There are many schools of literary criticism but the student of literature really has a choice between two fundamentally opposed approaches. The traditional approach understands literature as art with the power of transcendence. The postmodern approach sees literature as an object of study with the power to reveal and promote political positions. A good test of the relative worth of these approaches might be to read selections from the big guns of either side. If Northrop Frye, Lionel Trilling, Frank Kermode, Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Johnson, and countless others in the long history of English letters seem less wise, clear, truthful, sincere, helpful, revealing, and suitably awed by the transforming power of language than Jacques Derrida, Stanley Fish, Marilyn French, Jacques Lacan, and the rest, then my guess is that you would be happier in the more positive expression of this kind of analysis: sociology.
Consider the following list of words: spirit - mystery - truth - wisdom - human nature - human condition - beauty - evil - good - honour-doubt-love; these are the common currency of traditional criticism. Postmodernists put such words in " " thereby cancelling any serious intent on the part of these words to make meaning. The internet is heavily dominated by the "text" studiers. The same is true for universities - something to consider before you rush blindly ahead, wallet in hand, to take up the high cause of literature. Even the pedestals are gone. If literature is to continue to speak to what Harold Bloom calls "the growing inner self" it will be done with much less help than in the past.
Essays on and of Literary Criticism:
"An Elegy for the Canon" by Harold Bloom
Bloom's "Elegy": Part Two
Bloom's "Elegy": Conclusion
Harold Bloom (one of my favourites) is assailed by Joseph Epstein [Aristides] (one of my favourites)
Conrad's Preface to "The Nigger of the Narcissus"
Noam Chomsky on Postmodernism
Roger Kimball on Modern Art(1)
Roger Kimball on Modern Art (2)
The State of Literary Criticism by Roger Shattuck
Nineteen Theses on Literature by Roger Shattuck
Oscar Wilde discusses Art in The English Renaissance
Link to Wilde's delightful dialogue between Cyril and Vivian on Art and Nature: "The Decline of Lying"
Link to Wilde's intriguing and provocative dialogue between Gilbert and Ernest on the relative importance of critic and artist: "The Critic as Artist"
Part 2 of "The Critic as Artist"
Lionel Trilling: "The Last Great Critic"
Rebecca West writes in 1914 that criticism must be harsh enough to allow art to save men's souls
The Myth of Theory: an argument that literature is beyond the power of theory to contain it
Artist's canned excrement, filthy beds, empty rooms: the "anything as art" crowd justify much of their intellectual stimulation from the destructive deconstructing instructor Jacques Derrida. Read here Mark Goldblatt's exposure of a snake-oil salesman
"How to Deconstruct Almost Anything" - an engineer sees the emperor naked
Postmodern Pooh: It's a title by Fredrick Crews!
Exceedingly Brief History of Major Theories of Literary Criticism
Aristotle's Poetics [90k]
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