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C.S. Lewis's classic Experiment in Criticism springs from the conviction that literature exists for the joy of the reader and that books should be judged by the kind of reading they invite. He argues that 'good reading', like moral action or religious experience, involves surrender to the work in hand and a process of entering fully into the opinions of others. C.S. Lewis's classic Experiment in Criticism springs from the conviction that literature exists for the joy of the reader and that books should be judged by the kind of reading they invite. He argues that 'good reading', like moral action or religious experience, involves surrender to the work in hand and a process of entering fully into the opinions of others.


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C.S. Lewis's classic Experiment in Criticism springs from the conviction that literature exists for the joy of the reader and that books should be judged by the kind of reading they invite. He argues that 'good reading', like moral action or religious experience, involves surrender to the work in hand and a process of entering fully into the opinions of others. C.S. Lewis's classic Experiment in Criticism springs from the conviction that literature exists for the joy of the reader and that books should be judged by the kind of reading they invite. He argues that 'good reading', like moral action or religious experience, involves surrender to the work in hand and a process of entering fully into the opinions of others.

30 review for An Experiment in Criticism (Canto Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Cultural Chicken Soup for the Soul:"An Experiment in Criticism" by C. S. Lewis "Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poe If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Cultural Chicken Soup for the Soul:"An Experiment in Criticism" by C. S. Lewis "Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do."   In “An Experiment in Criticism” by C. S. Lewis     Anarcho-punk, extreme literature..... Beware the coming revolution.   All the best writers are anarcho-punks:   -          JJ Rousseau: A Discourse On Inequality -          Thomas Payne: The Rights Of Man -          Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Women -          Victor Hugo 'Les Miserables' set in the French Revolution in Paris.   Dostoevsky wrote his first novel 'The Poor Folk' aged 29. This resulted in him and his 3 co-radicals being sentenced to death by firing squad in the main public square in St Petersburg by the Tsar who was offended by their revolutionary contents. At the last second the Tsar commuted the punishment to 4 years hard labour in Siberia. Two of the writers went mad from this sadist act, but Dostoevsky kept on writing about being on death row, psychological torture, his time in jail and did so for the rest of his life. Orwell. 'Homage To Catalonia' set in Spanish Revolution in Barcelona where anarchists fight fascists.     If you're into literary criticism, read on.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Samir Rawas Sarayji

