Short notes on the functions of literary criticism

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Criticism may be regarded as having two different functions – that of interpretation and that of judgment. It is indeed true that in practice these two functions have until our own time been generally combined, since the majority of critics, while conceiving judgment to be the real end of all criticism, have freely employed interpretation as a means to that end.

Within recent years, however, the distinction has been forced into prominence by various students of literature, who setting the two functions in opposition, have more or less consistently maintained the thesis that the critic’s chief duty is exposition, even if he is ever warranted in venturing beyond exposition into questions of taste and valuation.

The critic’s purpose should be to penetrate to the heart of the book before him; to disengage its essential qualities of power and beauty; to distinguish between what is temporary and what is permanent in it; to analyze and formulate its meaning; to elucidate by direct examination the artistic and moral principles which, whether the writer himself was conscious of them or not, have actually guided and controlled his labors

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He should gather up and epitomize its scattered elements, and account for its characteristics by tracing them to their sources.

Judicial “Criticism”, says W.B. Workfolk “is the exercise of judgment in the province of art and literature and the critic is a person who is possessed of the knowledge necessary to enable him to pronounce right judgments upon the merit or worth of such works as come within its province.

Impressionistic criticism is extremely individualistic and is, by and large, guided by personal impressions. “To feel the virtue of the poet or the painter, to disengage it, to set it forth – these,” says Walter Pater, “are the three stages of the critic’s duty.” The New Critics in their dealings with literature, the critics normally restrict themselves to technical considerations and refuse to give a value-judgment on any but aesthetic grounds.”

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