Functions Of Literary Criticism

As Cecil Day Lewis puts it in the The Poetic Image “to say it quite simply, the critic has one pre eminent task –the task of easing or widening or deepening our responses to poetry, or one must add, to what ever other branch of literature he may have chosen as his special study.” The question usually asked is what is literary criticism, what is it’s purpose and if it does have a use what are the qualifications of the critic. Is criticism based on a personal or objective preference. If it was only about personal preference then one could not have had meaningful discussions, while if it were an objective process then it would lead to uniform judgment. The reason why criticism is important is because it enables us to deepen our own understanding and heighten our appreciation. The business of the literary critic, is in the first instance, to distinguish between a good book and a bad one, to help us recognize for ourselves and to get the full value of literary quality when we meet with it, thus opening for us the whole world of pleasure and imaginative experiences and intellectual stimulus which is waiting to be explored but which, with out the help of a qualified critic, we will not discover for ourselves. The way a critic sets about his task are innumerable, ranging from the most general statement to a detailed analysis, but usually the main purpose is to quicken and refine the readers perceptiveness.

The word “critic” has been derived from the Greek word ‘crites’, a judge. The first step towards “easing or widening or deepening” our responses to what is best in literature is that the critic himself should recognize quality when he meets it. How does the critic set about his task of judging, by what standards does he judge and how we the reader should know if the critic judgment is better than our own. The critic’s essential qualifications, both to prove his own capacity for responses and that he may have a standard by which to judge, is wide and perceptive reading in the great literature of the past. There are many aspects of literary criticism, one function is explication. Greek literature does not require interpretation as it has a great deal of richness and complexity. Great works can be repeatedly read and still have offered fresh insights. Explication is not synonymous with explanation. It is in the scholarly elucidation, line by line, word by word, of the works of one writer, in the light not only of all he must have shared with his age but of all that the most exhaustive research can discover of his own personal beliefs, preoccupations and experiences.

Join now!

In every period there are books-the vast majority which are enormously popular and which at the same time, produce a strong emotional response in the majority of their own readers, but which after a generation they do survive, only as literary curiosities evidence of then queer taste of our forebears. They have pleased only the contemporaries, for whom they have written, but even other books written earlier have been as moving and satisfying to the people they were addressed. Such are the works of Homer, Sophocles, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton and so on. Even their readers belonged to different ...

This is a preview of the whole essay