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“Are literary critics mad? Or are they just pretending to be mad?”
Literary criticism, or lit crit, is a deliberate and systematic approach to decapitating, dismembering, and disemboweling an author, figuratively speaking, who, on his (or, occasionally, her) worst day can write better than the critic who, in most instances, is illiterate and intellectually dense. Literary critics contend that their “evaluation” of the merit of a literary work will help others, who are too stupid to comprehend the word as it is written, to understand and appreciate all the squiggly black marks on the pages of the book that the critic is appraising. Some critics believe themselves to have devised a theory as the basis for their criticism, whereas others simply write, as it were, from the hip. The term "Lit Crit" is a common slang for Literarry Criticism and can be used in phrases such as "Ay yo gimme some of dat lit crit son." or "Damn, shorty got some nice lit crit skillz."
Lit Crit as an Occupation
Most literary critics (hi, Dr. Teller!) teach in college or university English departments because they are unemployable elsewhere and publish their
fiction criticism in academic journals because few other periodicals will print their diatribes. The few non-academic periodicals that do publish lit crit include The New York Times Book Review, The Nation, and The New Yorker, mainly to put on airs and to provide filler material to bulk up the size of their newspaper or magazine so that it appears that the periodical is worth buying, even though, of course, it is not; the public is not fooled; and sales and subscriptions continue to decline dramatically (largely because of the inclusion of lit crit articles among the pages of these publications).
Aristotelian Lit Crit
Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher known for his love of sodomy, published Poetics to impress the boy he was dating at the time, who enjoyed poems that praise and celebrate buggery. The treatise originated the terms mimesis, meaning show me yours and I’ll show you mine, and catharsis, meaning ejaculation, which are still widely used by literary critics with a penchant for sodomy. Aristotle saw literary works as the equivalent of a linguistic sexual act in which, following the exposition, or foreplay, an inciting moment, usually involving nudity, leads to the rising action, or erection, that, in turn, reaches its dramatic and physiological apex at the climax, or orgasm, whereupon the reader, if male, ejaculates if the literary work is well written, before succumbing to the work’s falling action, or flaccidity, and, finally, ending either in a catastrophe, if the work is unsatisfying emotionally, or with the resolution, or cleanup. His model, slightly revised, continues to influence modern critics and readers alike.
Medieval Lit Crit
During the Middle Ages, lit crit developed a more religious approach to decapitating, dismembering, and disemboweling authors, based on the idea that every word that comes out of an author’s inkwell should be, in some way, linked to the Bible. To critics who take this approach, words are signs of the times and, as such, should point beyond themselves to God, the Ghost in the cosmic machine. Works are judged on the basis of how much and how well they are inspired and to the degree that they mirror the Word of God they are considered successful or not. When dabbling in lit crit, such authors as J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis adopted this approach to the undisciplined discipline.
Contemporary Lit Crit
As lit crit continued to
flower fester, it became increasingly dissociated from the art that it was supposedly critiquing, developing complex and elaborate theories that had little or nothing to do with actual literary texts. Critics began to criticize not written works of art but one another, and their debates sounded more like catfights than erudite treatises on art. However, a truce has been declared on some campuses, and the professors have agreed, at least for the moment, to retract their claws and to disengage from catty rhetoric and the use of mincing phrases. There has even been some reluctant discussion about returning to the evaluation of literary works rather than simply insulting, berating, and castigating one another. As Wikipedia, the encyclopedia to end all encyclopedias (except Uncyclopedia, which will never surrender) puts it, in an apt imitation of lit crit style: “Acrimonious disagreements over the goals and methods of literary criticism, which characterized both sides taken by critics during the "rise" of theory, have declined (though they still happen).”
Like psychology, lit crit, as a discipline, has learned that there may be as many schools of thought concerning a literary text as there can be ideas as to why some madman is insane and as to which therapeutic approach among hundreds is likely to be most advantageous financially. There are even some critics who, disparaged by their peers, devote their time and attention to comic books and Playboy pictorials as literary works worthy of discussion, evaluation, and appreciation.