Saturday, January 30, 2010

1946: Kenneth Burke "Kinds of Criticism"

The Author:
Kenneth Burke
Born in Pittsburgh in 1897, Burke dropped out of Columbia University in 1918. Thirteen years later, he published his first book on literature and criticism, Counter-Statement (1931). After publishing three more books of criticism and theory over the next decade, he was hired as a teacher at Bennington College in Vermont in 1943 where he stayed until 1961. During this period he published two of his best-known books, A Grammar of Motives (1945) and A Rhetoric of Motives (1950). He died in 1993.

The Text:
“Kinds of Criticism"
First published in Poetry, “Kinds of Criticism” describes seven different types of criticism (identified below), makes the case that all serve a useful purpose, and urges critics to be as explicit as possible about the particular critical method they employ (Leitch et al., 1371).


1. Genetic Criticism is concerned “with the relation between the poem and its non-poetic or extrapoetic background . . . the relations between act and scene (environmental, historical criticism) or the relations between act and agent (psychological criticism). (1273)”

2. Implicational Criticism “deals with . . . response which the poem arouses in its audience. (1273)”

3. Poetics “…deals with the poem as a member of a class. If the poem is a ballad, for instance, the critic formulates the principles of balladry, and treats of individual ballads in terms of these principles. (1274)”

4. Reviewing includes “1) summarizing the contents; (2) quoting characteristic passages; (3) using ‘conclusive’ adjectives that specify and evaluate the book’s effects. (1275)”

5. Textual Analysis “at its worst . . . is a mere reflex of the fact that, for courses in literary appreciation, the instructor is obliged by contract to fill an appointed number of hours with observations on prescribed texts. At its best, it sustains the intense contemplation of an object to the point where one begins to see not only more deeply into the object but beyond, in the direction of generalization about the kinds of art and artistic excellence, and even the principles of human thought and experience universally. (1276)”

6. Criticism of Criticism, the “ultimate kind” (see Yul Brynner in the photo above and at right) includes systematic statements involving discrimination, classification, methodology, possibility and standards of evaluation, and the like. (1276)”

7. Esthetic Criticism “rules out Didactic, Propagandistic, Moralistic motives. No matter how strongly such motives may pervade actual poems, the Esthetic rules them out, as an element alien to its mode of measurement. (1277-78)”

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