Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader

Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader

Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader

Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader


'in our era, criticism is not merely a library of secondary aids to the understanding and appreciation of literary texts, but also a rapidly expanding body of knowledge in its own right' David Lodge This new edition of David Lodge's Modern Criticism and Theoryis fully revised and expanded to take account of the developments in theoretical contemporary literary criticism since the publication of the first edition in 1988. Building on the strengths of the first edition, this volume is designed to introduce the reader to the guiding concepts of present literary and cultural debate by presenting substantial extracts from the most seminal thinkers. As with the original edition there is a selection of the most important and representative work from the major schools in contemporary criticism. Concise introductions with updated suggestions for further reading give a context for each essay and the editors have provided footnotes that help explain the most difficult references. Both students and general readers are encouraged to identify for themselves links between essays, as the selection is ordered both historically and thematically.


Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) has provided latter twentieth-century cultural criticism with many of its most heterodox and revolutionary ideas. He consistently regarded the task of reading or seeing as no purely aesthetic act, as it is always situated and part of the process by which the artefact is actually created and sustained. Works of art not only invite critique, but rather are critical acts themselves. The alternative was mere commentary, eventually a form of re-telling the tale or restaging the drama or reciting the poem. Commentary also stemmed from a lack of real engagement with the artefact, either from an excessive politeness before innate 'genius' or, just as probable, the inevitable distantiation from the original's power prompted by its reproducibility and our over-familiarity with what we think it is.

This is most clearly expressed in two similar in spirit to 'The Storyteller': 'Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers', the introduction to his own translation of Baudelaire Tableaux parisiens (1923) (trans. as 'The King of the Translator' in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans.Harry Zohn [1968] and 'Die Kunstwerk im Zeitalter des senier technischen Reproduzierbarkeit' (1935) (trans. as 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', also in Illuminations). For Benjamin, the translator expresses a relation between one language and another rather than an exact correspondence. In the gap between the two lay a critique which refuses the role of 'innocent' transcription just as a literal identify between individual words cannot hope to illustrate the overall power of the original. In critique lies the deepest identify. In absolute fidelity lies a bourgeois ritual that ultimately refuses any true equivalence whatsoever. This surrender of the once vital and immanent is the inevitable legacy of instant access to the art object and, when it is mass (re)produced, its 'aura' is lost and the link with its observer diluted. 'Its presence in time and space, it unique existence at the place where it happens to be' is less iconic than an intellectual detection of vestigial traces (Illuminations, p. 222). This could, on the other hand, be emancipatory as 'mechanical reproduction' in effect helps us also escape the original prescriptive and ritualistic context.

One year after this consideration of reproducibility, in 1936, Benjamin called for a return to the 'living immediacy' of a tribal culture, one that fosters the sensuous appreciation of the mythic and allegorical. The 'chaste compactness' of a story is reproducible as it eschews 'psychological analysis' and thus the individualism of modern culture. It was no

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