1- Literary criticism Lecture one

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Literary Criticism
Lecture one:
Classical Literary Criticism
PLATO
Literary Criticism
• Literary criticism is the study, discussion, evaluation,
and interpretation of literature.
• It includes the classification by genre, analysis of
structure, and judgement of value.
• It asks what literature is, what it does, and what it is
worth.
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Literary Criticism
• In other words, literary criticism is the method used to
interpret any given work of literature.
• The different schools of literary criticism provide us with
lenses which reveal important aspects of the literary
work.
• Literary criticism helps us to understand what is
important about the text: its structure, its context (social,
economic, historical), what is written, and how the text
manipulates the reader.
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Literary Criticism
• It helps us to understand the relationship between
authors, readers, and texts.
• The act of literary criticism ultimately enhances the
enjoyment of our reading of the literary work.
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Classical Literary Criticism
• The story of Western literary criticism begins in ancient
Greece with the great tragedies of Euripides, Aeschylus,
and Sophocles, and the comedies of Aristophanes.
• During this time, poets, philosophers, rhetoricians,
grammarians, and critics laid down many of the basic
terms, concepts, and questions that were to shape the
future of literary criticism.
• These terms and concepts evolved all the way through to
our own century.
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Classical Literary Criticism
• The first recorded instances of criticism go back to
dramatic festivals in ancient Athens.
• A particularly striking literary critical discussion occurs
in Aristophanes’ play The Frogs, first performed in 405
BC.
• By the time of Plato and Aristotle, poetry had achieved
considerable authority and status.
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Classical Literary Criticism
• In this course we will study two major Greek
philosophers and critics:
1.Plato
2.Aristotle
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Plato
• Plato was the student of Socrates.
• He was the Greek philosopher who laid the foundations
of Western philosophy.
• It is stated that Western philosophy is “a series of
footnotes” to Plato.
• Plato gave initial formulation to the most fundamental
questions of literary criticism.
• Most of Plato’s philosophy is expounded in dialogue
form.
• Socrates is usually the main speaker in these dialogues.
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Plato
• Plato levels four accusations against poetry.
A. The falsity of the claims and representations of
poetry regarding both gods and men;
B. Poetry appeals to the weaker, inferior side of our
mind/soul (or psyche).
C. Poetry has a corruptive effect on character.
D. Poetry is a kind of madness or contagion
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A. The falsity of the claims and representations of poetry
regarding both gods and men;
• In the Republic, Plato views poetry as a falsifying
rhetorical activity and a danger to his ideal city.
• In this text, Plato introduces his theory of Forms.
• According to Plato, the physical world is not independent
or real.
• It is dependent upon another world, the realm of pure
Forms or ideas.
• Thus, any object in the physical world are derived from
the ideal Forms.
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A. The falsity of the claims and representations of poetry
regarding both gods and men;
• For Plato, our physical world is but a shadowy reflection
or imitation (mimesis) of the unseen world.
• Plato metaphorically expresses his theory of Forms in
the seventh book of the Republic.
• He recounts the “myth of the cave” where people have
lived all their lives watching shadows of reality cast by a
fire, with their backs to the true light of the sun.
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A. The falsity of the claims and representations of poetry
regarding both gods and men;
• Plato makes it clear that the cave in which men are
imprisoned represents the physical world, and that the
journey toward the light is the “soul’s ascension” to the
world of Forms.
• Thus, everything in our world, from objects to ideas, is
but a pale copy of the perfect, unchanging originals
(Forms) of these objects and ideas that dwell above in
the unseen world.
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A. The falsity of the claims and representations of poetry
regarding both gods and men;
• When a poet describes a chair or writes a poem about
love, he is not imitating the Form of the chair or of love,
but the earthly imitation of this ideal Chair/Love.
• Poetry, therefore, is twice removed from reality (the
Forms) because it imitates what is already an imitation,
• Thus, it is an unreliable source of truth and can only
lead astray those who study it.
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B.
Poetry appeals to the weaker, inferior
side of our mind/soul (or psyche).
• In the Republic, Plato attacks poetry for being fanciful.
• Philosophy or math engages our rational powers.
• Unlike philosophy or math, poetry, being fanciful,
engages that part of our psyche that is both illogical and
irrational.
• This irrational part of the soul is not only unreliable in
matters of truth but is disorderly unstable, inducing us
to partake in public displays of emotion.
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C. Poetry has a corruptive effect
on character.
• In the Republic, Socrates, the speaking persona, stresses
that poets must not present the gods as deceitful since
“there is no lying poet in God”.
• Thus, Plato concludes that only hymns to the gods and
praises of state heroes will be allowed; all other forms of
poetry must be censored.
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D. Poetry is a kind of madness or
contagion
• In Ion, Socrates cross-examines a rhapsode (a singer and
interpreter) called Ion on the nature of his art.
• Plato asserts that poets do not write nor rhapsodes
speak by art or skill, but by “divine possession”.
• Socrates points out that the rhapsode, like the poet
himself, speaks not with his own voice which is merely a
medium through which a god speaks.
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D. Poetry is a kind of madness or
contagion
• The Muse inspires the poet, who in turn passes on this
inspiration to the rhapsode, who produces an inspired
emotional effect on the audience.
• Socrates likens this process to a magnet, which transmits
its attractive power to a series of iron rings, which in
turn pass on the attraction to other rings, suspended from
the first set.
• The Muse is the magnet, the poet is the first ring, the
rhapsode is the middle ring, and the audience the last
one.
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D. Poetry is a kind of madness or
contagion
• In this way, the poet conveys and interprets the utterances
of the gods, and the rhapsode interprets the poets.
• Hence, the rhapsodes are “interpreters of
interpreters”.
• Poetry, according to Socrates, is irrational and inspired
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