The Frontiers of Criticism - Content of The Lecture - Definition of Literary Criticism

Definition of Literary Criticism

Eliot, like the New Critics, distinguishes among types or classes of criticism, isolating (as the lecture's title suggests) a certain area for literary criticism. Also like the New Critics, he allows that there is merit to such studies. He credits Coleridge with bringing other disciplines (e.g., philosophy, psychology) into the field of literary study. Eliot defines specifically literary criticism as criticism written in order

to help his readers to understand and enjoy . . . .

We can therefore ask, about any writing which is offered to us as literary criticism, is it aimed towards understanding and enjoyment? If it is not, it may still be a legitimate and useful activity; but it is to be judged as a contribution to psychology, or sociology, or logic, or pedagogy, or some other pursuit—and it is to be judged by specialists, not by men of letters. (116-17)

The argument of the essay is for a strongly individualist criticism, made clear by the frequent references to the author's own works. "The best of my literary criticism . . . consists of essays on poets and poetic dramatists who had influenced me" (106). In this, Eliot has something in common with the style of literary criticism expounded by Matthew Arnold, known for its emphasis on reading in order to make oneself a better writer.

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