Literary Criticism: Definition, history, types and quality

Definition of Literary Criticism

The most common as well as the simplest meaning of Criticism is fault-finding. But, literary criticism is an entirely different type of engagment. Literary Criticism is also very difficult to define Criticism. The authors and critics from antiquity upto the present day express different as Well as contradictory opinions on the nature and functions of criticism. 

The generally accepted common notion regarding criticism is- The act, skill, or profession of making discriminating judgements and evaluations, especially of literary or other artistic works.

Types of Literary Criticism

The art of literary criticism is a living process. It is bound to pass through changes with the ever changing trends in sociological concept. A number of types have been originated since the ancient period; Some of them are still in vogue, some have turned outdated.  George Watson in his The Literary Critics has divided criticism into three main types-

1. Legislative Criticism
2. Theoretical Criticism and
3. Descriptive Criticism

But this very task can be of many types. They are discussed here:

1. Legislative Criticism

This is the earliest type of criticism.  The books of rhetoric are also included in  it. It was practiced by the Greek. During the Renaissance it became popular in England.  It shows no regard for individuality and inspiration and lays stress upon the equipment of style.  Horace, Sir Philip Sidney, George Puttenham (The Art of English Poesie, 1589), Thomas Campion (Observations in the Art of English Poesy, 1602), and Samuel Daniel are among the writers who followed this type.  They believed that the art of poetry could be created following a few set formulae.  This style is obsolete now.

2. Theoretical Criticism

This type of criticism pays attention to the aesthetics of a piece of writing Sir Philip Sidney's Apologie for Poetrie is the second work in this category as “De re poetica” written by Richard Wills is considered as the first one. Coleridge's “Biographia Literaria” falls into this category also. The Victorians, Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde followed this theory. I. A.  Richards revived this literary form in the twentieth century. On the very first page of “Principles of Literary Criticism” he clearly confessed that it was his decision to pursue the concept of aestheties for composing that book. Dr.F.R.Leavis first objected against this theory. To him, literary criticism and philosophy are two distinct and different branches of knowledge. So, a critic who is also a human being can distort the complete appreciation of a work due to the insufficiency in his own appreciative experience of a literary work. Still, theoretical criticism is in vogue even today, as there must be a hidden theory of art at the root of every appreciation.

3. Descriptive Criticism

This type is the youngest one and by far the most widely practiced type of criticism. It is directed to the reader, not to the writer. The steps followed in this type are discussion, analysis, and appreciation. Dryden is considered to be the Father of this type. His “Essay of Dramatic Poesie” is the first example of this type. In it he made self-analysis to explain why he wrote his poems, plays and their prefaces. His only object was to defend his own position. The theory “Art for Art's sake” is dependent on this very theory. The present and popular form of this theory is apprehended in the concept “art as a criticism of life”.

The other types of criticism are-

4. Judicial Criticism
5. Inductive Criticism
6. Evaluative Criticism
7. Historical Criticism
8. Exegetical Criticism
9. Comparative Criticism
10. Biographical Sociological Criticism
11. Formal Criticism
12. Interpretative Criticism
13. Psychological Criticism
14. Marxist Criticism
15. Citigiem Criticism
16. Impressionistic Criticism

Function of Literary Criticism

Literary Criticism is an intricate assignment that can be undertaken legitimately by a truly sensible person. In this sentence two words are of real puzzling connotations which usually lead casual readers to a labyrinth of confusion. The words are-
1. Legitimately and
2. Sensible

Critics, since the period of antiquity, have been expressing dissentions regarding the legitimate function of criticism. At this point, we must mention another fact that “Function of Criticism”, is synonymous with “Function of a Critic” as CRITICISM itself is a non entity that becomes very lively, charming, and didactic in the hands of a true sensible critic. 
The first and foremost task of criticism is to provide the critic himself with lot of pleasure; it is a way to pay tribute to another author. 

