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Crítica Anglosajona. 2007-2008. Prof. J. A. Álvarez Amorós. http://www.ua.es/personal/jalvarez. Lesson 1: Literature, Literary Criticism, and Philology: Some Key Notions. Philology and Filología : the same word but quite different meanings in English and Spanish

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CríticaAnglosajona

2007-2008

Prof. J. A. Álvarez Amorós


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http://www.ua.es/personal/jalvarez


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Lesson 1: Literature, Literary Criticism, and Philology: Some Key Notions

  • Philology and Filología: the same word but quite different meanings in English and Spanish

  • In English, it denotes the diachronic study of language, especially the historical stages of the language like Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English, etc. “Philology” is more or less the same as “historical linguistics.”

  • In Spanish, the meaning of this term is considerably wider. ‘Filología’ means the study of a culture, both from the linguistic and literary points of view, by means of the analysis and interpretation of its texts, whether oral or written. As can be seen, the Spanish meaning encompasses the English one.


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Lesson 1: Literature, Literary Criticism, and Philology: Some Key Notions


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Lesson 1: Literature, Literary Criticism, and Philology: Some Key Notions

  • Two sets of relationships can be established as a result of the division made in the general body of Philology in the Spanish sense of the term:

  • One between literary history, on the one hand, and literary theory and criticism, on the other. Literary studies were established as a heavily historical and scholarly discipline. For this reason, the development of literary studies throughout the 20th century can be seen as a sustained effort on the part of literary criticism to achieve an independent status from literary history, as well as a distinctive set of objects and methods (see Wellek and Warren, Theory of Literature, and R. S. Crane, “History versus Criticism in the Study of Literature”).

  • Another between literature, on the one hand, and literary theory and criticism, on the other. Literature is the primary object of study of all literary studies; this study is carried out by means of the instruments provided by literary theory and criticism; but if we wish to study how these instruments developed over the centuries, literary theory and criticism become sencondary objects of study or metaobjects.


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Lesson 1: Literature, Literary Criticism, and Philology: Some Key Notions

  • Literary theory and criticism enjoy thus a dual status within the framework just described:

  • They can be considered instruments when they are used to gain new insights into the literary work of art.

  • They can also be objects of study in themselves when we focus on their history, their relationships with other disciplines, etc.

    In short, they constitute an object of study when we teach the students how literary texts have been studied and interpreted over the centuries, but they become an instrument when we teach the student how he himself can study and interpret them.


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Lesson 1: Literature, Literary Criticism, and Philology: Some Key Notions

Crítica Anglosajona

Critical Writings

Literary works


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Lesson 1: Literature, Literary Criticism, and Philology: Some Key Notions

  • The meaning of the term literature has changed dramatically over the centuries in such a way that our contemporary idea of it dates back to the 19th century only. It has suffered what one could call conceptual narrowing, a gradual process of specialisation that has led it to denote a progressively more limited area of meaning.

    • One could point out three broad stages in this process of evolution:

      • From classical times, literature meant anything in print, whatever is written or printed, written or printed matter.

      • Later, the meaning of literature became narrower: it came to denote writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest.

      • From the 19th century onwards, the term literature acquires its modern sense. Two new conditions: (a) imagination and fictionality (b) aesthetic worth.


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Lesson 1: Literature, Literary Criticism, and Philology: Some Key Notions

(B) Literature = writings with excellence of formand expressing fundamental ideas

(A) Literature = anything in print

(C) Literature =writings based on imagination and fictionality, and endowed with aesthetic worth


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Lesson 1: Literature, Literary Criticism, and Philology: Some Key Notions

  • This very narrow idea of literature is predominant nowadays and, as always, there are positions for and against it:

  • Wellek believes that this narrowing down of the concept of literature was highly beneficial, because it paved the way for the establishment of a literary science with clear limits and methods, a move which would have been impossible if the identification of literature with culture or civilization had continued. (That is to say, if the literary text had continued to be identified with any distinguished or intellectually outstanding text.)

  • Hirsch, on the contrary, deplores the inclusion of literature in the realm of art mainly on educational grounds (see his article “What Isn’t Literature?”). Many works which were deemed literary in the 19th century are no longer studied (mainly essays). In his view, this entails an unwanted impoverishment of general culture.