    This is partially a review and partially a reflection. I expect on my second reading to expand on the review part of it, but for now, it has inspired me to put some personal thoughts together regarding how I read. In C.S. Lewis’ book An Experiment in Criticism, I found a thread of thought that was both engaging and insightful where he proposed a thought experiment involving literary criticism. Lewis suggests that books should be judged by how they are read rather than how they are written, and tha This is partially a review and partially a reflection. I expect on my second reading to expand on the review part of it, but for now, it has inspired me to put some personal thoughts together regarding how I read. In C.S. Lewis’ book An Experiment in Criticism, I found a thread of thought that was both engaging and insightful where he proposed a thought experiment involving literary criticism. Lewis suggests that books should be judged by how they are read rather than how they are written, and that readers should approach any book they read for the first time without prejudgment. Any book that motivates a reader to want to reread it is then a work of art regardless of label or genre. The most succinct passages I found were those of his epilogue, which pretty much sum up the book: In the course of my inquiry I have rejected the views that literature is to be valued (a) for telling us truths about life, (b) as an aid to culture. I have also said that, while we read, we must treat the reception of the work we are reading as an end in itself. The simplicity here makes much sense in that a book should just be seen as a book. He later poses this question to himself: What then is the good of… occupying our hearts with stories of what never happened and entering vicariously into feelings which we should try to avoid having in our own person? To which he answers: …we seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself. And even when we build disinterested fantasies, they are saturated with, and limited by, our own psychology. … We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. I can certainly identify with these sentiments. After all, reading fiction is about transposing myself into the shoes of the different characters and seeing the world through their eyes – whether it is the world governed by the laws of nature as we know them, or otherwise – and to experience the magical journey the writer wishes to impart through these characters. I do not approach a work of fiction with the expectation of learning a universal truth or discovering a new culture, nor do I read as a source of escapism. I read with attention and with the expectation of understanding the characters, their motives and their actions due to the obstacles facing them. Whatever I derive from this act of reading, should it happen to include a better understanding of a given culture or universal truth or a new perspective about human nature then this would only be an added value to my reading experience. But reading for the joy and appreciation of reading, in itself, is a beautiful gift and when that gift happens to be a book that I deem ‘good’ by what is essentially mine to deem it as such, then I have one of the greatest gifts I could give myself. And yes, as Lewis says, I would certainly reread such a book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    Another good example as to why it's a shame C.S. Lewis has been largely abandoned to the realm of religious studies--I can't imagine many non-religious literary critics would bother touching this now. In a lot of ways this is a proto-text for Reader Response theory, with Lewis exploring why making a distinction between what is "good" literature and what is "bad" literature is less important than analyzing the person reading it (which he breaks into the "literary" and "unliterary"). Of course the Another good example as to why it's a shame C.S. Lewis has been largely abandoned to the realm of religious studies--I can't imagine many non-religious literary critics would bother touching this now. In a lot of ways this is a proto-text for Reader Response theory, with Lewis exploring why making a distinction between what is "good" literature and what is "bad" literature is less important than analyzing the person reading it (which he breaks into the "literary" and "unliterary"). Of course the whole thing comes off now as inescapably antiquated (particularly in the way he has no problems making clean-cut categorizations), but around every corner he comes up with unexpected surprises, often laced with a devilishly dry British wit--a spirited defense of Modernist poetry for instance, or perhaps a shrewd dissection of literary fashions ("dethronments and restorations" of literary reputations are "almost monthly events"). But the penultimate chapter ("The Experiment") is the most striking of all, particularly in his cautioning against "Vigilant criticism"--which I take as being social theory which was just beginnings its rise to ascendency around the time this was published. Frankly, it reminded me a lot of what Camille Paglia had to say in her infamous "Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf" (what an interesting pair those two make!). Not that I agree wholeheartedly with Lewis (or Paglia) on this topic, though I do find it intriguing, and on many levels, valuable as well. Unfortunately, Lewis self-consciously refuses to carry his point to the logical extreme (and that's I suppose where Paglia went, for better or worse), instead choosing to conclude his "experiment" in a swirl of invoked transcendence. But lest we be quick to write Lewis off as too esoteric for these postmodern times: not even a day after remarking to a friend I was finding this book "rather old fashioned," Lewis administered a potent bitchslap, writing "all you can really say about my taste is that it is old-fashioned; yours will soon be the same." Touché! "We can only find a book bad by reading it as if it might, after all, be very good. We must empty our lives and lay ourselves open. There is no work in which holes can't be picked; no work that can succeed without a preliminary act of good will on the part of the reader."