What according to T.S Eliot, are the frontiers of criticism?

“The Frontiers of Criticism” is one of the well-known critical essays by T.S. Eliot. In this critical essay his main purpose is to throw light on the limits of criticism. He says that critical truths are not permanent and universal. They cannot be valid for all times and ages. Every new generation has its own value and creates its own critical truths. But a new critic is helped greatly by gradation in finding out the fresh truths. Moreover, there is a fundamental difference between literary truths and truths of social and physical sciences and those who try to mix them up stray away into a territory which lies outside the limits of literary criticism.”

So far as the function of a critic is concerned, he has to promote the understanding and the enjoyment of the reader. A critic who pays a great attention to the sources of a poem, the hidden motive of the poet, or gives only biographical sketch of the poet’s life. may even obstruct the proper understanding and enjoyment of poetry. But it does not mean that he should cut himself off from other branches of knowledge. He must have a wide and varied experience of this world and life, and this will enable him to perform his duties as a literary critic more properly. His main interest in writing criticism, however, is to help his reader to understand and enjoy. In this connection T.S. Eliot says. “The difference between the literary critic, and the critic who has passed beyond the frontier of literary criticism, is not that the literary critic is ‘purely literary. or that he had very little to say to us, for his literature would be pure abstraction. Poets have other interests beside poetry, otherwise their poetry would be very empty, they are poets because their dominant interest has been in turning their experience and their thought (and to experience and to think means to have interests beyond poetry) into poetry. The critic accordingly is literally critic if his primary interest in writing criticism is to help his readers to understand and enjoy. But he must have other interests, just who has learned the rules to be observed by the writers he criticises: the critic must be the whole man, a man with convictions and principles, and of knowledge and experience of life.”

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If a critic fails to help us in understanding and enjoyment poetry. his work may still be a useful activity, but it does not come under the category of literary criticism. It might be a contribution to psychology. sociology, logic, pedology or some other branch of knowledge but it cannot be contribution to literary criticism. Biography too can’t be called criticism. at fe most it can only give explanation which may give some help in understanding the poetry. The factual information about a poet’s period. the conditions of the society in which he lived, the ideas current in his time implicit in his writings, the state of the language in his period may be a necessary preface for understanding his poetry, but it is not an end in itself and is totally different from the real understanding of poetry. Such information has a value of its own, but only as history and not as literary criticism. In reading a poet of the past it is not necessary that we should be able to project ourselves into a remote period and think and feel as a contemporary of the poet might have thought and felt. Our task is to divest ourselves of the limitation of our own age, and the poet whose work we are reading of the limitation of his age, in order to get the direct experience the immediate contact with his poetry.” Illustrating his point of view, Eliot points out. “What matters most, let us say, in reading an ode of Sappha, is not that I should imagine myself to be an island Greek of 2500 years ago; what matters is the experience which is the same for all human beings of different centuries and language capable of enjoying poetry, the spark which! an lead across those 2500 years. So the critic to whom I am most grate..l is one who can make me look at something. I have never looked at before or looked at only with eye clouded by prejudice. Set me face to face with it and then leave me alone with it. From that point I must rely upon my own sensibility, intelligence, and capacity for wisdom.”

There is a striking consistency in Eliot’s views on the nature and function of literary criticism. In his critical essay “Tradition and individual Talent, he argues that a poet has two personalities-the man who experiences and suffers and the artist who assimilates and transmutes his experiences and expresses them in a work of art. The greatness of a poem depends not on the intensity of the emotions, but on the intensity of the artistic process; the pressure under which the fusion takes place. The function of a literary critic to understand this without confusing it with another thing. The job of critic is to look at the poem as it is without bothering about other things. In another essay “The Function of Criticism”. Eliot says that a critic must possess a very highly developed “sense of fact” and the attainment of which, according to him, means the very “pinnacle of civilization.” The duty of a critic is to find out the facts about a work of art. Eliot doubts the unity of interpretation in literary criticism, for it is legitimate when it is not interpretation at all but merely putting the reader in possession of facts which he would otherwise have missed. In Frontiers of Criticism, Eliot says that a poet has other interests besides poetry. But he is poet, because his dominant interest has been in turning his experience and thought into poetry. Similarly, a critic has also other interests besides poetry and literary criticism. He is not merely a technical expert who has learned the rules to be observed by the writers he criticises. The critic must be the whole man, a man with convictions and principles and of knowledge and experience of life. But he is literary critic, because his primary interest in writing criticism is to help his readers to understand and enjoy the poetry of particular poet as poetry, without any extra literary interests.



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