[Leavis is here replying to an essay by the Czech-American critic Rene Wellek, who had argued the need for literary critics to spell out their principles of interpretation in a way which would meet philosophical criteria - Ed.] … Literary criticism and philosophy seem to me to be quite distinct and different kinds of discipline - at least, I think they ought to be…. I should not find it easy to define the difference satisfactorily, but Dr Wellek knows what it is and could give at least as good an account of it as I could. Philosophy, we say, is ‘abstract’ (thus Dr Wellek asks me to defend my position ‘more abstractly’), and poety ‘concrete’. Words in poetry invite us, not to ‘think about’ and judge but to ‘feel into’ or ‘become’ — to realise a complex experience that is given in the words. They demand, not merely a fuller-bodied response, but a completer responsiveness - a kind of responsiveness that is incompatible with the judicial, one-eye-on-the-standard approach suggested by Dr Wellek’s phrase: ‘your “norm” with which you measure every poet.’ The critic — the reader of poetry — is indeed concerned with evaluation, but to figure him as measuring with a norm which he brings up to the object and applies from the outside is to misrepresent the process.
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- F. R. Leavis (1937)
- Macmillan Education UK
- Sequence number