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

  • However, the empirical existence of a phenomenon called ‘literature,’ with clear limits and descriptible features, has been in doubt for some decades now, and, as could be expected, there are two opposed views on this matter:

  • First, we have those who believe that the phenomenon called literatureexists objectively, it can be described and defined, being literariness the objective quality shared by all literary texts, whatever this quality might be found to be. The Russian formalists, for instance, spoke of a differentia specifica that discriminates the literary language from the non-literary one, and this difference could be described and studied following methods generally claimed to be ‘scientific.’ This position will be labelled the specific view of literature. As a set reading illustrating this view, I propose Hirsch’s essay “What Isn’t Literature?,” though, from widely diverging angles, it is quite widespread among formalist circles (see for instance Jakobson’s celebrated “Linguistics and Poetics”).


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

  • Second, we have those who disagree with the common-sense belief in the existence of literature as a special and objectively definable use/variety of language. They generally believe that the effort to keep literature separated from other linguistic practices is but an attempt to perpetuate it as a specialised, arcane, forbidding field, inaccessible to ideological analysis and so the preserve of a social elite. They propose to use the same tools for the analysis of literature as for the analysis of, say, the daily press and struggle to deconstruct conventions and stereotypes generated around the idea of literature. This position will be called the non-specific view of literature, because its supporters do not believe in the specific, objective existence of the literary phenomenon. The set reading advocating this position is Roger Fowler’s encyclopaedia article “Literature.”


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

  • The specific conception of literature is organized by means of two oppositions which progressively cover a narrower field:

  • The fundamental opposition is that between literature and non-literature; as can be seen, it is essential if literature has to be differentiated from other linguistic uses.

  • Another opposition occurs between the stereotypical notions of good literature and bad literature or subliterature and the criteria used to define it are intensely evaluative.

    Confusion between these two oppositions should be avoided: for a piece of writing to be literature is different from being good literature.


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

The opposition between literature and non-literature —which is basic to any discussion of the problem of literary specificity— can be examined from four angles each of them highlighting a different function of the literary phenomenon and giving rise to a distinct theory to account for its existence.These four angles are the mimetic, the pragmatic, the expressive, and the objective (M. H. Abrams,The Mirror and the Lamp).Each of these four approaches focuses on one component of the phenomenon called literary work —respectively, the represented world, the reader, the author, and the literary work itself— but throughout history it can be easily seen that there are periods emphasising the study of one of these components to the detriment of the others and thus they can be taken as points of reference to establish the history of Western literary theory.


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

AuthorLiteraryReader Work

Represented World


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

  • The mimetic function of literature is the capacity it has to represent a real or invented world, whether verisimilar or non-verisimilar

  • When the pragmatic function predominates, there emerges a notion of literature which seems explicitly framed to condition the response of readers and serve as a convenient vehicle of ideologies.

  • The expressive function takes over at the beginning of the 19th century with the advent of Romanticism. Literature is no longer viewed as a reflection of the surrounding world, but rather as “a spontaneousoverflowof powerfulfeelings” as William Wordsworth defined it in the 1800 preface to the Lyrical Ballads.

    Poetry is no longer imitation of an external reality but of an internal one made up of feelings, emotions, memories, etc. The external world still may feature in the poem, but rather as the stimulus or pretext for representing the poet’s inner life.

    The poet as a mirror vs. the poet as a lamp.


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

  • The objective function of literature gained ground in the 20th century owing mainly to the formalist schools. Its basic tenet is that the literary work is an autotelic whole, whose purpose is not to imitate a reality, influence the reader, or express the author's feelings, but rather parade itself in its internal complexity as a verbal artifact.

    The objective approach regards the work of art in isolation from its author, reader or represented world, analyses it as a self-sufficient entity constituted by its parts in their internal relations, and sets out to judge it solely by criteria intrinsic to its own mode of being.

Literaywork


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

A transitional model of literature formulated within the specific conception of this phenomenon. It discriminate literary texts from non-literary texts considering the presence and intensity of a set of features. According to this model, there is no feature whose presence or absence, in itself, will absolutely give or deny literariness to a particular work.