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Praise for the book. Here's a (long) list of all of the references to other works. See Plodcast, Episode #24: great books are the books that the people you admire read. Related poem by Piper. See some explanatory notes here: Chs. 1–3, Chs. 4–6, Chs. 7–8, Chs. 9–Epilogue I haven't worked it all out yet, but there's some overlap in some of Lewis's earlier essays (all in On Stories): "On Juvenile Tastes" (1958), "Different Tastes in Literature" (1946), and "On Criticism" (1960s—unfinished). Ch. 1: The Praise for the book. Here's a (long) list of all of the references to other works. See Plodcast, Episode #24: great books are the books that the people you admire read. Related poem by Piper. See some explanatory notes here: Chs. 1–3, Chs. 4–6, Chs. 7–8, Chs. 9–Epilogue I haven't worked it all out yet, but there's some overlap in some of Lewis's earlier essays (all in On Stories): "On Juvenile Tastes" (1958), "Different Tastes in Literature" (1946), and "On Criticism" (1960s—unfinished). Ch. 1: The Few and the Many Literary criticism is about judging books, and any judgment about readers is something that follows the initial book-judgment; Lewis wants to reverse that and see what happens: judge books based on other readers' practices Liking X and having a taste for X are different activities [?] early on, some/"few" ("literary people") liked good literature; ("many") others liked school readings and leisure readings; Lewis says the liking was a different kind of liking (CSL gets into the differences) 1. the "few" read books they like over and over; the "many" read books they like once [CSL's reference to women isn't sexist; he's talking about his experience, and his world hadn't made the "equality" shift yet] 2. the "few" see reading as a priority; the "many" see reading as something to do as a last resort 3. the "few" read books that often lead to momentous experiences, on the level of religious experiences (they are significantly changed); the "many" don't have those kinds of experiences 4. the "few" think and talk about what they've read; the "many" don't (much) The few treat reading as a main ingredient in life; the many treat reading as marginal. The few and the many don't like in the same/univocal way. Lewis will focus on literature, but this principle applies to other fine arts (music, paintings—see Ch. 3) and natural (nature) beauty (landscape as a criterion for vacation, as opposed to the luxury hotel or golf course). Ironic [and infuriating] that the many find attention to art/nature to be "affectation." [Discussion about whether Lewis's distinction between the few and the many was a good one. Too black and white? True to experience? We found that while Lewis sounds elitist in Ch. 1, he calms our concerns in Ch. 2.] Ch. 2: False Characterisations That one group is few and one group is many is an accident [a generalization with many exceptions]. Lewis does not mean "many" in a sense of "rabble." Certainly the many (in Lewis's framework) include intelligent, moral, wise people, and the few include those who are ignorant and dishonorable. Other defects of his "diagram" [two kinds of readers]: the groups are porous (some few join the many, and vice versa), people are on different levels for different areas What's not surprising is that non-literary people have trivial responses to literature; what is surprising/disappointing is that people whose job is to be literary sometimes have trivial responses to literature (they are "mere professionals" whose original love has been dulled—publish-or-perish professors, or those whose job it is to review books quickly). Story of a snub from a colleague who didn't want to talk about literature "after hours" Both economic-necessity-and-overwork and ambition-and-combativeness destroy appreciation. The few ≠ academics Status seekers are also not part of the "few." Some are born into families where knowing culture is expected (the "small vulgar," who are part of the "many"), but the only real literary one among them might be a young boy reading Treasure Island under the bedcovers (7). Status seekers are dominated by fashion. Devotees of culture read for "improvement." Cf. the difference between someone who "exercises" [mercenary] and someone who plays soccer for fun. Making English an academic subject exposed it to literary Puritans who use literature to gain merit. CSL avoids serious because of its puritanical connotation (grave, solemn), although he thinks there's a good connotation too (vigorous) that allows for frivolity/play. Readers should receive literature in the same spirit that the authors wrote it (written playfully —> read playfully). Mature isn't great either, because it assumes that one requires lots of experience/discipline (although some experience/discipline is required). The few and the many as categories apply to children. Lots of the "few" have passed over from the "many." Ch. 3: How the Few and the Many use Pictures and Music The artwork of Potter/Rackham varies in quality, but CSL didn't notice as a child. He looked at pictures as representations of what he really wanted to think about—the pics were substitutes for the real thing, and he didn't appreciate them as artwork (he looked at what the picture was of, not what it was). The many never outgrow this. They appreciate art for its narrative qualities (and even appreciation of skill is mostly attention to realism, not consideration of lines, etc.). The many use pictures but are not open (receptive) to them. That method (using things as a means to something else) is what we use for icons and toys. We need negative action (being receptive) before the positive action (evaluation). "The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way" (19). "[T]he many use art and the few receive it" (19). Issue of obedience/orders. CSL believes that while it's possible to use good art poorly, it's impossible to enjoy bad art "with a full and disciplined 'reception'" (20). [receptive ≠ passive/uneducated] No one really enjoys bad art (for its own sake), but people might enjoy the effects of the bad art (e.g., porn). Thus, "bad taste" (if it means liking bad art for its own sake) doesn't exist (21). When pictures are used only for the ideas one finds behind them, a person will call out of himself "only what is already there"—nothing new (21). Transition to music (twofold response as one attends only to the tune): 1) social/organic (joining in), 2) emotional (not all emotional responses to music are "appropriate" to the music: emotional responses are not universal [Eastern Europeans don't react negatively to minor keys], and the titles of musical works can influence our emotions) It is using music, not appreciating it as such, to enjoy only the ideas evoked by it. CSL clarifies that using pictures or music in this way is understandable and not necessarily bad (23–24). The few sometimes respond organically and emotionally, but they go further; they "wait" and "attend" (cf. "Look" and "Listen") and look to see what happens to the tune. Such "using" is rushed and tries to do something to the art, as opposed to waiting and letting the art do something to you; again, using art isn't necessarily