Notes from an old college handout, 1960

By Abbé Ernest Dimnet [1866-1954]: “Dimnet invites the reader into a state of honesty, where he [or her] evaluates himself [or herself] as a thoughtful human being.” (Wikipedia)

“Whatever we read, we must first comprehend and, when we have comprehended, criticize.”

“Comprehension is the first and essential step in reading.”

“There is an abyss between people who want [literature] to be as accessible as the morning paper and people in possession of, or in search of, culture.”

“Criticizing is only another aspect of the effort to comprehend. The word in its etymology means ‘to judge,’ and, in fact, we think of a critic as a competent, not carping, judge.”

“Teachers should attach the greatest value to the school exercise called literary analysis.”

A student must acquire the habit…not to receive anything as true or beautiful, but to consider everything as a problem.”

“We should be given the habit of critical attention so that our first contact with anything worth the effort will give us as keen an impression as we are capable.”

“Comprehension is criticism, and criticism or judgment is a mere synonym for THOUGHT.”

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]


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