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The Relevance of Literary Theory and Criticism Today

By debroy31 Sep 05, 2010 964 Words
Literary Theory and Criticism and Its Relevance Today
Literary criticism is primarily the evaluation of the importance of a particular work or body of work on such grounds as: the personal and/or cultural importance of the themes and the uses of language of a text; the insights and impact of a text; and the aesthetic creation (or, performance) of the text; mainly as these areas are seen to be reciprocally dependent, supportive or inflective. The word 'criticism' has ordinary-use negative connotations, and to an extent that is right: for literary criticism is part of the disciplining of dialogue generally and of what is considered literature in particular. One patrols the confines of good writing, admitting or excluding, determining what should be thought about a text, and why, what personal and cultural value should be placed on it. Judgments of significance are not simple, however. They require that one consider what constitutes importance, what the personal and social importance of literature is what the significance of 'the aesthetic' is. And they require that one interpret the text. As texts judged to be of high literary significance tend to be marked by complexity and even ambiguity, and to yield various interpretations, judgment may eventually require a theory of interpretation, or at least careful consideration to the question of what constitutes, guides, and legitimates interpretation. Theory is the route of understanding what the character of literature is, what functions it has, what the relation of text is to author, to reader, to language, to society, to history. It is not judgment but understanding of the frames of judgment. Literary Theory is part of a prevalent movement in the culture which has affected a number of disciplines, occasioning similar disputes in some, a movement which has explored and elucidated the complexities of meaning, textuality and understanding. Literary Theory is not a single venture but a set of interrelated concepts and practices — most significantly deconstruction, post-Althusserian ideological or 'political' criticism, post-Lacanian psychoanalytic criticism, New Historicist or 'cultural' criticism, some reader-response criticism and much feminist criticism. The aim of this essay is to identify the issues that ground these contemporary literary theories. There have always been literary theories — about how literature works, what connotation is, what it is to be an author and so forth. The essential interpretive practices in force and in power in the academy which are being challenged by Theory were themselves ground-breaking, theory-based practices which became the norm. The two main crucial practices in the mid portion of the century have been the formalist tradition, or 'New Criticism', which sees a text as a comparatively self-enclosed meaning-production system which develops gigantic signifying power through its formal properties and through its conflicts, ambiguities and complexities, and the Arnoldian humanist tradition exemplified most clearly in the work of F. R. Leavis and his followers, which concentrates evaluatively on the capability of the author to represent moral experience concretely and engagingly. Many readers have in practice combined the principles and methodologies of these traditions, different as their theoretical bases are. Relevance of Literary Theory and Criticism Today-

Literary theory and criticism are still very much relevant even today. Criticism introduces the public to books. Critical assessments of books enable readers to think more intensely about the text they are considering reading. Then, if they decide to read it, they can keep various perceptions of the text in mind, influencing their own opinion in contrast or comparison to the critic's points of view. In the nonexistence of criticism, the public might not be able to access such books. More problematically, without criticism they are not given a language in which to think more coherently about the texts they select. It raises public intellect. It creates a vocabulary, a set of diction, terms and concepts with which to suitably assess literature. Whether it's through the mode of close reading common to the New Critics, structuralism or post structuralism, biographical or cultural contexts, formalism or other critical traditions, critical writings provide frameworks, reactive to the particular era in which the texts exist, that assists interpretation. When the public is given these equipments, through extensive reading of criticism, they become a better audience for writers. Instead of just digesting texts unreceptively, readers can enter and discuss texts at deeper levels. As this happens, readers become more engaged, serious and interested participants in the created works. It improves a country’s literature. When there's a deficiency of criticism because people are fearful to share their perceptions or they think standards are comparative or they believe that what is good will naturally endure in the canon and what is poor vanish, literature suffers. Without critics, writers themselves can become negligent, passive, lazy and unresponsive to being held responsible for what they create. If writers know there are astute and educated critics waiting to receive what they have written, they are more likely to hone their skills, do their research, and proofread their texts more closely. In the end, the writer is more prone to care about their literary production in the presence of critics, though the individual writer might feel subjugated or hurt by a negative review. Critics can be wrong of course. But then that is the job of another critic, to point out that flaw and thus to stimulate literary debate and discussion. Although John Updike claimed that writing criticism is to the composition of literature as "hugging the shore is to sailing in the open sea" this doesn't have to be the case. Writers of literature can be critics and vice versa. Criticism can be daring, but literature will be less likely to stick to what is safe in the presence of the impassioned, compelled pens of critics.

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