WHAT IS CRITICISM?
Criticism is the branch of study concerned with defining, classifying, expounding, and evaluating works of literature. The realm of literature consists mainly of three activities- the power to create, the power to appreciate, and the power to criticize. Unlike the other two, the power to criticize may be acquired. The process of criticism is one of asking and answering rational questions about literature. The field of criticism embraces the theory of literature and the study of the individual works of writers. Criticism deals with all branches of literature like poetry, drama, novel, and even criticism. According to Walter Pater criticism is the art of interpreting art. Carlyle also considers criticism as interpretation. This is not a comprehensive view because criticism is more than interpretation or judgment. Arnold defines criticism as ‘a disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world’. According to Hudson the chief function of criticism is to enlighten and stimulate. Criticism helps the reader to partake in the great vision a work of literature presents. No analysis or criticism of a literary work alone can be a substitute for our personal mastery of it.
Criticism only helps us to go forward. That is why Bacon said, “some books may be read by deputy” that is, with the assistance of others. Good criticism helps the reader to penetrate the heart of the work and to distinguish between what is permanent and what is temporary in it. If creative literature is an interpretation of life under the various forms of literary art, criticism is the interpretation of that interpretation. Emerson says that the aim of a critic is not to instruct the reader about the different aspects of a particular work but to provoke him into new meanings of the work. The two main functions of criticism are judgment and interpretation. But every effort at judgment leads to appreciation. As Pater said, ” To feel the virtue of the poet or the painter, to disengage it, to set it forth- these are the three stages of the critic’s duty”.
There are two approaches to criticism – the classical and the Romantic. Classical criticism held sway till the 18th century Aristotle’s Poetics was held as the master key to the treasure of literature by the classical critics. This type of criticism stands for judgment based on absolute standards and established conventions. It emphasized the judicial function of criticism and advocated right judgment as the first step towards right appreciation. However classical criticism severely restricted the free play of the critical faculty because it was bound by rules and standards laid down in ancient times. Romantic criticism which began with Wordsworth is subjective. It lays down that every work of art carries with it its own rules of enjoyment and there is no need to search for rules outside the work. It also began to probe into the viewpoint of the writer. Besides Wordsworth who initiated Romantic criticism with the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge and Shelley were the other significant Romantic critics. Romantic criticism came under attack by modern critics like T.S. Eliot, T.E Hulme, and I.A. Richards. Modern criticism is based upon a sound knowledge of the past and it respects tradition as exemplified in the writings of T.S.Eliot.