“Criticism” in M H Abrams Criticism, or more specifically literary criticism, is the overall term for studies concerned with defining, classifying, analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating works of literature. Theoretical criticism proposes an explicit theory of literature, in the sense of general principles, together with a set of terms, distinctions, and categories, to be applied to identifying and analyzing works of literature, as well as the criteria (the standards, or norms) by which these works and their writers are to be evaluated. The earliest, and enduringly important, treatise of theoretical criticism was Aristotle's Poetics (fourth century B.C.). Among the most influential theoretical critics in the following centuries were Longinus in Greece; Horace in Rome; Boileau and Sainte-Beuve in France; Baumgarten and Goethe in Germany; Samuel Johnson, Coleridge, and Matthew Arnold in England; and Poe and Emerson in America. Landmarks of theoretical criticism in the first half of the twentieth century are I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism (1924); Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form (1941, rev. 1957); Eric Auerbach, Mimesis (1946); R. S. Crane, ed., Critics and Criticism (1952); and Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (1957).
Since the 1970s there has been a large number of writings, Continental, American, and English, proposing diverse novel and radical forms of critical theory. These are listed and dated in the entry Theories of literature, current; each theory in that list is also given a separate entry in this Glossary. For a discussion of the special uses of the term "theory" in these current critical movements, see poststructuralism. Practical criticism, or applied criticism,concerns itself with the discussion of particular works and writers; in an applied critique, the theoretical principles controlling the mode of the analysis, interpretation, and evaluationare often left implicit, or brought in only as the occasion demands. Among the more influential works of applied criticism in England and America are the literary essays of Dryden in the Restoration; Dr. Johnson's Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); Coleridge's chapters on the poetry of Wordsworth in Biographia Literaria (1817) and his lectures on Shakespeare; William Hazlitt's lectures on Shakespeare and the English poets, in the second and third decades of the nineteenth century; Matthew Arnold's Essays in Criticism (1865 and following); I. A. Richards' Practical Criticism (1930); T. S. Eliot's Selected Essays (1932); and the many critical essays by Virginia Woolf, F. R. Leavis, and Lionel Trilling. Cleanth Brooks' The Well Wrought Urn (1947) exemplifies the "close reading" of single texts which was the typical mode of practical criticism in the American New Criticism. Practical criticism is sometimes distinguished into impressionistic and judicial criticism:
Impressionistic criticismattempts to represent in words the felt qualities of a particular passage or work, and to express the responses (the "impression") that the work directly evokes from the critic. As William Hazlitt put it in his essay "On Genius and Common Sense" (1824): "You decide from feeling, and not from reason; that is, from the impression of a number of things on the mind . . . though you may not be able to analyze or account for it in the several particulars." And Walter Pater later said that in criticism "the first step toward seeing one's object as it really is, is to know one's own impression as it really is, to discriminate it, to realise it distinctly," and posed as the basic question, "What is this song or picture . . . to me'' (preface to Studies in the History of the Renaissance, 1873). At its extreme this mode of criticism becomes, in Anatole France's phrase, "the adventures of a sensitive soul among masterpieces."
Judicial criticism,on the other hand, attempts not merely to communicate, but to analyze and explain the effects of a work by reference to its subject, organization, techniques, and style, and to base the critic's individual judgments on specified criteria of literary excellence. Rarely are these two modes of criticism sharply distinct in practice, but good examples of primarily impressionistic commentary can be found in the Greek Longinus (see the characterization of the Odyssey in his treatise On the Sublime), Hazlitt, Walter Pater (the locus classicus of impressionism is his description of Leonardo's Mona Lisa in The Renaissance, 1873), and some of the twentieth-century critical essays of E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf.
Types of traditional critical theories and of applied criticism can be usefully distinguished according to whether, in explaining and judging a work of literature, they refer the work primarily to the outer world, or to the reader, or to the author, or else treat the work as an entity in itself:
(1 ) Mimetic criticismviews the literary work as an imitation, or reflection, or representation of the world and human life, and the primary criterion applied to a work is the "truth" of its representation to the subject matter that it represents, or should represent. This mode of criticism, which first appeared in Plato and (in a qualified way) in Aristotle, remains characteristic of modern theories of literary realism. (See imitation)
(2) Pragmatic criticismviews the work as something which is constructed in order to achieve certain effects on the audience (effects such as aesthetic pleasure, instruction, or kinds of emotion), and it tends to judge the value of the work according to its success in achieving that aim. This approach, which largely dominated literary discussion from the versified Art of Poetry by the Roman Horace (first century B.C.) through the eighteenth century, has been revived in recent rhetorical criticism, which emphasizes the artistic strategies by which an author engages and influences the responses of readers to the matters represented in a literary work. The pragmatic approach has also been adopted by some structuralists who analyze a literary text as a systematic play of codes which effect the interpretative responses of the reader.
(3) Expressive criticismtreats a literary work primarily in relation to its author. It defines poetry as an expression, or overflow, or utterance of feelings, or as the product of the poet's imagination operating on his or her perceptions, thoughts, and feelings; it tends to judge the work by its sincerity, or its adequacy to the poet's individual vision or state of mind; and it often seeks in the work evidences of the particular temperament and experiences of the author who, consciously or unconsciously, has revealed himself or herself in it. Such views were developed mainly by romantic critics in the early nineteenth century and remain current in our own time, especially in the writings of psychological and psychoanalytic critics and in critics of consciousness as George Poulet and the Geneva School.
(4) Objective criticism deals with a work of literature as something which stands free from what is often called "extrinsic" relations to the poet, or to the audience, or to the environing world. Instead it describes the literary product as a self-sufficient and autonomous object, or else as a world-in-itself, which is to be contemplated as its own end, and to be analyzed and judged solely by "intrinsic" criteria such as its complexity, coherence, equilibrium, integrity, and the interrelations of its component elements. The general viewpoint of the self-sufficiency of an aesthetic object was proposed in Kant's Critique of Aesthetic Judgment (1790)—see distance and involvement—-was taken up by proponents of art for art's sake in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and has been elaborated in detailed modes of applied criticism by a number of important critics since the 1920s, including the New Critics, the Chicago School, and proponents of European formalism. An essential enterprise that the ordinary reader takes for granted is to establish the text of a literary work to be put in print; see the entry textual criticism. It is also a frequent procedure to distinguish types of criticism which bring to bear upon literature various areas of knowledge, in the attempt to identify the conditions and influences that determine the particular characteristics and values of a literary work. Accordingly, we have "historical criticism," "biographical criticism," "sociological criticism" (see sociology of literature and Marxist criticism), psychological criticism (a subspecies is psychoanalytic criticism), and archetypal or myth criticism (which undertakes to explain the formation of types of literature by reference to the views about myth and ritual in modern cultural anthropology).