HISTORY OF CRITICISM
Because the term paper examined your knowledge of
Module One (the Ancient period), the final exam is based on Modules Two (Early
Modern / Romantic) and Three (the early Twentieth Century).
Of course, some information discussed in the first module may inform
or be relevant to what we studied in subsequent modules, so it might be important to recall
some of that as well. However, your focus should be on Modules 2 and 3.
There are SIX questions in all to choose
from. The exam paper is divided into TWO sections, the first
devoted to the Early Modern / Romantic period and the second to the early Twentieth
Century. Each section consists of THREE questions. You are required to answer TWO questions, each
from a different section, in TWO hours.
Though we studied many philosophers (such
as Descartes or Hegel) and their views on issues like the nature of reality, the self, knowledge,
language, and so on, the focus of the exam will be on
literary theory. Hence, there will be no questions
specifically on philosophers such as those mentioned above.
Rather, the questions will all address the views of literary theorists such as Pope, Johnson,
Taine, and so on. Of course, the philosophy of a Locke or a Herder
and so on often shape the views on literature of a Johnson or a Taine,
so it might be useful to have some basic understanding of the views of
the former, but the exam will focus on the views of the literary
theorists, not the philosophers.
Each question asks you to compare the views of at least TWO theorists
studied on one topic addressed in the module in question. Here is
a reminder of the topics which we addressed in each module:
We began by studying the Early
Modern philosophers Descartes, Locke and Kant with a view to
getting a handle on the differences between rationalism and
empiricism and grasping how these thinkers laid the foundation
for the scientific approach to understanding things which is the predominant feature of
modern life (since at least the Enlightenment (this will not be
examined, though some aspects thereof shape the work of the
theorists discussed in the next point for which reason a basic grasp
of their claims may be useful).
We then sought to see how these
philosophers influenced, directly or indirectly, the
views of the so-called Neo-Classical literary theorists Pope, Johnson and Young, all
of whom view 'nature' (reality) as the ultimate standard by
which literature should be judged:
for Pope, writers should seek to hold a mirror up to
nature while critics should judge literature according to
whether nature has been accurately depicted;
for Johnson, a writer's job is to depict the world by holding a mirror up
for Young, the direct imitation of nature is far more
valuable than merely imitating other writers -- originality in
literature, rather than emulation, is accordingly extremely important.
We then turned out attention to the
Romantics whose worldview is almost always diametrically opposed to
that of their Early Modern / Neoclassical precursors. We
began this section of the module by looking in
particular at thinkers such Hegel, Herder and Humboldt who are
sometimes classified as philosophers, though many philosophers hesitate to classify
them as such, or at least not in the sense that Descartes and Locke are
accepted without question to be philosophers. Again,
though no question specifically asks you about these thinkers, it
might be very useful to acquaint yourself with their views given
that literary theory is never produced in a vacuum and that Herder's
views, for example, were quite influential on Taine (discussed in
the next point).
We then turned out attention to a close
examination of Taine's views on literature as a paradigmatic example of the 'expressive
turn' (i.e. the turn toward the author) which is the
hallmark of the Romantic view of literature and which renders
their views on literature so very different from those of the
Neoclassicists (discussed in the second point above). For the
Romantics, all roads in literature ultimately lead to the author of the
work for which reason an understanding of how the place and time
in which the author lived and wrote sheds light on his/her work is
In this module, we passed over the mid-
to late nineteenth century and zeroed in on early twentieth century
theorists of literature. We learned that both the
Neoclassicists and the Romantics have their heirs and that these two
camps (which I have labelled respectively the philosophical
approach (descended from the Neoclassicists and before them the key
philosophers [Plato and Aristotle] of ancient Greece) and the
rhetorical approach (descended from the Romantics and before
them the rhetoricians [not least the Sophists] of ancient Greece)
offer competing perspectives on each sub-topic discussed.
We first addressed the issue of
authorship and literary history by comparing the 'philosophical'
perspective of T. S. Eliot (and, in the tutorial, the Caribbean
thinker Derek Walcott) with the 'rhetorical' point of view of Leo
Spitzer (and the Caribbean theorist Kamau Brathwaite's "History of
We next addressed the issue of the
reader / critic by comparing the view of I. A. Richards (and Ken
Ramchand's "Concern for Criticism") with those of Louise Rosenblatt
(and Kamau Brathwaite's "Caribbean Critics").
We then addressed the issue of
Representation and Form I: Poetry by comparing the views of the
New Critics John Crowe Ransom and Cleanth Brooks with those of
Walter Ong (and the Caribbean theorist Gordon Rohlehr). (I
should mention that for this sub-topic you could compare Rohlehr's
views on poetry with those of Walcott in "The Muse of History.")
Last but not least, we addressed the
issue of Representation and Form II: Prose Fiction by
comparing the views of Ian Watt (and selections from Ken Ramchand's
The West Indian Novel and its Background) with those of Wayne
Booth (and Kamau Brathwaite's "Jazz and the West Indian Novel").
I would advise that, for each Section of
the exam, you revise at least TWO of the sub-topics listed above.
case, familiarise yourself with the sub-topic in
carefully reading the primary sources in
question in conjunction with my own summaries / notes (where these are
carefully studying and trying to remember the argument advanced in
each essay (one of the best ways to do so is by paraphrasing it);
consulting relevant secondary sources for any light that these
may shed on the views of the theorist in question (for suggested readings,
consult the relevant PhilWeb
pages devoted to the theorists in question);
last but not least, comparing and contrasting the point of view of each
Remembering that the goal is not merely to
paraphrase the argument of a particular theorist but to marshall that
information in order to answer the particular question asked.
Finally, some useful general advice:
One way to get a handle on a particular theory is to consider the
implications of the argument in question for your own work as a theorist and
critic: how has it changed how you think about the nature of human identity,
or the nature of knowledge, or literary criticism,
etc.? How has it also accordingly changed what you do as a literary critic?
Another way to grasp a theory is to study a
practical application of it. For example, if you are trying to come to
grips with the meaning of the term 'realism,' it might be
useful, for example, to compare what Ian Watt has to say in "Realism and the Novel Form,"
the theoretical preface to his The Rise of the Novel, with any of his other
chapters devoted to studies of particular novels written in the
eighteenth century and which, as such, exemplify the particular approach to literary
criticism which he is advocating.
Last but not least, remember that the secret in doing well in any exam
in any course is to
anticipate the kind of questions which may be asked. To this end,
thoroughly: study the Past Exam
in this course and try, in the case of each topic and each theorist, to
recall my emphases (and even hints), to put your finger on the main issues at stake and, thus,
to figure out the kind of question which may be
asked of you.
Please access the past exam
papers from this course here.