R(onald) S(almon) Crane The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Crane's main subjects of inquiry are suggested by the title of his book, The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry.] In the phrase "the languages of criticism" he refers to the different methods of critical investigation, which (as he insists) are necessarily limited in their usefulness and their results by the terms in which they work. He begins by proclaiming himself a "pluralist" in this matter: it is not his view that any one sort of criticism is right, other sorts wrong…. [Crane's] interest in distinguishing between different sorts of criticism, different critical "languages," is one of the threads that run through the book….

To a reader of Critics and Criticism it will come as no surprise that the critic to whom Mr. Crane and his friends most often look for guidance is Aristotle; and the second of his lectures is devoted to "Poetic Structure in the Language of Aristotle."… For Mr. Crane, interpreting the Poetics in terms of his own interests and needs, Aristotle is important primarily because he is concerned with "the structure of poetry"; more than any other critic, he believes, Aristotle avoids dealing with bits of poetry, and concerns himself with poems as organic wholes. No feature of this book, or of the writings of these critics as a school, is more welcome than this insistence on studying works of art separately, as things-in-themselves, in which no part can usefully be analysed without reference to the nature of the whole in which it occurs….

Mr. Crane's insistence on criticizing a work of art as an organic whole is to be understood as a reaction against other kinds of criticism. One of these, of which he says little, seems to be incidental to the academic study of literature—the tendency to concentrate on one aspect of a thing at a time; which often leads to the critic's losing sight of the whole in terms of which alone this aspect has any meaning. An example, unfashionable at present, is the old-fashioned History of Versification, in which such entities as the Heroic Couplet, Rhyme Royal and the Alexandrine take on a strange phantom-life of their own, independent of the poems in which they occur. The study...

(The entire section is 906 words.)