Journal of Literature and Science
"Literature and Science" (Matthew Arnold )
Literary criticism, as distinguished from scholarly research, is usually itself considered a form of literature. Some people find great critics as entertaining and stimulating as great poets, and theoretical treatises of literary aesthetics can be as exciting as novels. Aristotle, Longinus, and the Roman rhetorician and critic Quintilian are still read, although Renaissance critics like the once all-powerful Josephus Scaliger are forgotten by all but specialized scholars. Later critics, such as Poe, Sainte-Beuve, Taine, Vissarion Belinsky, Matthew Arnold, Walter Bagehot, Walter Pater, and George Saintsbury, are probably read more for themselves than for their literary judgments and for their general theorizing rather than for their applications (in the case of the first three, for instance, time has confounded almost all the evaluations they made of their contemporaries). The English critics have survived because they largely confined themselves to acknowledged masterpieces and general ideas. Perhaps literary criticism can really be read as a form of autobiography. Aestheticians of literature like I.A. Richards, Sir C.M. Bowra, Paul Valéry, Suzanne Langer, and Ernst Cassirer have had an influence beyond the narrow confines of literary scholarship and have played in our time something approaching the role of general philosophers. This has been true on the popular level as well. The Dane Georg Brandes, the Americans James Gibbons Huneker, H.L. Mencken, and Edmund Wilson these men have been social forces in their day. Literary criticism can play its role in social change. In Japan, the overthrow of the shogunate, the restoration of the emperor, and the profound change in the Japanese social sensibility begins with the literary criticism of Moto-ori Norinaga (1730-1801). The nineteenth-century revolution in theology resulted from the convergence of Darwinian theories of evolution and the technical and historical criticism of the Bible that scholars had undertaken. For many modern intellectuals, the literary quarterlies and weeklies, with their tireless discussions of the spiritual significance and formal characteristics of everything from the greatest masterpiece to the most ephemeral current production, can be said to have filled the place of religion, both as rite and dogma.
Volume 8, Issue 1 (2015) | Journal of Literature and Science
Hippolyte Taine, the nineteenth-century French critic, evolved an ecological theory of literature. He looked first and foremost to the national characteristics of western European literatures, and he found the source of these characteristics in the climate and soil of each respective nation. His (5 vols., 1863-1869) is an extensive elaboration of these ideas. It is doubtful that anyone today would agree with the simplistic terms in which Taine states his thesis. It is obvious that Russian literature differs from English or French from German. English books are written by Englishmen, their scenes are commonly laid in England, they are usually about Englishmen and they are designed to be read by Englishmen at least in the first instance. But modern civilization becomes more and more a world civilization, wherein works of all peoples flow into a general fund of literature. It is not unusual to read a novel by a Japanese author one week and one by a black writer from West Africa the next. Writers are themselves affected by this cross-fertilization. Certainly, the work of the great nineteenth-century Russian novelists has had more influence on twentieth-century American writers than has the work of their own literary ancestors. Poetry does not circulate so readily, because catching its true significance in translation is so very difficult to accomplish. Nevertheless, for the past hundred years or so, the influence of French poetry upon all the literatures of the civilized world has not just been important, it has been preeminent. The tendentious elements of literature propaganda for race, nation, or religion have been more and more eroded in this process of wholesale cultural exchange.