Secondly, a criticism is not only fault-finding, but finding out the beads of information which can be used for constructing the gariand that can be helpful for the apprehension of the contemporary social political economic-religious-
 cultural individual aspects. An authentic critical work will also be helpful for having comparative study of the same with the works of the same branch of previous epoches.

A good critic can render his readers affability to the authors who remain unaffable to them. He points out the multifarious interesting turns in a piece of writing. And these turns may remain hidden in various components of that writing. It may be its diction, its imagery, its character sketching, its setting, its allusions, its cricumlocution, and all other major and minor features of a creative writing.

History of Criticism

Literary Criticism must have been in vogue since antiquity when creative writing originated, yet the emergence of criticism as a systematic study of literature happened in the hands of the Greeks in Europe. The Greeks had contributed vast volumes of literary criticism, but only a few of them have been able to sustain the ravages of time. Republic by Plato; Rhetoric, Poetics and Ethics by Aristotle; and On The Sublime by Longinus are remarkable of them. principles and problems.

Plato (c.427-348 BC): Plato is the pioneer of the systematic study of literature in Europe. Though prior to Plato, the theory of poetry was considered as divine inspiration from Homer up to the time of Hesiod, Simonides, Pindar and many other Greek authors. Aristophanes is found first to make a critical comment on the necessity of Poetry. In the Frogs, Aeschylus (one of its characters) is found to say:
Pray, tell me on what particular ground a poet should claim admiration?
This very question should be considered as the beginning of theoretical criticism. Plato's theory of poetry is based upon two theories namely-
(i) The theory of Inspiration and
(ii) The theory of Imitation or Mimesis.

The first theory upholds the traditional view that poetry is the outcome of divine inspiration. In his second theory, Plato states that-
Poets misrepresent reality and justify bad moral guidance to their readers.
In Plato's opinion, the act of Imitation happens for the purpose of this very misrepresentation. At the very inception of our discussion, we must remember, Plato's Ideal Commonwealth [mentioned in The Republic] where every citizen is expected to know and execute properly his or her specified tasks/duties as a Guardian. The citizens cannot also meddle with other men's business.

On the other hand, the Greek term mimesis was employed by Plato to insinuate impersonation; but now the term is used to mean imitation or, representation in a much broader sense. Now, mimesis means- 
The literal copying of REALITY not only in literature but also in all kinds of visual arts.
Plato, in his celebrated Theory of Ideas or Forms, claims that-
Everything that exists in this world is an imperfect copy of an IDEAL object that exists outside the substance/matter as well as Time conception measured by the human beings in this earth. The creations of poets and artists are then nothing but trifle copies of copies of that IDEAL REALITY.
So, Plato wanted to banish the poets from his commonwealth.

Aristotle (394-322 BC): Poetics by Aristotle is the most authoritarian treatise on literary criticism ever written. He answers Plato's charges against POETRY through this book. He borrows the theory of Imitation from Plato but brings changes in it. The world is a stern Reality to him. Aristotle's approach to literary criticism is chiefly dependent upon the question-
How exactly does Poetry work?
He finds the answer that Poetry is an Imitation of Reality and the authentic manner of representation of this Reality in literature assists in the act of Purgation of our excess emotions through the evolvement of Pity and Fear. Horace (65-8 BC) The Roman critic Horace is fully indebted to Plato and Aristotle for his theory of poetry. He in his Ars Poetica (On the Art of Poetry) relates the idea that an aspiring author must imitate the Greek models.

He is too practical and less philosophic in his views. It can be said that from him starts the formal criticism. Theoretical propositions are thoroughly shunned by him. Still, his ideas are more dogmatic. Horace is actually an archconservative in an age of intellectual revolution. But it is a fact that his sensible advice seems practical even today if the necessary allowance can be made in the literary forms. 

During the period of 1500 AD to 1800 AD, he was the most influential of all literary critics. Above all, his ideas on decorum, delightful teaching and imitation of classical models were accepted by the Renaissance literary critics.

