Function of Criticism Essays

1486 Words Nov 24th, 2010 6 Pages
Richard L. W. Clarke LITS2306 Notes 05A


MATTHEW ARNOLD “THE FUNCTION OF CRITICISM AT THE PRESENT TIME” (1864) Arnold, Matthew. “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time.” Critical Theory Since Plato. Ed. Hazard Adams. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1971. 592-603. Pragmatic theorists from Plato onwards have emphasised the impact which literature has on the reader. Here, Arnold, arguably England’s most important cultural critic in the second half of the nineteenth century and someone who has exerted enormous influence on subsequent generations of critics even here in the Caribbean, focuses not on what literature does to the reader but what the reader or critic ought to do to the literary works which he reads. Influenced
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. . of dealing divinely with these ideas, presenting them in the most effective and attractive combinations, – making beautiful work with them, in short. But it must have the atmosphere, it must find itself amidst the order of ideas, in order to work freely. (593) In short, the “creative power has . . . appointed elements, and those elements are not in its control” (593). The “creative power” (593) depends, Arnold claims, upon the “critical power” (593). The goal of criticism, Arnold argues, is “to see the object as in itself it really is” (593). Criticism consequently functions to establish an order of ideas, if not absolutely true, yet true by comparison with that which it displaces; to make the best ideas prevail. Presently these new ideas reach society, the touch of truth is the touch of life, and there is stir and growth everywhere; out of this stir and growth come the creative epochs of literature. (593) Because a poet “ought to know life and the world before dealing with them in poetry” (593),

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