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

  • Literature is thus a linguistic and textual phenomenon

    • Literature is not a transparent vehicle and so that the only thing the critic can do is investigate the represented world

    • Literature is textual, and this has serious methodological consequences

  • Apart from being linguistic and textual, one must say that literature is a privileged phenomenon: its capacity to call attention towards itself, to capture the attention of the ordinary reader as well as the study and the analysis of the critic or specialised reader.

  • This privilege is not arbitrary. There are many reasons justifying it, which can be classified three branches of semiotics in order to systematise them. These branches are semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics. (See Charles W. Morris, "Foundations of the Theory of Signs.") Curiously enough, they are almost equivalent to the four different approaches or views of literature as proposed by Abrams above. The correspondences are as follows:


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

These three branches of semiotics should not be confused with Abrams’s approach studied before, though there are many similarities:

  • Semantics (the relationships established by signs with their referents) Abrams’s mimetic approach.

  • Syntactics (the relationships established by signs with othersigns) Abrams’s objective approach.

  • Pragmatics (the relationships established by signs with their users —speakers and listeners, authors and readers— and with their context of use) Abram’s pragmatic function and also closely related with expressive function.


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

The semantic features distinguishing literature from non-literary utterances reside in the very special nature of the literary referent, which does not pre-exist the literary work itself but rather is created in the process of composition. Therefore, the universe represented by a literary work cannot be empirically verified with reference to “reality” and has to be accepted “as it is,” being fictionality one of its most distinctive features. Even historical novels or literary texts based on “real” events have a large fictional component. If this were absolutely eliminated, literature would give way to chronicle and the aesthetic intention would be replaced by the informative intention.

Thus reading a literary work demands from the reader a complex and dual attitude: he must consider any piece of information as simultaneously true and false: true in the fictional world created in the process of composition; false, or at least irrelevant, in the “real” world.


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

The syntactic features lie in the peculiar internal organization of the literary work, which can be seen at all levels, whether semantic, lexical, morphosyntactic, or phonological. Many proposals have been made —mainly by formalist critics— in order to explain this peculiar organization. Possibly, the most famous one is by Roman Jakobson. For him, language fulfils several functions: emotive, conative, referential, fatic, metalinguistic, and poetic. When language fulfils the poetic function, it means that it focuses on the message itself (Abrams’s objective approach).

This happens when the principle of equivalence, whose domain is the Saussurean axis of selection or paradigmatic axis, is projected onto the axis of combination or syntagmatic axis, and so formal motivation is thrust upon utterances that otherwise would be ordinary messages. Such projection creates sound correlations (rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, etc.), morphosyntactic ones (paronomasia, anaphora, etc.), and semantic and lexical ones (metaphors, images, etc.). Equivalence becomes thus a resource of the sequence.


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

Code(metalinguistic)

Channel(fatic)

Addressor Message Addressee (emotive) (poetic) (conative)

Referent(referential)


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

Axis of selection

EQUIVALENCE

The

A

This

That

. . . .

dog

cat

bird

horse

. . . .

barks

mews

twits

neighs

. . . .

here

there

on thebranch

in thestable

. . . .

Axis ofcombination

SEQUENCE

The horse neighs in the stable


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

  • The consideration of the pragmatic features in the definition of the sources of privilege of the literary phenomenon is just a welcome consequence of the gradual widening of the object of study of linguistics and the growing interest in the pragmatic context of literary communication. Two facts are peculiar of the literary phenomenon:

  • The existence of an asymmetric and unilateral communication context which inhibits the existence of dialogical feedback.

  • Additionally, the literary phenomenon —conceived of as a “speech act”— shares many of the properties of games because its referent is a fictional world. The speech act by means of which one composes a fictional narrative is completely parasitic, it imitates a real speech act, but lacks illocutive force. We participate in a game of make-believe quite similar to ordinary play.

    This lack of illocutionary force is also responsible for the absence of immediate utility from the literary work.


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

Thus, for the specifists, literature is a privilegedlinguistic and textual phenomenon, whose privilege lies in its capacity to commands the reader’s attention independently of the kind of world it denotes. This privilege is based on social consensus which, far from being arbitrary, is motivated by semantic reasons (the creation of a fictional world), syntactic reasons (the transformation of language into an opaque medium endowed with aesthetic properties), and pragmatic reasons (the absence of illocutionary force from the literary speech act).


