Annual workshop of the AILC / ICLA Research Committee on Literary Theory „CRITIQUE / CRITICISM“, Berlin (23.-24.06.2017)

Annual workshop of the AILC / ICLA Research Committee on Literary Theory

Ort: ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et., Trajekte-Tagungsraum
Datum: 23.06.2017 – 24.06.2017
Kontakt: Stefan Willer

The English language has a way of differentiating ›criticism‹ and ›critique‹ that is absent from other European languages. As is often explained, ›critique‹ rather refers to the philosophical tradition of critical thought—as in »Critique of Pure Reason«—whereas ›criticism‹ denotes its more down-to-earth applications, such as literary criticism. Even though this distinction obviously underrates the complexities of literary evaluation, it has been and is being used to introduce value judgments with respect to literary criticism itself. To cite a blunt example: »criticism finds fault/critique looks at structure«, »criticism is spoken with a cruel and sarcastic tone/critique’s voice is kind, honest, and objective«, »criticism is negative/critique is positive« (Judy Reeves, Guide for Writers and Writing Groups, 2002).

As simplistic as these dichotomies may be, they address long-standing epistemological and ethical problems. On the one hand, according to Rodolphe Gasché, critique in the history of modern philosophy, starting with Descartes, »entails a new and radical negativity of thought.« On the other, it can be labelled essentially positive, as in Heidegger, who states that the Greek verb ›krinein‹ means »to lift out that of special sort« and thus designates »the most positive of the positive« (cf. Gasché’s introduction to his Honor of Thinking, 2007). Between these extremes, a vast field of distinctions opens up, especially for literary and/or textual criticism. According to Friedrich Schleiermacher’s reflections on Hermeneutik und Kritik (1810s–30s), critcism is both a judgment (»Gericht«) and a comparison (»Vergleichung«); it can be doctrinal and historical, lower and higher, documentary and divinatory, referring both to letter and spirit. Ultimately, for Schleiermacher, every slip of the tongue is a critical case, given that thought and speech diverge. Criticism hence becomes relevant for finding ›faults‹ in the broadest sense, but in a highly differentiated manner. Thus, the English distinction of ›critique‹ and ›criticism‹ can induce some more specific research into the techniques and theories of drawing distinctions.

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