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Literary Criticism

categories of literature, theoretical framework, Literary Criticism, creative writers, literary work

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Literary Criticism, discussion of literature, including description, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation of literary works. Like literature, criticism is hard to define. One of the criticís tasks is to challenge definitions of literature and criticism that seem too general, too narrow, or unworkable for any other reason. Whatever it is, literary criticism deals with different dimensions of literature as a collection of texts through which authors evoke more or less fictitious worlds for the imagination of readers.

We can look at any work of literature by paying special attention to one of several aspects: its language and structure; its intended purpose; the information and worldview it conveys; or its effect on an audience. Most good critics steer clear of exclusive interest in a single element. In studying a textís formal characteristics, for example, critics usually recognize the variability of performances of dramatic works and the variability of readersí mental interpretations of texts. In studying an authorís purpose, critics acknowledge that forces beyond a writerís conscious intentions can affect what the writer actually communicates. In studying what a literary work is about, critics often explore the complex relationship between truth and fiction in various types of storytelling. In studying literatureís impact on its audience, critics have been increasingly aware of how cultural expectations shape experience.

Because works of literature can be studied long after their first publication, awareness of historical and theoretical context contributes to our understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of them. Historical research relates a work to the life and times of its author. Attention to the nature, functions, and categories of literature provides a theoretical framework joining a past text to the experience of present readers. The tradition of literary criticism surveyed here combines observations by creative writers, philosophers, and, more recently, trained specialists in literary, historical, and cultural studies.


Hernadi, Paul, Ph.D., Ph.D.

Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of California at Santa Barbara. Author of "Cultural Transactions". Editor of "What is Criticism?"

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categories of literature, theoretical framework, Literary Criticism, creative writers, literary work, Historical research, cultural studies, worldview, intended purpose, philosophers, special attention, effect, interpretation, times, impact, life, appreciation, analysis, fiction, writer, truth, reason, language, structure, audience, example, forces, aspects, tasks, functions, understanding, author, observations, publication, authors, information

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