Criticism: The Foundations of Modern Literary Judgment

Criticism: The Foundations of Modern Literary Judgment

Criticism: The Foundations of Modern Literary Judgment

Criticism: The Foundations of Modern Literary Judgment

Excerpt

We should like to call attention to the richness of literary criticism as it exists today, to its impressive learning, its great wit, its range of insights. Thus the primary purpose of this collection of critical essays is simply to make available to the general reader texts often referred to in literary discussion yet difficult to obtain. So many good volumes of the past decades are out of print and so many journals of intelligence endure but briefly, that their ideas, scattered in hundreds of scrapbooks and libraries, need a representative gathering place.

Literary criticism of the past half-century has been devoted with a singular fervor to the re-examination of principles and texts, and this collection attempts to represent the variety of principles criticism has examined and affirmed, and suggest the variety of literary works it has analyzed. There are certain strong and recurring interests: in close analysis as principle, in vividness and complexity as values, in seventeenth century poems and plays and nineteenth century novels as texts. There are at the same time other, and sometimes antagonistic, preoccupations with personal and institutional expressiveness or with social responsibility, which may involve the same or other works and standards. In these essays, both the multiplicity and the constancy of approach should be discernible.

We have hoped in other ways, too, to make the range of this collection as great as possible: in the genres (poetry, fiction, drama, and criticism itself) which the authors discuss; in tone and manner and method--formal and informal, austere and rhapsodic, academic and bohemian, rationalistic and impressionistic, subjective and objective; in the possible variety of positions within any of the three large categories under which we have ordered these selections; and in the relative purity and impurity of those positions.

These categories represent the second purpose of this collection: to arrange the materials in such a way as to suggest that, highly diverse as they are, the major preoccupations, the basic assumptions of literary criticism are few and not necessarily far apart. The three categories present questions whose solutions are never in the nature of things quite right or finished, yet they seem to be the questions which critics perennially ask of literature, and by means of which they approach it and come to understand it.

Critics ask where art comes from, how it becomes what it is, and what it does; their . . .

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