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In his "On a Book Entitled Lolita", Vladimir Nabokov recalls that he felt the "first little throb of Lolita" run through him as he read a newspaper article about an ape who, "after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature's cage." The image of a confinement so complete that it dominates and shapes artistic expression (however limited that expression may be) is a moving and powerful...
Nabokov essays on russian literature online - Mr Savvy …
The essay was once written deliberately as a piece of literature; its subject matter was of comparatively minor importance. Today most essays are written as expository, informative journalism, although there are still essayists in the great tradition who think of themselves as artists. Now, as in the past, some of the greatest essayists are critics of literature, drama, and the arts.
If the early Egyptians or Sumerians had critical theories about the writing of literature, these have not survived. From the time of classical Greece until the present day, however, Western criticism has been dominated by two opposing theories of the literary art, which might conveniently be called the expressive and constructive theories of composition.
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Literary criticism, as distinguished from scholarly research, is usually itself considered a form of literature. Some people find great critics as entertaining and stimulating as great poets, and theoretical treatises of literary aesthetics can be as exciting as novels. Aristotle, Longinus, and the Roman rhetorician and critic Quintilian are still read, although Renaissance critics like the once all-powerful Josephus Scaliger are forgotten by all but specialized scholars. Later critics, such as Poe, Sainte-Beuve, Taine, Vissarion Belinsky, Matthew Arnold, Walter Bagehot, Walter Pater, and George Saintsbury, are probably read more for themselves than for their literary judgments and for their general theorizing rather than for their applications (in the case of the first three, for instance, time has confounded almost all the evaluations they made of their contemporaries). The English critics have survived because they largely confined themselves to acknowledged masterpieces and general ideas. Perhaps literary criticism can really be read as a form of autobiography. Aestheticians of literature like I.A. Richards, Sir C.M. Bowra, Paul Valéry, Suzanne Langer, and Ernst Cassirer have had an influence beyond the narrow confines of literary scholarship and have played in our time something approaching the role of general philosophers. This has been true on the popular level as well. The Dane Georg Brandes, the Americans James Gibbons Huneker, H.L. Mencken, and Edmund Wilson these men have been social forces in their day. Literary criticism can play its role in social change. In Japan, the overthrow of the shogunate, the restoration of the emperor, and the profound change in the Japanese social sensibility begins with the literary criticism of Moto-ori Norinaga (1730-1801). The nineteenth-century revolution in theology resulted from the convergence of Darwinian theories of evolution and the technical and historical criticism of the Bible that scholars had undertaken. For many modern intellectuals, the literary quarterlies and weeklies, with their tireless discussions of the spiritual significance and formal characteristics of everything from the greatest masterpiece to the most ephemeral current production, can be said to have filled the place of religion, both as rite and dogma.
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In the twentieth century the methods of poetry have also changed drastically, although the innovator here might be said to have been Baudelaire (1821-1867). The disassociation and recombination of ideas of the Cubists, the free association of ideas of the Surrealists, dreams, trance states, the poetry of preliterate people all have been absorbed into the practice of modern poetry. This proliferation of form is not likely to end. Effort that once was applied to perfecting a single pattern in a single form may in the future be more and more directed toward the elaboration of entirely new multimedia forms, employing the resources of all the established arts. At the same time, writers may prefer to simplify and polish the forms of the past with a rigorous, Neoclassicist discipline. In a worldwide urban civilization, which has taken to itself the styles and discoveries of all cultures past and present, the future of literature is quite impossible to determine.
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Extended prose fiction is the latest of the literary forms to develop. We have romances from classical Greek times that are as long as short novels; but they are really tales of adventure vastly extended anecdotes. The first prose fiction of any psychological depth is the attributed to Petronius Arbiter (died AD 65/66). Though it survives only in fragments, supposedly one-eleventh of the whole, even these would indicate that it is one of the greatest picaresque novels, composed of loosely connected episodes of robust and often erotic adventure. The other great surviving fiction of classical times is the (known as ) by Apuleius (2nd century AD). In addition to being a picaresque adventure story, it is a criticism of Roman society, a celebration of the religion of Isis, and an allegory of the progress of the soul. It contains the justly celebrated story of Cupid and Psyche, a myth retold with psychological subtlety. Style has much to do with the value and hence the survival of these two works. They are written in prose of extraordinary beauty, although it is by no means of classical purity. The prose romances of the Middle Ages are closely related to earlier heroic literature. Some, like Sir Thomas Malorys fifteenth-century are retellings of heroic legend in terms of the romantic chivalry of the early Renaissance, a combination of barbaric, medieval, and Renaissance sensibility which, in the tales of Tristram and Isolt and Lancelot and Guinevere, produced something not unlike modern novels of tragic love.