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Languages of Criticism (2013-14)

Criticism has an uneasy status in the literary and artistic humanities. ‘Scholarship’, ‘analysis’, ‘history’ (as in ‘art history’), ‘studies’ (as in ‘English studies’) are more widespread terms. There are two linked reasons why this is so:  because criticism raises questions of value, and because it is an obviously rhetorical practice, working language creatively in order to capture the particularity of the objects it faces. The first characteristic makes it seem to belong to an older mode of culture, the realm of F. R. Leavis and Kenneth Clark; the second makes it hard to reconcile with our habitually plainer styles of academic writing. And yet critical judgments pervade everything we do in the literary and artistic humanities: they determine what we write about and what we choose to say. If we exclude critical writing from the academy we narrow our understanding of the texts and artworks which engage us and diminish our ability to justify what we do.

The Languages of Criticism project brings together experts in literature, film, visual art and music to pursue a comparative investigation of criticism’s practices, their intellectual basis, and the potential for re-grounding and enriching them. One strand of our discussions involves the sharing and reappraisal of theoretical frames. But the more distinctive aspect of our research is its concentration on criticism as practice: both linguistic practice (such as the role of metaphor, quotation, ekphrasis, paraphrase, and the interplay between description and argument) and institutional practice, such as the ‘group crit’ done by art students on each other’s work which is both like and unlike the teaching of the close reading of literature.

Our project was launched at the Programme Seminar on 6th November 2013: The Creativity of Criticism.

Dr Matthew Reynolds (English), Dr Andrew Klevan (Film), Dr Jason Gaiger (Fine Art), Dr Martyn Harry (Music), with Dr Xiaofan Amy Li (Modern Languages and Oriental Studies), Rosie Lavan, Angus Brown, and Mia Cuthbertson (English).

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