Modern Continental Literary Criticism

Modern Continental Literary Criticism

Modern Continental Literary Criticism

Modern Continental Literary Criticism

Excerpt

The history of modern continental criticism is in large measure the history of three broad critical traditions: the aesthetic, the scientific, and the humanistic. In the past one hundred and fifty years critics have occasionally attempted to combine these traditions, but the most striking fact about them has been their tendency to resist combination. Each has its own sources, its own prophets, and its own subspecies; and each has, from its inception, been opposed to the other two.

The postulates of aesthetic criticism were established by Kant in the Critique of Judgment (1790). Directly or indirectly, all later aesthetic criticism is indebted to his work. Despite variations in terminology and emphasis, such key ideas as the shaping force of the imagination, the uniqueness of the aesthetic category, and the "purposiveness without purpose" of the art object are still invoked by twentieth-century critics. Aesthetic criticism has important things to say about the psychology of the creative process, the nature of the art work, and the function of criticism. However it is committed to the idea that aesthetic knowledge is different in kind from other types of knowledge such as science and ethics. When the critic discusses the work of art in terms of moral effect, conformity to literary rules, or environmental influence, he has ceased to be an aesthetic critic, for he is attributing to the work a purpose beyond itself.

Kant's theories won immediate acceptance in Germany. A whole library of works on aesthetics, varying from brilliant to unintelligible, was published in Germany between 1790 and 1825. Fichte, Schelling, Solger, and Hegel discussed aesthetics from the point of view of the professional philosopher, while Schiller, August and Friedrich Schlegel, Jean-Paul Richter, and others wrote from the standpoint of the practicing artist or literary scholar. In 1817 Coleridge Biographia Literaria was published in England, and aestheticism was launched on its international career.

During the nineteenth century several distinct varieties of aesthetic criticism emerged. The French aesthetes and their . . .

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