An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis

AnExperimentInCriticismAn Experiment in Criticism, 1961

My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough….But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, but is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do. ~C.S. Lewis  (140-141)

In this work of literary criticism, C.S. Lewis wants to achieve the thought experiment–what if, instead of judging books to be good or bad, we judged the reading of a book to be good or bad? What happens when the paradigm in literary criticism is flipped and instead of looking at the value of the content (literature, music, or art), we looked at the value of how it is perceived, how it is enjoyed. I particularly enjoyed this thought experiment and how Lewis describes a good reader as one who “receives” the literature, rather than “uses” it. I enjoyed his description of the different types of “castle-building” by readers of fiction or fantasy. I won’t lie that most of his literary references (aside from Jane Austen, Dickens, Arnold, Aristotle, Morris, and some of the Greek/Roman mythology and tragedies) I hadn’t read. But as this is really a work examining how to examine works of literature (instead of actually examining specific works), it didn’t stop me from appreciating this book. I checked this out from the library, but I think I really need to have a copy of my own. There are definitely passages that I would like to return to. I had a very difficult time finding just one quote I wanted to share in this post–I had three or four in mind. I also really appreciated Lewis’s views on Children’s literature and Science Fiction: two traditionally marginalized categories of literature.

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June 26, 2014 · 9:47 pm

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