A writer-editor-teacher’s quote of the week #18

“Critical principles, in fact, need wary handling. They can never be a substitute for discernment though they may assist us to avoid unnecessary blunders. There has hardly ever been a critical rule, principle or maxim which has not been for wise men a helpful guide but for fools a will-o’-the-wisp. All great watchwords of criticism from Aristotle’s ‘Poetry is an imitation’ to the doctrine that ‘Poetry is expression,’ are ambiguous pointers that different people follow to very different destinations. Even the most sagacious critical principles may, as we shall see, become merely a cover for critical ineptitude; and the most trivial or baseless generalisation may really mask good and discerning judgment. Everything turns upon how critical principles are applied. It is to be feared that critical formulas, even the best, are responsible for more bad judgment than good, because it is far easier to forget their subtle sense and apply them crudely than to remember it and apply them finely.”

— from the “Introductory” chapter in I. A. Richards’ Practical Criticism, first published in 1929

*Because this is a direct quote, I have rendered the passage exactly as it appears in the book, despite some spelling and comma usage that may appear awkward to modern readers.

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