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

If literariness depends on three types of reasons and if none of them is absolute but just gradual and relative, it is obvious that the model I have dealt with is transitional, i.e. there is no precise point at which a text abruptly becames, or ceases to be, literary. There are rather infinite combinations which contribute to organizing the canon of any national literature from the nucleus —in which only undoubtedly ‘literary’ works can be lodged, all of them scoring very high on all three types of reasons— to the periphery.

This is precisely the theoretical and conceptual bases of a transitional model of literature.


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

  • The opposition between “good literature” and “bad literature” or “subliterature.” I have said before that separate consideration of (a) literary status and (b) questions of “quality” or public appreciation, i.e. canonicity, was essential to grasp the nature of the literary phenomenon. Thus literature can be defined according to a transitional model irrespective of whether it is considered a part of the canon or not.

  • Wellek agrees to this separation when he says that “[c]lassification as art should be distinguished from evaluation” (Theory of Literature, p. 26). Thus literature ≠ good literature. To define literature before good literature seems essential.

  • Paffard, on the other hand, mixes both criteria and says “[t]o ask whether a piece of writing is ‘literature’ is to ask whether it is ‘good’” (Thinking about English, p. 64). Thus literature = good literature. I do not suuport this view since, confusing criteria do not appear to be the best way to pinpoint the true nature of the literary phenomenon.


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

Therefore, there are two sets of reasons to explain why a given literary work is lodged on the periphery of a literary canon. Very different reasons, but the same final effect: expulsion from the canon and, consequently, absence from university syllabuses, etc.

> First, because it is not contemplated as one-hundred-per-cent “literature,” i.e. because the combination of semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic features is insufficient: for instance, Dr. Johnson’s literary criticism, or Henry James’s Prefaces to the New York edition of his novels and tales.

> Second, because it is looked upon as “bad” literature or subliterature: for instance, Agatha Christie’s detective yarns or Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

  • The distinction between ‘good’ literature and ‘bad’ literature has been conceived of in different ways. Two will be mentioned here, one more personal than the other:

  • One is Eliot’s statement in Essays Ancient and Modern to the effect that “[i]n an age like our own . . . it is the more necessary . . . to scrutinize works of imagination, with explicit ethical and theological standards. The ‘greatness’ of literature cannot be determined solely by literary standards; though we must remember that whether it is literature or not can be determined only by literary standards” (p. 93).

    Here Eliot establishes a duality between artness and greatness, which is quite similar to the relationship existing between our pairs literature/non-literature and “good” literature/“bad” literature.


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

  • Another is the idea of durability that is inextricably linked to the notion of classicism. According to this idea, “good” literature is that which tolerates the passage of time, and remains thematically, ideologically, and formally ‘in force,’ because it subjugates the readers of all times and ages. Two very weak points:

  • ● There are works of low literary reputation which have attracted and still attract the attention of large sections of the reading public. From this follows the idea that simple durability cannot be equated with literary greatness.

  • ● The idea of durability is not so simple and innocent as it might seem. It is a highly artificial construct. According to Marxist criticism, literary works surviving the passage of time are not those endowed with literary greatness, but rather those upkeeping the ideology and social codes of the economic elite. For other critics and theorists, however, the idea of literary excellence is not imposed from without, but rather resides in the intrinsic formal qualities of the work in question.


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

The role of scepticism in the emergence of the non-specific conception of literature: the excessive recurrence of common-sense definitions of this phenomenon like the following one:

“famous books . . . distinguished by excellence of form or expression,” which persist “at a personal . . . level” when a work “is not exhausted at first reading but provides an increasingly rewarding experience the more often it is returned to” (Paffard, Thinking about English, pp. 63, 65-66, and 66, respectively)


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

  • The advocates of the non-specificity of literature set off from the premiss that the application of theory creates the object of study, not the converse. In our case, this means that literary theory creates literature, and thus literature will be one thing or another according to the theoretical views applied to its “study.” Two non-specific views:

  • ----------------- Roger Fowler’s position ---------------

  • “My position is that ‘Literature’ cannot be assumed to exist” (Fowler, “Literature,” p. 10).

