticism’ which began with a ‘New Poetics ‘ by theorist such as Pound, Eliot, Richards and Deanis. The turn their back on the former initiative principle and also the principle of didacticism in trying to see the aesthetic or poetic object as it really is. To achieve this end the critic required a capacity to completely distance him from all predecided notions about poetry in order to allow the text or the discourse to speak to him without the intervention of the critics’ prejudices. Thus for them a piece of literature had an biological and other contexts which are often mistaken for literature criticism. The entire process can be summed up as explication de text. Close reading analysis and interpretation were to be the methods followed. The greatest influences in “New Criticism” were books like Practical Criticism, Understanding Poetry, and The Verbal Icon etc.
                The Second World War produced an even greater crisis in Western Culture and this again seems to have necessitated a re – valuation of literature values. In this period evolve four types of criticism which are generally known as “Existential”, “Phenomenological”, “Myth” and finally “structuralist” criticism with its more recent development, the post – structural mode. The existential criticism can be traced back to existentialism as a philosopher movement which had its origin. Their vision was of an absurd universe and they necessarily looked at life or reacted to life with nausea despair and dread. Sartre’s Being and Nothingness presents all its concept. Phenomenological can also be traced back to Kursert’s Phenomenological method, the search for the actual behind the appearance to get to the thing themselves as they are presented to our consciousness. Next come like “Myth” theory of Northrop Frye who believed that literature is a kind of Myth making. In his The Anatomy of Criticism, he divided all literature into four different modes, the four different seasons baring his concept on the ancient myth of sacrifice and regeneration. But by for the most formidable challenge to traditional criticism was launched by “structural criticism’. Structural poetics is the outcome of structural linguistics which had studied language to discover in it a system of signs. They believe that there is a different between the surface structure and the deep structure between the intent of the author and his achievement. ‘Post structuralism’ is only one step away for it says that a critic must recompose in his mind the piece of creative writing and then activity  reconstruct it. Much of such criticism appears almost paradoxical and it would require great effort and abstract thinking to get to the heart of such criticism.
The Conclusion: A vital aspect of criticism is the manner in which a critic treats or reveals a piece of literature. It must be noted that if out of a mistake notion of his power, he should exercise his function without knowledge and without a sense of responsibility, he must be judged as being guilty of cultural and artistic sabotage. One frequently comes across types of critics who may be best described as the universal Momus or fault finder like sadist they thrill at the thought of taking to piece an author or his work. A critic must be specially careful with youth writers who can be compared for what Charles Morgan calls “a man exhibiting under compulsion as it were, his fresh burning wounds,” the critic if he must judge new poetry must bring understanding and love into the operation. Of course the opposite of this type of criticism is that of the universal enthusiast who is ready to praise almost everything under the sky. Such unalloyed praise is again faulty criticism and scenes no purpose whatever. The ideal literature critic will be neither a mere fault finder, nor a mere eulogizer. He will be as widely read as a Saint bury, but he will carry his learning lightly. He will not be learned, but also wise, and he will ne an upright at the same time. He will besides he somewhat a philosopher with his own point of view, though he will avoid being a mere theorist. Then and only then can he be termed an ideal critic.

Ardhendu De

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