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| Criticism: The Foundations of Modern Literary Judgment -- Book by Gordon McKenzie, Josephine Miles, Mark Schorer; Harcourt, Brace, 1948
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 questions are about the Source, the Form, the End of art. The first question, which concerns the artist's experience, emphasizes the matter that goes into art; the second, which analyzes the structural elements that compose the work as a whole, emphasizes the qualities of art in itself, the formal means; the third, which examines the response of the audience, emphasizes the function of art. Other emphases of course adhere to these; it is interesting to observe, for example, how frequently the first position regards art as "expression"; the second, as a mode of "imitation"; and the third, as "communication."
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| Yet these are varieties of emphasis only. The difference between the three categories is not radical, and it is probably a loss to insight whenever a critic takes so "pure" a position as to make his emphasis appear so. In the Poetics, Aristotle is no doubt most interested in the definition of the genre, tragedy, yet when he writes of pity and terror and the purgation which these induce in the beholder, he is concerned with its results. Even in the earliest examples, then, our categories are forms of emphasis, not mutually exclusive forms of understanding and judgment.
Since we are concerned with a broad representation of critical positions rather than with an exact representation of any individual's writing, readers should not be surprised to find a piece of criticism in a category to which they had not previously assigned its author. L. C. Knights, long a distinguished formalist, appears now, in the present, relatively recent essay on "Restoration Comedy," to be moving toward the category of Source. The work of T. S. Eliot, much of which derives from the author's intellectual program, might well appear in the category of Source, yet our particular selections from that work seem to place him rather in the category of Form. Of modern critics, I. A. Richards has been most clearly associated with the psychology of art, with literature as communication, and our selections from his work obviously belong in the category, End; yet the work of his most notable predecessor, Coleridge, as well as of his most notable apostle, William Empson, is here included under Form. It is perhaps sufficient to point out that Mr. Richards would be a less considerable critic if his analysis of the psychology of art did not depend, in other works, on an exacting analysis of the formal means of art. Other critics who have been included in Source, notably Henry James and Allen Tate, might almost equally well--and, with other essays, would certainly--appear in Form. We hope, by calling attention to the interest these critics have in the source of literature, to point to the special virtues of their analysis of it.
Within the categories, the variety of critical emphasis should become apparent at a glance. In the first group, Source, we move from Plato to Edward Young, both of whom think of the character of the artist, to Wordsworth, concerned with a due representation of nature, to Virginia Woolf, concerned with what is "really real" in the consciousness, to the political critics, Farrell, Caudwell, and Fox, all determined that the artist make a proper analysis of society; or, again, we move from Professor Lovejoy's scholarly discussion of an intellectual source, which is perhaps not "criticism" at all, to Lionel Trilling's discussion of the general diffusion of an intellectual "influence" over modern literature, to Allen Tate's examination of the results of a philosophical deficiency in figurative language; and we conclude with Stephen Spender's discussion of the source of poetry in the very different terms of its composition. The second category, Form, represents perhaps less variety in position, but in degree of purity nearly as much becomes evident as we move from Aristotle, who, in the middle category, reaches out to both extremities, through John Crowe Ransom, who is deliberately and ascetically "pure," to Joseph Frank, who wishes to talk about "form" in literature in terms usually considered in the province of other arts. The third category, End, presents again a full panoply of possibility: for Sidney, art is an ennobling influence on character; for Pope and Hume, it is rather a matter of perfecting taste; for Johnson, Shelley, and Arnold, it provides three varieties of moral education; for Poe and Pater, nervous excitement; for Richards, nervous stability.