reprehensible, but there's more that is available in a full human experience. Great point about how some young people [cf. "sophomores"] go through a phase in which they think that if something has an immediate appeal, it must be cheap. But obviously, a comfortable house is not necessarily bad architecture; there may be more to it than just comfort. For status seekers and devotees of culture (Ch. 2), this phase is not transient, but rather a "fixation." Ch. 4: The Reading of the Unliterary While it's easier to contrast the few (pure music appreciation) and the many (listening through the music) for music listeners, it's harder to talk about "use" with literature, since everyone "uses" words, in the sense that we don't love words for themselves—we are interested in what words signify (we go through and beyond them). Pace MacLeish: Words have to mean (though we'll skip the debate about whether or not poems have to mean). Carroll's boojum. The task at hand is to discover what the literary parallel to the many who listen to music by focusing on the tune and ignoring the rest. Lewis says we can look at five characteristics of readers' behaviors (28). 1. exclusive focus on narrative (i.e., the news or nonfiction); a class above might read fiction 2. no ears for ugly (or beautiful words/language)—think of academic jargon 3. unconscious of style 4. prefer minimal dialogue (prefer more action) 5. prefer action-packed narrative "The common source of these characteristics" is "the Event" (30). —> sounds : tune :: words : Event Lewis ties 1, 2, 4, and 5 to the Event, then spends more time on 3 (style). Judgments on style are not instantaneous—they require the intermediate step of judging the words/phrases. If we can imagine what the words describe, we assume the the style is good (Milton); if we can't, we assume the style is bad (Scott). You have to really give the book a shot (full attention) to know if it's good or bad—that's paying the author a (perhaps undeserved) compliment. Unliterary readers don't give full attention. Unliterary readers want the statement or event to be immediately recognizable. Good writing is an item that he doesn't want, and full attention is a price he doesn't want to pay (32–33). The unliterary prefers writing that is neither "too full" (requires too much attention) nor "too spare" (requires too much imagination). For the unliterary, clichés : books :: backdrop : plays (not terribly important, but would be missed if absent). Style-mongers judge books by arbitrary rules (often related to grammar or vocabulary). They don't pay attention to sound or significance (Dryden). Such readers are anti-literary (analogy to obscenity laws which could easily be circumvented by avoiding the write words—and still be obscene), and as teachers they make others hate good writing (which often breaks certain rules). 3 types of Events that the unliterary enjoy: 1) exciting (vicarious anxiety; sensations of fear); 2) answered questions (mysteries); 3) vicarious pleasure/happiness/delight. It is not wrong to enjoy these things, but the unliterary have no other ways of enjoying literature (38). Ch. 5: On Myth Lewis wants to avoid the misapprehension that a myth-lover (who dismisses bad literary versions of the myth yet latches onto the myth itself) is doing the same thing as an unliterary person who is interested only in the Event (see pp. 45–49). A myth is a kind of story that has an extra-literary value in itself; there's something satisfactory and inevitable about myths. Greek muthos simply means "story." CSL isn't necessarily referring to what anthropologists deem to be myths; some anthropological myths do not rise to the level of great myth, plus, LOTR counts. Lewis sees six characteristics of myths (43–44): 1) extra-literary (not just plot details); 2) seems inevitable and produces contemplation; 3) low level of reader sympathy for individual characters; 4) fantastic/impossible; 5) grave/serious; 6) awe-inspiring CSL is describing myths as we encounter/read them, not accounting for their origin. While the myth-lover appreciates myth not necessarily for its literary qualities (although some myths, such as the prose Edda, are written well), he is not the same as the unliterary person who wants only the Event (46). The myth-lover is moved by the mythical Event and will be forever; the unliterary are momentarily excited, and then they forget forever. Buchan may write better than Haggard, but Haggard's work is more mythical; with Buchan, an unliterary reader may wonder if the hero will escape; with Haggard, a myth-lover will be captured by the story forever. Not every literary person likes myth; but no unliterary person likes myth (49). Fantasy and defining terms... Ch. 6: The Meanings of Fantasy Literary fantasy (impossibles/preternaturals) vs. psychological fantasy (three kinds) 1. mistaking a pleasing imaginative construction for reality (delusion) 2. a consuming pleasing imaginative construction (no delusion, but still injurious)—"Morbid Castle-building" 3. #2, but in moderation (and "duly subordinated to more effective and outgoing activities"; could lead to reality)—"Normal Castle-building" 3a. Egoistic Normal Castle-building: self-centered (dreamer is always the hero) 3b. Disinterested Normal Castle-building: dreamer isn't the hero (and might not be in the dream) Children often take Disinterested Normal Castle-building further and imagine playing in that world (construction/invention/fiction) It's possible to transition from Egoistic NC-b to Disinterested NC-b to literary invention (Trollope did this). When unliterary folks enjoy vicarious pleasures through characters, it is "guided or conducted egoistic castle-building"—these experiences supply material for more egoistic day-dreaming (53). All readers project themselves into stories to some degree (empathy), and we shouldn't rashly assume that all unliterary readers always do this (comic books and horror stories). Readers of the lowest class (unliterary egoistic NC-b) don't expand themselves when they read (it's confirmation and indulgence). It was important to distinguish between different kinds of fantasies, because those who engage in Egoistic NC-b (psychological fantasy) do not like literary fantasy. They're limited to "realistic" books (they demand strict observance of natural laws) because their impoverished imaginations have a strong inertia (they can't get past the unreality of literary fantasy), and they wish their often unrealistic stories (e.g., with "preposterous coincidence[s]") were real/true. Even if their dreams are unrealized, they want them to be realizable (which is impossible with literary fantasy, rendering it pointless). See the rest of the review here.

