Basics of Literary Criticism

Written by Montu Saikia


-What is a picture, a poem, a piece of music?

-How can experience be compared?

-What is value?

-What gives the experience of reading a certain poem its value?

-How is this experience better than another?

-Why prefer this picture to that?

-In which ways should we listen to music so as to receive the most valuable moments?

-Why is one opinion about works of art not as good as another?

Let us start our discourse with the thought provoking questions raised by Ivor Armstrong Richards (1893- 1979), the English critic and poet.

What is literature? Why do we read it? Why is literature important? :

Literature in general can be defined as the collective body of literary productions, embracing the entire results of knowledge and fancy preserved in writing; also, the whole body of literary productions or writings upon a given subject, or in reference to a particular science or branch of knowledge, or of a given country or period; as, the literature of Biblical criticism; the literature of chemistry.

Literature is a term used to describe written or spoken material. Broadly speaking, “literature” is used to describe anything from creative writing to more technical or scientific works, but the term is most commonly used to refer to works of the creative imagination, including works of poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction. Besides facilitating the immediate need of pleasure, relaxation and information of the readers, literature predominantly occupies high and unrivalled position among all human endeavours because the successive generations can look towards it in hours of woe & pleasure, adversity & prosperity, and, peace & otherwise as one raising one’s hands towards heaven for necessary relief, both temporary and eternal.

Literature, whether oral or written, is basically associated with the unique human faculty of language and a language itself is associated with a certain community (nationality). Regional varieties of a language are known as dialects. Literature is very often described as the best manifestation of language that encompasses the best of imaginative, creative and mental products- across time and space. Such an analogical understanding of literature brings out three distinct levels of literature- Dialectical, National (Language level- since language is associated with the identity of a nationality) and International/ World literature.

“Literature serves different purposes for different people; it may inform; it may entertain; it may inspire; it may comfort; it may persuade. But its most important purpose is to give order to human experiences.”- Dwight L Burton

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