  • “I assume that linguistic-stylistic theories of the arch-formalistic Jakobsonian kind, which attempt to set off literature as a special non-referential, non-interpersonal, and non-metalinguistic mode of writing, are nothing but naive contributions to the bourgeois conspiracy to make literature inaccessible to ideological analysis and thus inaccessible to readers outside the traditional cultural elite, and must therefore be rejected” (Fowler, Literature as Social Discourse, pp. 124-25).


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

  • ---------------- Richard Ohmann’s position -----------------

  • The arbitrariness of social consensus about the “quality” of literature: in a 1978 essay called “The Social Definition of Literature,” Richard Ohmann explains how a famous novel is manufactured in the United States.

  • First, it is necessary that immediately upon publication or, at most, within two weeks of publication, a small group of influential individuals should buy it and recommend its reading; this circumstance, of almost random nature, triggers an immensely important economic process that culminates in the sale of the rights of the novel to a film studio

  • To diminish the level of randomness of the first step, publishers try to place favourable reviews in influential journals such as the Times Book Reviews by means of shameless manoeuvres most of the time.


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Lesson 2: Specific vs. Non-Specific Views of the Literary Phenomenon

Conclusion

Of course, if these or analogous procedures have been applied to to the literature of different ages, we find that the canon of English literature has been formed under the pressure of social and ideological interests and not in accordance with the ‘intrinsic' qualities of the literary work.


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Lesson 3: The Role and Nature of Literary Theory and Criticism

  • As I said earlier, the analysis of literature as the primary object of literary studies is carried out by means of instruments such as literary theory and criticism which, in turn, become secondary objects of study when they come to be taught, say, historically.

  • Literary criticism can be defined as the explanation, interpretation, assessment, or, in general, study of the literary text as a privileged linguistic and textual phenomenon whether from an extrinsic or intrinsic point of view and whatever the methodological or “scientific” aspirations of the whole process, provided it is a function of the privileged nature of the literary work which I have discussed earlier.


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Lesson 3: The Role and Nature of Literary Theory and Criticism

  • This emphasis on the privileged status of the literary work excludes other approaches to literature that cannot be considered literary criticism:

  • Textual criticism: instrumental branch of literary studies which purports to trace back and determine the original form of manuscripts. Little to do with literature as a privileged phenomenon, since it can also operate to determine the original form of any other kind of document.

  • Positivistic criticism: criticism as practiced by Hippolyte Taine, who considered the literary work as a historical document to gain insights into “la race, le milieu ou le moment” (“the race, the environment, or the moment”). In my view, genuine literary criticism only occurs when it focuses on a literary work as a literary work rather than as evidence for historical scholarship.

  • It is obvious, however, that this restrictions on literary criticism only operate from the point of view of a specific conception of literature, which considers this phenomenon as a special use of language.


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Lesson 3: The Role and Nature of Literary Theory and Criticism

  • Literary criticism can be looked at from extrinsic or intrinsic perspectives:

  • If literary criticims focuses on the author, then we have literary biography, psychoanalytic criticism, or, in Abrams’s terms, an expressive approach to, or perspective on, literature.

  • If literary criticism concentrates on the reader, then we have reception aesthetics, sociology of literature, or pragmatic approaches (Abrams’s term).

  • If literary criticism pays particular attention to the world or referent expressed by the text, then we have Marxist, historical, or social criticism, philosophical or ethical criticism, or mimetic criticism in Abrams’s terms.

  • If, on the other hand, the critic focuses on the work itself qua linguistic artifact, then we have intrinsic approaches to literature, which Abrams calls objective: Russian formalism, stylistics, narratology, Rhetoric, structuralism, etc.


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Lesson 3: The Role and Nature of Literary Theory and Criticism

Literary theory can also operate either from an extrinsic or an intrinsic perspective. It takes up the form of a general reflection upon the nature of the literary phenomenon, but it does not focus on the elucidation of individual works. It is obvious, however, that both literary theory and literary criticism are interdependent activities: one cannot theorise or generalise about the literary phenomenon unless one looks at concrete works to abstract their features; conversely, it is impossible to do literary criticism without a priori theoretical principles.


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