What does literary criticism hope to achieve?
There are many schools of thought, but all take as their starting point
the analysis of the reader's or listener's response. Poems may be
complex, requiring a good deal of explanation or even correction of
corrupt scripts, but there has to be an immediate impact of some sort:
not very strong, and not blatantly emotional necessarily, but something
that allows the critic to ask: how is this obtained? how significant is
it? how does it compare with similar works? No impact and there is
nothing to analyze. The work has failed, at least where that particular
reader is concerned, and no amount of critical cleverness, literary
allusions and information will bully him into responding to what he
But who is the reader? Each and everyone, as Stanley Fish might claim,
or Milton's "select audience though few"? Poets may not make money but
they still have outlets to consider. Whom are they writing for - the
editors of leading magazines, friends, society at large, or themselves?
And to say something significant about the world around them, to
resolve personal quandaries, to gain a literary reputation with those
who count? In an ideal world all aims might be served by the one work,
but the world is not ideal, and aims needed to be sorted out.
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