The course takes its title from Oscar Wilde’s 1891 dialogue, ‘The Critic as Artist’, and tells the story of the rise of aesthetic criticism. The term aesthetic is a broad one, which, in the most general sense, means focusing on the beauty of art rather than some outside purpose or object. The course will therefore address what might at first seem like old-fashioned ideas of art, beauty, and truth. It will do so with an eye on today. We’ll think about what aspects of literature these formulations help us capture, what they might add to our appreciation of literature, and what they might exclude. We’ll think about what makes art ‘art’ and how questions of beauty and feeling remain relevant even in a very different cultural and political moment. The course thereby raises fundamental questions about how and why we study literature. Indeed, the idea of ‘the critic as artist’ sits at the crossroads of two interrelated and vigorously debated questions: what is the role of the critic and what is the role of the artist? We’ll examine these debates and how they evolved over time, from the Romantics to the aestheticism of Walter Pater and Wilde. The course will conclude by turning to Nietzsche as both a ‘critic as artist’, who celebrates art’s aesthetic value, and as the founding father of genealogical critique, who foreshadows the end of the aesthetic era.
The purposes of the course are:
- to understand critical concepts, debates, and methods formulated in the syllabus texts;
- to trace the development of criticism within this period; and
- to provide students with a critical vocabulary and some general methodological frameworks that may be applied to their readings of literary texts.
We will meet once a week for three hours. The course will be made up of formal lectures, group work, and class discussions guided by a student paper given at the beginning of each class. Each week different students will present short argumentative papers on that week’s reading and its potential application to literary texts.
Class Participation and Attendance – 10%
Paper Presentation – 15%
Mid-Term Paper – 30%
Final Paper – 45%
The reading for the course will be available in the course pack and will include:
Immanuel Kant, Selections from Critique of the Power of Judgment
William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads
S. T. Coleridge, Selections from Biographia Literaria
Mathew Arnold, ‘The Function of Criticism at the Present Time’
Walter Pater, Selections from The Renaissance
Oscar Wilde, ‘The Critic as Artist’
Friedrich Nietzsche, Selections from The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals