An Experiment in Criticism

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Lewis writes well, and the slim volume is probably worth reading simply for the pleasure it affords in this respect. It is somewhat dated, though that is only problematic as regards a very few of the men he cites, worthies that have fallen into oblivion. The argument itself is appealing, but not wholly convincing. Many of us would like to see literature like this, and differentiate between the good and the bad as Lewis does, but experience teaches us different.


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The internet, in particular, shows the great passion which the truly bad can arouse in readers. Few authors are as revered and maligned as the quite mediocre Ayn Rand, and while there is some sort of case to be made for her as fitting in the category of the good there are many authors of science fiction, in particular who are discussed and reread with almost unequaled passion yet whose work by no measure whatsoever could be termed even passable. It is a worthy book and an interesting argument. The essay, well-presented, reads well and quickly. Skip to the end of the images gallery.

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Add to Cart. Add to Wish List. Why do we read literature and how do we judge it? Lewis's classic An Experiment in Criticism springs from the conviction that literature exists for the joy of the reader and that books should be judged by the kind of reading they invite.


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He argues that 'good reading', like moral action or religious experience, involves surrender to the work in hand and a process of entering fully into the opinions of others: 'in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself'. Crucial to his notion of judging literature is a commitment to laying aside expectations and values extraneous to the work, in order to approach it with an open mind. Amid the complex welter of current critical theories, C.

An Experiment in Criticism

Lewis's wisdom is valuably down-to-earth, refreshing and stimulating in the questions it raises about the experience of reading. Tell us Your Thoughts. We'd love to hear your thoughts on this product. All fields must be completed. Lewis notes that this receptiveness is not passive, either; this is an important distinction, for we might set up these pre-conditions as a sort of self-protection, tacitly acknowledging the power of great literature to persuade in often unwanted ways.


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  • We must enter into the created world of the author with a charity that we should strive for in our personal interactions. They are simply not the same.

    Unliterary Readers: “An Experiment in Criticism” by C.S. Lewis, Chapter 4 – The Warden's Walk

    Lewis writes that he suspects that there are many among the unliterary that are as virtuous, and many most certainly more virtuous, than the literary. There are other pitfalls that the literary can fall into in their enjoyment of reading. It is precisely this poiema of a work of art that defies being reduced to a philosophy or mere logos. This is opposed to the type of knowing that is savoir, or more impersonal and removed.

    If we remain in our darkened toolshed, we cannot truly make any sort of pronouncements on the value of its art, for its poiema is left untasted.

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    All of this is not to overlook the logos of any given work. The logos then forms a part of the final resting note that is so pleasurable for us. That Lewis was sensitive to the advantage of such a latent and hidden logos is evidenced by the fact that he quietly imbued his Narniad with the influences of medieval cosmology with such skill that it has only been recently discovered, decades after their publication and despite unceasing popularity. In reducing art to mere message, we miss the poiema and probably a great deal of the logos, as a result, especially in the better works in which they are more inextricably mixed.

    As Christian artists, we are reminded to refrain from turning our art into mere message. We can be so motivated to use literature to convey Christian truths and to change society for good that we end up overstating our logos at the expense of a beautifully crafted poiema. It becomes overbearing, suffocating, and impersonal. In the end, we too destroy that which we reduce. Literary beauty is forfeited for the sake of what feels like mere propaganda. Lewis reminds us that we must seek to imbue our art with as much charity for our audience as we do in our personal interactions.

    If we remain content to stay within the parameters of this lesser language, we cannot fully enter into that most important of relationships with our Creator. Still, finite creatures that we are, we need our categories and boxes to help us understand, in a savoir sense, the infinite. We have to set complex realities in the little box of our experiments in theology, philosophy, morality, and literary criticism.

    An Experiment in Criticism Canto Classics


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