Thursday, May 24, 2007

On Critical Reading

From CS Lewis An Experiment in Criticism

I have also refrained from describing the sort of reading I approve as "critical reading". The phrase, if not elliptically used, seems to me deeply misleading. I said in an earlier chapter that we can jduge any sentence or even word only by the work it does or fails to do. The effect must precede the judgement on the effect. The same is true of a whole work. Ideally, we must receive it first and then evaluate it. Otherwise, we have nothing to evaluate. ....

...In later life, we can hardly help evaluating as we go along; it has become a habit. We thus fail of that inner silence, that emptying out of ourselves, by which we ought to make room for the total reception of the work. ...
But here's the part which particularly seemed to connect with something I've written about before: how a schooly approach to literature studies can actually impede a child's approach to literature:

"All this activity impedes reception.
For this reason I am very doubtful whether criticism is a proper exercise for boys and girls. A clever schoolboy's reaction to his reading is most naturally expressed by parody or imitation. The necessary condition of all good reading is 'to get ourselves out of the way'; we do not help the young to do this by forcing them to keep on expressing opinions."


momof3feistykids said...

I agree with this. One's relationship with a work of literature is somewhat like one's relationship with a person - not really something tha can be broken down pedagogically.

melanieb said...

I agree too. I sometimes wonder if all my schooling as an English major has only served to ruin my ability to enjoy a good book.

Although, most of the time I am able to turn off the habit of criticism and read for enjoyment.

This post reminds me of a Billy Collins poem, "Introduction to Poetry." Do you know it? It's one of my absolute favorites.

You can read it here:

Willa said...

Melanie, I was an English lit major too. I did appreciate my education (though incidentally wish it had not been quite so secular), but I think the point is that I was ready for some level of analysis after many, many years as an amateur bookworm. Educators seem to have a tendency to want to push higher-level thinking to earlier and earlier levels. There is arguably nothing wrong with literary criticism and analysis, but it ought to rest on a foundation of receptivity and, well, love, I think. It ought not to spring out of nowhere like Athena from Zeus' brow : ).

Willa said...

Oh and thank you both for the comments and Melanie, for the link to the poem which I plan to go look up now. Steph, yes, I also think a book-reading is about relationship.