Literary Criticism from Plato to the Present: An Introduction

Literary Criticism from Plato to the Present: An Introduction

Literary Criticism from Plato to the Present: An Introduction

Literary Criticism from Plato to the Present: An Introduction

Synopsis

Literary Criticism from Plato to the Present provides a concise and authoritative overview of the development of Western literary criticism and theory from the Classical period to the present day
  • An indispensable and intellectually stimulating introduction to the history of literary criticism and theory
  • Introduces the major movements, figures, and texts of literary criticism
  • Provides historical context and shows the interconnections between various theories
  • An ideal text for all students of literature and criticism

Excerpt

Our English word “criticism” comes from the ancient Greek noun krites, meaning “judge.” But what does it mean to be a “judge” of literature? We might break this down into several basic questions: what is the purpose of literary criticism? How broad is this field of inquiry, and who gets to define it? What are its connections with other disciplines such as philosophy and religion? How does it relate to the realms of morality, of knowledge, and of learning? Does it have any political implications? How does it impinge on our practices of reading and writing? Above all, what significance does it have, or could it possibly have, in our own lives? Why should we even bother to study literary criticism? Is it not enough for us to read the great works of literature, of poetry, fiction, and drama? Why should we trouble ourselves to read what people say about literature? And surely, after all the obscure “theory” of the last 50 years or so, what we need to get back to is the texts themselves. We need to appreciate literature for its beauty and its technical artistry. In short, we need to read literature as literature – without the interference of some “judge” telling us what to look for or how to read.

How can we answer such skepticism? We might begin by recalling that “theory” and critical reflection on literature began at least 2500 years ago, and have been conducted by some of the greatest Western thinkers and writers, ranging from Plato and Aristotle, through Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas, Johnson, Pope, and the great Romantics to the great modern figures such as Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Freud, W. B. Yeats, and Sartre. Until 200 years ago, most great thinkers, critics, and literary artists would not have understood what was meant by reading literature as literature. They knew that literature had integral connections with philosophy, religion, politics, and morality; they knew, in other words, that literature was richly related to all aspects of people’s lives.

If we had no tradition of critical interpretation, if we were left with the “texts” themselves, we would be completely bewildered. We would not . . .

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