The critic could put their evaluation into words or deliver it orally. Critiques can also be created about a political or philosophical idea, rough drafts of literary works, or anything else that proposes an idea or brings an artistic idea into reality. The critique is usually a summary of what the critic thinks of the literary work. They’ll give their expert opinion on its elements, pass judgment on the approach, formal elements, and the significance of the piece as a whole. Depending on who the critic is, they may focus on whatever their expertise is in.
Definition of Critique
A critique is an analysis of one’s writing or another artistic endeavor. A work of art or literature is critiqued to analyze its elements and give the writer a chance to make changes. The critic should point out the shortcomings of the literary work and provide the writer with advice on how to improve their writing. This might be in regard to the plot structure, character development, style, grammatical errors, and more.
Criqitues and Literary Criticism
Literary criticism is the study and evaluation of literature that influences later writers. Literary modernism is highly influenced by criticism, particularly when it comes to writing around contemporary themes. It is often related to literary theory, which is the discussion of literature’s goals and methods. Literary criticism is usually published in the form of an essay or book. Some literary critics work for publications like The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, and The New Yorker. These well-known publications focus, in part, on reviews of recent literary works and provide readers with an overview of those publications.
History of Literary Criticism
Literary criticism dates back to the 4th century B.C. and Aristotle’s Poetics. This work was a description of various literary forms and developed several important concepts, like mimesis and catharsis. As the centuries progressed, literary criticism focused on religious texts, presented literature as central to culture (in the Renaissance), and rose significantly in popularity during the Enlightenment. During this period, as literacy rates were rising around the world, criticism was influenced by praise writing styles and found its way into journals and magazines. During the 19th century, aestheticism began to influence the work of literary critics. Romanticism and the sublime were influential, as was the idea that literature didn’t always need to be beautiful.
In the 20th century, criticism made another important shift. New Criticism in the United States and Great Britain was prominent. It dominated the study and discussion of literature in English. This period of criticism focused on close reading, discussion of the author’s intent, and the reader’s response. Literary works were, as they are often still are now, analyzed on their terms, without consideration for the writer’s biography or cultural influences
Examples of Critiques
The New York Times reviews Asymmetry by Lisa Holiday
In this contemporary review, the writer reviews Holiday’s book in a few lines. Some of which include:
The line, embedded unceremoniously in the middle of a page-long paragraph, doubles, like so many others in “Asymmetry,” as literary criticism. Halliday’s novel is so strange and startlingly smart that its mere existence seems like commentary on the state of fiction.
Here, the writer presents their honest opinion of one portion of the novel. This is a good example of a single, personal critique of a book versus a broader critique of literature and theory in general (such as seen in the following example). The writer goes on to say:
Despite its title, “Asymmetry” comprises two seemingly unrelated sections of equal length, appended by a slim and quietly shocking coda. Halliday’s prose is clean and lean, almost reportorial in the style of W. G. Sebald, and like the murmurings of a shy person at a cocktail party, often comic only in single clauses.
Here, they again bring in their personal opinion of the novel and try to convey information that should help one decide whether or not they want to pick up the book for themselves.
Critique of Judgement by Immanuel Kant
Kant is one of the most important literary critics of the 18th century. His work, Critique of Judgment, was published in 1790 and is a good example of a broad critique of literary theory and methods of thought. It is the third critique in his critical project. It’s divided into two sections, Critique of Aesthetic Judgment and the Critique of Teleological Judgment. The entire project explores the limits of knowledge. In Critique of Judgement specifically, Kant discusses the four possible aesthetic reflective judgments. They are the agreeable, the beautiful, the sublime, and the good.
How to Write a Literary Critique
When attempting to write a literary critique, it’s important to first have a good understanding of the work you’re critiquing. This means reading the novel, story, or poem in its entirety. You will likely want to make notes as you read, jotting down ideas to remember, common themes, concerns you have about the writer’s intentions or the clarity of the narrative, and more. It’s often helpful to read the literary work more than once, perhaps the second time, with the intention of looking for specific things you might’ve missed in the first reading. A critique is aimed at responding critically to a novel and evaluating the writer’s work. This will mean that it’s necessary to say both negative and positive things about the book/story/poem. Some of the elements you might want to consider while critiquing a story are:
- The theme
- Conflict and plot
- The audience
Critiques, like reviews, can be subjective, no matter how hard the writer tries to keep their personal preference out of the writing. You should decide at the beginning how much of your own opinion you’re going to include. For example, if you’re critiquing a mystery novel and you have always hated reading mystery novels. It will likely improve your writing if you’re able to set this personal prejudice to the side.
Related Literary Terms
- Literary Modernism: originated in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was mainly focused on Europe and North America.
- Audience: the group for which an artist or writer makes a piece of art or writes.
- Plot: a connected sequence of events that make up a novel, poem, play, film, television show, and other narrative works.
- Conflict: a plot device used by writers when two opposing sides come up against each other.