  5. 4 out of 5

    ladydusk

    I read this to read along with the Literary Life Podcast. They finished ages ago, but I finished today. I really think the Epilogue helped me understand the whole better, but I suppose that's because I read Madeleine L'Engle who talks often of being in kairos which is her way of saying time out of time - herself without knowledge of self. That's what Lewis is talking about as a reader - and readers have been there. The world stops and you can only read because of that stripping away of the struc I read this to read along with the Literary Life Podcast. They finished ages ago, but I finished today. I really think the Epilogue helped me understand the whole better, but I suppose that's because I read Madeleine L'Engle who talks often of being in kairos which is her way of saying time out of time - herself without knowledge of self. That's what Lewis is talking about as a reader - and readers have been there. The world stops and you can only read because of that stripping away of the structure and the oughts and the full presence in the story. It's Lewis, so it's hard and intricate. In places he seems to be weaving around trying to find the words to finally say what he wants to say. It is a book I'll be back to, probably more often than I want to admit. There were some passages that deserve greater contemplation (not for use but for reception). Charlotte Mason discusses the ways of will and reason and how they go hand-in-hand with accepting an idea and reasoning to it. How we become very replete with ourselves, bogged down in ourselves. It's the opposite experience of transport into the story that Lewis is discussing. He is saying if we bring only ourselves into the story we can take the ideas of the story and make them do what we want. But if we receive the story, it is free and we are free. As he quotes, "he that loseth his life shall save it." p 138 Definitely worth the reading ... and re-reading to pull the subtleties together. This is a book where the whole defines the parts, but the first time you must take it by parts and the second you may see the parts more clearly because you have the whole.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brenden Link

