Literary Criticism

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What is traditional criticism?

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"Criticism" is the branch of literary study that defines, analyzes, interprets, and judges a work of literature according to various aesthetic systems.

The two main traditional Greek systems of criticism are Aristotelian and Platonic. Aristotelian criticism determines the value of a work according to its logical and formal qualities. That is, it is criticism of the work itself with no relation to other aspects of life. Platonic criticism determines the value of the work in relation to life. In theory, Aristotle's way is more objective and Plato's was more subjective. Both have influenced subsequent developments in theory and criticism in different ways.

That is generally where/when Western Literary Criticism and Theory is said to have begun. But a more modern concept of "traditional literary criticism" is the judging and defining of a literary canon. The canon is a group of literary works, selected by scholars, as the best representation of that country's (or community's) most valued literary works. A traditional American literary canon, for example, contains the likes of Hawthorne, Whitman, Emerson, Dickinson, Twain, Fitzgerald, and so on. With the rise of cultural theory (including feminism, race theory, deconstruction, and new historicism), the traditional canon has changed to include more works by female and minority writers, thus giving the canon a more accurate representation of American writers and culture.

Lastly, traditional literary criticism was more of a linear history of that canon. The canon and criticism became more "modern" with the inclusion of new writers as well as with the advent of those literary theories (such as deconstruction, new historicism, and post-structuralism) which assessed literary works using outside resources (such as psychoanalysis, language theories, and cultural theories).

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Criticism as a discipline and an approach to analyzing (and therefore appreciating) works of art has a long history in Western culture.  Traditional literary criticism before  the Chicago School of the mid-20th century involved establishing writer A's influence over writer B (Trollope's influence on Dickens, for example).  There is also the  critical question of "appropriateness" by which, in traditional criticism, is meant ethically or morally appropriate--a piece of literature that advocated inequality, for example, would be "criticized" by the Greeks.

Finally, traditional criticism was free from outside, or "hidden" agendas or slants.  One of the major contributions of deconstructive criticism is how it reveals hidden biases in the author.

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What are the features of traditional criticism?

Traditional criticism requires a critic, or analyst, to examine a text in regards to both the author's history and the relevance of the original text to those who read it during the time period it came out. This criticism ignores Reader-Response (how a reader interprets a text) and, instead, focuses upon the author, time period, and text alone. Essentially, traditional criticism places the text back into the period which it came from in order for the reader to better understand the intent of the author.

That said, when examining a text using traditional criticism, one must examine how the life of the author is represented in the text itself. By doing this, one can find how the author's life, ideologies, and the times influenced his or her work. Also, by examining a text this way, one can come to conclude an author's biases towards life, gender, and societal influence.

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