Reconstructing Criticism: Pope's Essay on Criticism and the Logic of Definition

Reconstructing Criticism: Pope's Essay on Criticism and the Logic of Definition

Reconstructing Criticism: Pope's Essay on Criticism and the Logic of Definition

Reconstructing Criticism: Pope's Essay on Criticism and the Logic of Definition

Synopsis

At a time when the edifice of Critical Theory has itself come under the critical and historical spotlight, this study establishes grounds for bringing Pope's 1711 poem, "An Essay on Criticism, into a new and more productive association with the dynamics of the contemporary critical scene. In this theoretical and analytical study Smallwood begins by setting forth a new context of relevance and reception that ultimately leads back to Pope's early eighteenth-century poem, and in the greater part of the book he marks out in depth the specialized theoretical and aesthetic problem of demarcating "criticism" today.

Excerpt

Inquiry, as a kind of seeking, must be guided beforehand by what is
sought. So the meaning of Being must already be available to us in
some way. As we have intimated, we always conduct our activities in an
understanding of Being. Out of this understanding arise both the ex
plicit question of the meaning of Being and the tendency that leads us
towards its conception. We do not know what “Being” means. But even
if we ask, “What is ‘Being’?,” we keep within an understanding of the
“is,” though we are unable to fix conceptionally what that “is” signifies.
We do not even know the horizon in terms of which that meaning is to
be grasped and fixed. But this vague average understanding of Being is
still a Fact.

—Martin Heidegger, Being and Time

Modernity exists in the form of a desire to wipe out whatever came
earlier, in the hope of reaching at last a point that could be called a true
present, a point of origin that marks a new departure. This combined
interplay of deliberate forgetting with an action that is also a new origin
reaches the full power of the idea of modernity.

—Paul de Man, “Literary History and Literary Modernity”

Aesthetics, the history of criticism, and critical THEORY:
outline and aims of this book

this book enters and extends debate about the conceptual relations of literary criticism at the present time; and it tackles the problem of the modernity of criticism in its theoretical relation to that part of the critical past which finds aesthetic and poetical elaboration in the Essay on Criticism of Alexander Pope. To this end, I argue that the concept of criticism—for those concerned to weigh and measure and test the meaning of the word—is best explained by reference to criteria based on an aesthetic or literary-artistic model that stands over and against a model convened from theories of universal textuality, from social, psychological, political, economic, or other . . .

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