On Keeping Psychology Out of Literary Criticism

Peter Lamarque

in The Aesthetic Mind

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199691517
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731815 | DOI:
On Keeping Psychology Out of Literary Criticism

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The paper casts a critical eye over attempts to incorporate psychology into literary criticism over the past century. On this issue there was a long drawn-out tussle between the romantics and the modernists, the latter against, the former in favour of, psychological accounts of literature and literary value. Each side put up some strong arguments but in the end it seemed that the modernists had won the day. But now there is a new romanticism re-emerging, in the form of theories of emotion and literature. Prominent among these is the work of Jenefer Robinson, e.g. in Deeper Than Reason (2005). But is there enough in Robinson’s theory to make literary critics think again? The paper argues not. Robinson’s claims both about authors and readers are examined. On the authorial side, examples from romantic poetry suggest that criticism need attend only to the implied (not the real) author, i.e. emotion expressed merely in a work. From the point of view of the reader, it is argued that Robinson’s emphasis on a reader’s actual emotional responses as integral to critical understanding is not fully justified, nor consistent with standard critical practice.

Keywords: literary criticism; psychology; romanticism; Robinson; emotional response

Chapter.  6941 words. 

Subjects: Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art

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