Is there such a thing as a “right” way of literary criticism or critical theory?

Do you want/need a sound (old), “common sense” approach, among so many other “theories”?

David Daiches is (was) one of my critical heroes who told me “there is no single right method of handling literary problems. There is no single approach to works of literary art that will yield all the significant truths about them.” (This certainly goes for movies/film, too.)

I learned (and taught) these five: Historical, Formalist, Sociocultural, Psychological, and Mythopoeic (and maybe something like “Eclectic”).

But, since “art is greater than its interpreters…all criticism is tentative, partial, oblique.” (Studying the five MAY help us find our way.)

Criticism should be a MEANS to greater understanding and appreciation–not an end in itself.

“We turn to criticism [if we want] to develop and strengthen the ‘civilized’ approach to the arts: to enjoy with discrimination, to discern value, to recognize and reject the spurious, to respond maturely to the genuine, never to be fooled by the shabby and the second hand.”

“Every effective…critic sees some facet of…art and develops our awareness with respect to it; but the total vision, or something approximating it, comes only to those who learn how to blend the insights yielded by many critical approaches.”

Epilogue to Critical Approaches to Literature (1956; 1981) by David Daiches [1912-2005]


  1. Virgil Likness said:

    Your thought process is extremely interesting from my perspective. Keep up the great thought processing. Virgil

  2. I grew up with “new criticism” which meant basically examining a work to find out what the author was saying. I still think there’s something to that — as an author I am saying something whenever I write. But I remember in grad school some of my classmates saw NOTHING in most things we read and that being the case, no wonder they liked something else — and “like” seems like a sadly appropriat word here. I also think it’s hard to beat Aristotle’s Poetics as a starting point… One shock I had in grad school was a seminar on Hamlet in which we never read the play; only criticism. Shudder.

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