Follow by Email

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

So What's Literary Criticism to You

I will make a confession. I love to read literary criticism and I think you should too.

So let's begin our discussion with these two simple questions:

What is the purpose of literary criticism? And why should you care?

To my mind, intelligent well-written, well-thought out literary criticism is essential to our enjoyment of poetry because it

teaches the reader what to look for in the poem and/or the poet's body of work;

...and then puts the poem or body of work in context;

by placing the poem or body of work in context, the reader's understanding is deepened;

...which usually means the reader's understanding of the poem is moving beyond a reaction to one element such as theme or style;

--when the reader's understanding of poetry is more fully realized, the relationship between the reader and the poem becomes interactive. The imagination of the reader completes the poem.

To make it live.

And there is a correlation between the reader's understanding and the reader's level of appreciation.

Think how an educated musical audience or even a well-informed sports audience is reacting to, looking for--and finding--the interplay of elements particular to the discipline.

For example, because they are educated with respect to what they are experiencing in the music hall or sports arena, they are expectant. They know which strand of music or which athletic strategy echoes the past and so can compare this current event with past events. Or they experience one specific moment as an  event which is so groundbreaking, so different and new that the audience's expectation and therefore its understanding of the music or the sport is forever changed.

The future for the discipline is changed simply because the audience now sees what was once never before considered, never thought possible, never understood.   It's as if they are collectively saying: We didn't know (fill in the blank here) could do that! 

There's a certain excitement and pleasure in knowing how elements connect and combine.

It's a little--or a lot--like falling in love.

No comments: