What is Literary Criticism
Definition and functions of criticism
What is according to Arnold is the definition and function of criticism.
Mathew Arnold was a great Victorian poet-critic. He wrote some poetry before he turned to criticism. That way, his criticism is the criticism of a man who had personal experience of what he was writing. He never considered poetry as something apart from life. To him, it was never ‘Art for Art’s sake’. It had a serious concern with the art of living itself. It was also criticism of life. He expects high seriousness form a great literary artist as we find Homer, Dante and Shakespeare.
Criticism as an Art:
According to Arnold, literary criticism is also an art. T.S. Eliot remarks,
“Criticism is not an end in itself. IT is a means to a great understanding literary works.”
Art must be experience and criticism assists that process. Arnold says that in the modern world, poetry does not the work of religion. A great poet must make a disinterested effort to learn and propagate the best ideas in the world. And a critic of art should judge a work of art in the light of the best classics of the world.
Importance of Criticism:
In his essay, “On Translating Homer”, Arnold says, “In all branches of knowledge, the main critical effort is to see the object as in itself it really is>” Thus he gives great importance to criticism. Many critic did not agree with him and asserted superiority of the creative effort of they human spirit over its critical effort. Wordsworth also gave little importance to criticism. Arnold agrees that false criticism should not be encourage. He also admits that critical faculty criticism is better than creative literary. For example, Dr. Johnson’s creative play “Irene’” is not better than his critics works “The lives of the Poets”. Wordsworths’ Preface to the Lyrical Ballads” is better than his sonnets.
Arnold further points out that ‘creative power is the highest function of man. Man’s true happiness lives in his creative work. But he can use his creative power in other ways also. The use of the creative power in the production of great works is not possible in all ages. Man is concerned with the current ideas of his own time.
A poet must have a thorough knowledge of life and he world. And in modern times life and the world are very complex. So there must be a great critical power behind the creation. Otherwise, his poetry will be poor, barren, and short-lives. Byron had more creative than critical power, while Goethe had more critical than creative power.
Of course, books are a source of great ideas, but mere reading is not always enough. Shelly and Coleridge had deep reading while Pindar, Sophocles and Shakespeare were not deep readers. And yet they became supreme artist. The reason that they lived in a current of ideas in as stream of fresh ideas. During French revolution in the first quarter of the 19th century no great works of art were produced only because it was a political and practical movement and not a spiritual one.
According to Arnold, the most important quality of criticism is its ‘disinterestedness’ and a critic shows it by keeping aloof from the practical views of the things. Criticism has nothing to do with an y external political or practice consideration about ideas. The real business of criticism is to know that best that is know and though in the world and thus to create a current of true and fresh ideas. While much of English criticism is guide by practical consideration. For example, the French Journal propagate the best that is known and thought in the world, while most of the English journals are guided and controlled by one party or the other.
Then Arnold remarks that too must of self-satisfaction is dangerous for human beings. For example ‘Sir Charles Adderley said that the English race is the best breed In the whole world’. Roebuck also said “I pray that our unrivalled happiness may last.” While Arnold agrees wit Goethe who said ‘”The little that is done seem nothing whom we look forward and see how much we have yet to do.” In “Advancement of Learning” Bacon also puts forth the same idea.
A true critic should come out of the sphere of practical lie and should follow the virtue of self-detachment. He should things as they really are. Common people never see thinks as they are they are always satisfied with every inadequate idea. Here Arnold regret that in English most the people are guided practical consideration and thus fail to see things as they real are. A true critic should be independent of the practical aim. Criticism should not be based on practical importance. A critic should know how to wait, be flexible, how to attach and also detach himself with things of the world. The main function of the criticism to is to find out those element which are necessary for spiritual perfection.
Now Arnold comes to the question, what should be the subject matter of Criticism? It is the disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the vest that is known and thought in the world, and thus establish a current of fresh and true ideas. For this purpose, a critic must read the literature of as many centuries and language as possible. An English critic can not entirely depend upon English thought because English is not all world. Must of the best that is known and thought in the world can not be of English growth only.
Arnold firmly believes that he current English literature is mostly mediocre ,and does not come into this best that is known and thought in the world. The current literature of France and Germany is richer in the his respect. A critic must have a through knowledge of the literature of other countries besides his own. That criticism is really values which regard the whole of Europe as being bound to a joint action and works to a common result. Its members have a thought knowledge of Greek, Roman, and Eastern antiquity. They are linked together by the idea of the best that is know and thought in the world.
At last Arnold, declares that criticism can not also become a creative activity certain ages when creative literature is not possible. Criticism not only paves the way for the creative artist. It itself becomes a creative art. The best literature is produced when a man of genius is possessed by a current of truth and living ideas and writes under their influence and inspiration. This is proved by the ages of Sophocles and Shakespeare.