Literary Criticism
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Write a 2,500 word essay on ONE of the following essays from the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism .


Horace, ‘Ars Poetica. [NTC: 122-133] .
Pierre Corneille, ‘Of the Three Unities of Action, Time, and Place. [NTC: 288- 300]
David Hume, ‘Of the Standard of Taste. [NTC: 392-405] .
Edgar Allan Poe, ‘The Philosophy of Composition. [NTC: 639-647] . Walter Pater, ‘Studies in the History of the Renaissance. [NTC 724-730] . György Lukács, ‘The Historical Novel. [NTC: 909-921] .
Adrienne Rich, ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence. [NTC: 1591-1609] .
Edward Saïd, ‘Orientalism. [NTC: 1866-1888] .
Barbara Christian, ‘The Race For Theory. [NTC 2128-2137]

Your answer should address the following three objectives:
a) To give a concise précis of the essay.
b) To enter into a critical discussion of the essay.
c) To locate the essay in relation to the history of criticism, and specifically to compare or contrast it with TWO other extracts from the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism as discussed in the lecture programme

[see CP: Criticism lecture schedule above]. Although your essay should be written in continuous prose, you should draw attention to the point in your essay at which you turn to each of these elements. You are free to decide the balance between the three elements in your essay for yourself for example you may find that an extended comparison is the best way to focus a critical discussion of the extract but you should bear in mind that the marking of the assessment will depend on having adequately addressed all three elements. In many ways the analytical techniques you will use in putting together the essay are similar to those you will have put to work in first and second year. However as we will see in the lecture course, responding to a critical argument and responding to a literary text are different sorts of exercise and require different forms of judgement. Because throughout your work at honours level you will be required to respond to critics as well as to literary texts, this exercise aims to help you explore appropriate forms of judgement. The following notes are intended to help you think about each of the objectives of the assessment exercise:

a. To give a concise précis of the essay. A précis is not simply a statement of the authors intention. Rather it is an overview of their argument which considers not only what they set out to do but how they do it: whether they devote space to conceptual analysis or give literary examples. Consequently, you should aim to address the extract as a whole and not just focus on the beginning or on the conclusion. It might also consider the genre of the piece: is it a manifesto or statement of intent? is it a critical review or polemical riposte to another critic? is it analytical or impressionistic in form? An effective précis is more than a summary of an extract, it is a critical analysis in its own right because you will be drawing attention to what are the central lines of argument or investigation and what are subordinate ones. However, this will involve the exercise of your own critical judgement: for example, it would be up to you to identify the key arguments of the extract, and what are merely examples given in support of that argument.

b. To enter into a critical discussion of the essay. Once you have given your précis which we now see to mean something like an analytical summary you are in a position to enter into a critical discussion of the extract. The précis is an essential prerequisite for your critical discussion because it is only reasonable to judge the success or validity of an argument once we have clearly understood what it is trying to achieve: it is not helpful to state that instead of doing one thing, an author should have tried to do something else. (Although note that you will have an opportunity to make this sort of point through comparison with another author who has chosen to do something different.) You might also bear in mind that just as literary criticism does not mean pointing out flaws and mistakes in a text, so ‘a critical discussion does not require you to find fault with an extract. At a very basic level it means drawing attention to features of interest in the piece, but more specifically it might mean exploring a combination of any number of the following questions: ? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the critical argument? ? Are there specific assumptions or circumstances that we need to be aware of before we can understand the argument, or that we need to bear in mind if we wish to make an assessment of its success? ? To what extent are the author of the extract and its arguments products of a particular time and place? ? To what extent are these arguments about criticism still relevant today? ? Is the approach to literature demonstrated by the extract more relevant to some literary forms or periods than to others? ? Is the style of the extract significant? ? If so, why the author has chosen to write in this particular style? ? Does the style of the extract make a difference to the analytical or persuasive force of the argument?

c. To locate the essay in relation to the history of criticism, and specifically to compare or contrast it with TWO other extracts from the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism as discussed in the lecture programme. One aim of the course is to give you a sense not only of changing ideas of criticism over the ages, but also of continuity: that we may still be doing the same things with texts, or thinking about them using the same terms and categories, as much older writers. This final element of the assessment asks you to address this by looking at the essay you have chosen in relation to 2 of the extracts which were analysed in the lectures (see CP: Criticism lecture schedule above for details). An ideal answer will seek to show both similarities and differences, for example by seeing how two authors go about different ways to reach similar ends, or how two authors draw different conclusions from similar starting points. Or you might be interested in the ways that quite different accounts of criticism sometimes turn out to harbour very similar unacknowledged or unexamined assumptions about the nature of literature or literary study. Your aim is not so much to ‘classify or ‘label critical arguments (this is neo-classical whereas that is romantic) but to explore particular similarities and differences between the work of specific critics. After all, it is only on the basis of such specific comparisons that a historian of criticism can draw generalisations about schools of criticism; and the test of a good historian will always be the extent to which they complicate such generalisations. Think of this as a way of revising the course: looking back over what has been discussed in the lectures, and seeing what larger patterns of similarity and difference you can see in the way that the critical enterprise has been discussed or conceived over the last two millennia.

Please compare you chosen text with TWO texts from the following list:


Arnold, ‘The Function of Criticism at the Present Time [NTC: 691-714]
Eagleton, ‘From Literary Theory [NTC: 2140-2146]
Cixous, ‘The Laugh of the Medusa [NTC: 1938-1959]
Plato, from Republic, [NTC:45-77] Aristotle, Poetics [NTC: 88-115]
Longinus, from ‘On Sublimity [NTC: 136-154]
Neo-classical criticism
Sidney, ‘From The Defence of Poesy [NTC: 254-83]
Pope, ‘An Essay on Criticism [NTC: 349-362]
Johnson, from ‘Preface to Shakespeare [NTC: 373-86]
Week 5 Taste, imagination and the role of the critic
Burke, extracts in Romantic criticism and its legacies
Schiller, from On the Aesthetic Education of Man [NTC: 481-492]
Coleridge, from Biographia Literaria [NTC: 579-591]
Shelley, from ‘A Defence of Poetry [NTC: 591-613]
Brooks, from The Well-Wrought Urn [NTC: 1213-1229]
Wimsatt & Beardsley, ‘The Intentional Fallacy [NTC: 1230-1246]
Frye, ‘The Archetypes of Literature [NTC: 1301-1315]
Jauss, from ‘Literary History as a Challenge to Literary Theory'[NTC: 1403-1420]
Criticism and History[NTC: 1818-1846]
Spivak, from A Critique of Postcolonial Reason [NTC: 2110-2126]
Butler, from Gender Trouble [NTC: 2536-2553]
Bhabha, ‘The Commitment to Theory [NTC: 2351-2372]

Just to clarify the essay requires a focus on ONE essay from LIST ONE, and a compare and contrast with TWO essays from LIST TWO. There is a great deal of freedom so please choose according to your speacialties and interests. For instance, I might choose Edgar Allan Poe, ‘The Philosophy of Composition and compare it to Eagleton and Shelley. The possibilities are endless. Id appreciate a focus on the criticism of poetry specifically but not essential. I am generally a 2:1/1st student and hoping this essay will be at equivalent level. Please let me know which critics you choose as I wish to somewhat collaborate during the process.

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