Wayne C(layson) Booth Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Wayne C(layson) Booth 1921–

American critic and editor.

Booth is a critical pluralist; he believes that there is more than one valid way to evaluate works of art. Booth's position has been denounced both by dogmatists, who claim that there is only one way to view artworks, and by skeptics, who think that neither side can be reconciled and that every critical opinion is based on certain fallacies. Booth's criticism is characterized by clear, concise prose, a strong argumentative technique, and a wittiness which relieves the heavy intellectualism of his topics.

The Rhetoric of Fiction, Booth's first book, immediately established him as a true "Chicago Critic," a designation which indicates that Booth follows the neo-Aristotelian thought championed by R. S. Crane, Booth's instructor at the University of Chicago. The Aristotelian critics believe that art must contribute something to life beyond immediate pleasure; it has a function of the highest order, to instruct as well as to entertain. Art, as Aristotle believed, is essentially imitative; it is, as Booth says, "a living out of how some problems of life can be represented." The Rhetoric of Fiction discusses the way in which the author's meaning is expressed and conveyed to the reader. Booth's key concept involves the "implied author," or the reader's conception of the author's values and attitudes. A Rhetoric of Irony also analyzes authorial intention and the bond between reader and writer that occurs when the reader understands both literal and ironic meanings in works of literature. Booth's recent book, Critical Understanding: The Powers and Limits of Pluralism, explores the pluralism of Crane, Kenneth Burke, and M. H. Abrams, and the implications of their beliefs on modern criticism.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed. and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 3.)