Cassius Longinus (C. 1st to 3rd centuries A.D.):  It is assumed that the treatise On the Sublime was written by Longinus. Even we do not know precisely when the book was written. In this book, Longinus is found concerned for defining precisely the characteristic or element that renders greatness to the classics. Longinus has never been able to be as essential as a critic as the other classical critics. But with the appearance of Romanticism, his popularity increased. Wordsworth himself was highly impressed with him.

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586): Sidney's An Apology for Poetry was published posthumously in 1595. The book should not be considered as an original work as most of the basic ideas had been taken from Plato, Aristotle and Horace.

Sidney's opinion upholds the view that poetry does not portray the literal description of reality, but a heightened version of reality. He says that the poet teaches and delights; he delights through teaching. He also advocates that “good style” is essential for a piece of literature having merit.

John Dryden (1631-1700): Dryden established himself as a pragmatic or liberal neo- classical critic. His theory shows the stamps of Aristotelian rules and Horatian doctrine. But he was pragmatic and learned from common sense and experience that his contemporary age would certainly demand some kind of variation from the classical rule. So, he was prepared to change or improve it according to the necessity of his contemporary age. He is called the Father of the English criticism. In Essay of Dramatic Poesie, the definition of a play given by him is-
a just and lively human nature, representing its passions and humour, and the changes of fortune to which it is subject, for the delight and instruction of mankind.
It was apprehended that Beaumont and Fletcher were very popular playwrights though they did not follow the ancient canons of playwriting, and it was needed in England a which had reached a new phase of culture.

So, he was professional enough to accept and discard at the same time from both Aristotle and Horace. In a nutshell, his modern outlook made him understand that the same dramatic form could not please the English audience of the Restoration period which could satisfy the Greeks. none but Dryden who first In this ever changing tradition of critical concept, we meet next-

1. In the Augustan Age Alexander Pope (1688-1744), Joseph Addison (1672-1719) and Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784);
2. In the Romantic Age: William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834);
3. In the Victorian Age Matthew Arnold (1822-1888); and
4. In the Modern criticism: Henry James (1843-1916), and T.S. Eliot (1888-1965).

 Necessary Qualities of a Good Critic

It would be better to start this discussion with two quotations one of E.E. Kellet, and the other of T.S. Eliot:
The perfect critic, then, was never born and never will be born. --E.E.Kellet.
It is fatuous to say that criticism is for the sake of ‘creation’ or creation for the sake of criticism. It is also fatuous to assume that there are ages of criticism and ages of creativeness as if by plunging ourselves into intellectual darkness we were in better hopes of finding spiritual light. The two directions of sensibility are complementary; and as sensibility is rare, unpopular, and desirable, it is to be expected that the critic and the creative artist should frequently be the same person. -The Perfect Critic;---T.S. Eliot

Only a person with exceptional intellectual quality as well as with uncommonly impartial, sympathetic and unprejudiced bent of mind, is befitted for the task of a critic. 

The man who is supposed to execute the job of a critic in an exact manner must possess strong sensibility, refined personal taste, sound commonsense, circumstances and a capacity for unorthodox thinking. sense for the proper understanding of a He must bear sympathetic attitude towards his fellow beings so that he can find himself in the place of the author, and consequently, can acquire the capacity for judging incidents in the author's point of view.

In this manner only, would he be able to juxtapose his own mind by the author's psyche, and get in touch with the feelings of the same. Thus, the author's vision of life is reflected in the critic's thoughts.

A true critic must be a man of extensive studies in different subjects. In the field of literature, he must be equipped with profound comparative knowledge. A critic's knowledgeableness is that basic criterion that helps him to judge the proper perspective of a literary piece.

A perfect critic must keep his mind free from every kind of prejudice and superstition as objectivity and impartiality are essential to arrive at the truth. He must shun the question of personal liking and dislike, and make himself- RATIONAL-LOGICAL-HUMANE, and above all, POETIC.

The slight nuances in the lexicography must be known to the self-reliant critic. And the tiny variance in meaning between two synonyms must be felt by an able critic. Above all, he must love LIFE; and retain his self acquired knowledge regarding human nature.
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