    If you haven't read anything on literary criticism, this little book by C.S. Lewis will open your mind to a whole new world -- the world of the text, and it well-read. Lewis suggests that rather than judging the quality of books by their mere nature and/or content, one should judge them by the nature in which they are read. For example, some people read books only once to gratify some curiosity or lust, only to abandon the books forever afterwards. Contrarily, those who truly love their books wi If you haven't read anything on literary criticism, this little book by C.S. Lewis will open your mind to a whole new world -- the world of the text, and it well-read. Lewis suggests that rather than judging the quality of books by their mere nature and/or content, one should judge them by the nature in which they are read. For example, some people read books only once to gratify some curiosity or lust, only to abandon the books forever afterwards. Contrarily, those who truly love their books will read them countless times and cherish them as favored possessions. In other words, some people read books seeking only to find a world they already are comfortable with and understand; a world they already have categories for and can explain. A world that "makes sense" in their system of thought. By reading books in such a way, such readers are not challenged by what they read. And yet in the end, they sadly meet only themselves in each book. For Lewis, this explains the vast hoard of trashy novels which all basically follow the same principle. In these cases, the reader is never brought to a higher level of knowledge. There is no additive transfer. People get out only what they already knew. This all takes very little effort on the part of the reader. Contrarily, good readers begin by getting themselves "out of the way." Good readers will first surrender their own preconceived notions and biases. They open themselves up to receive "instructions" (as it were) from the text itself. In effect, they surrender to the text. And now the text can actually begin to work on the reader. This is an entirely different kind of reading and leads to an additive gain in knowledge on the part of the reader. It allows their minds to open in order to receive whole worlds they didn't realize before. In this way new knowledge is truly transferred in an additive way. Rather than meeting only themselves in a text, and learning only what they already knew (and had categories for), this way of "receiving" a text allows the reader to meet 'someone else' (as it were) and actually grow in the process. All of this is written in Lewis' classic, and beloved, easy style, taking things ordinarily complex and confusing and then simplifying them in his characteristic combination of wit, brevity, and clarity. This books is both considerably simple while surprisingly profound. I couldn't recommend it more highly!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jasmine

    "But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself" C.S. Lewis, 'An Experiment in Criticism', (p.141) "Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, i "But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself" C.S. Lewis, 'An Experiment in Criticism', (p.141) "Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison." (p.140)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brenton

    An Experiment in Criticism is a fun little book. C.S. Lewis tries to answer the question leading critics struggle with all the time: what makes great literature? Lewis turns the question on its head by asking, “What makes a good reader?” In answering this question, he considers in the 150 short pages of An Experiment in Criticism a vast swath of literature. In turning the entire project around, Lewis has the opportunity to challenge some of the assumptions of the literary world. In particular, h An Experiment in Criticism is a fun little book. C.S. Lewis tries to answer the question leading critics struggle with all the time: what makes great literature? Lewis turns the question on its head by asking, “What makes a good reader?” In answering this question, he considers in the 150 short pages of An Experiment in Criticism a vast swath of literature. In turning the entire project around, Lewis has the opportunity to challenge some of the assumptions of the literary world. In particular, he challenges a number of biases that presume that educated and older readers are better than uneducated or younger readers, that realistic fiction is better than fantasy fiction, and that current literary-critical trends will have any importance in the years to come. I don't think that anyone actually follows Lewis all the way in this "Experiment," but it is a brilliant book for thinking through our assumptions about literature. And there are gorgeous moments that make this one of my favourite books. Consider these lines that finish the book: "in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do." Yes, well, that's how you write literary theory. Though Lewis' A Preface to Paradise Lost is more important, and his Discarded Image is more helpful as a tool to reading, An Experiment in Criticism makes for a brilliant thought experiment.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jeannette

    I have always loved Lewis for his Children’s books but this book gave me a new appreciation for his brilliance. Such a fascinating discussion of what exactly is good literature, how we should read it and how it interacts with us. Literature is art. No wonder I love reading so much.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Barrow Wilfong

    An Experiment in Criticism is a series of essays that C.S. Lewis wrote about the habits of reading: why does one read, to what purpose does one read and what kind of taste does one possess that motivates a person to read one sort of book instead of another. What I like best about Lewis is his ability to perfectly express how I feel about something. I tend to struggle to find the right words to fully communicate to myself and to others what it is I mean to say or feel about a subject. If I read Le An Experiment in Criticism is a series of essays that C.S. Lewis wrote about the habits of reading: why does one read, to what purpose does one read and what kind of taste does one possess that motivates a person to read one sort of book instead of another. What I like best about Lewis is his ability to perfectly express how I feel about something. I tend to struggle to find the right words to fully communicate to myself and to others what it is I mean to say or feel about a subject. If I read Lewis for no other reason it is to feel affirmed that I am not alone in my opinions and that someone has gone before me and already explained it. No, I am not as smart as C.S. Lewis, but I do feel in good company. One thing he adequately expressed was people's taste in certain kinds of books. Once I was at a bookstore with my son and his friends. One friend was pouring over a book written for Adolescents. Now I'm not against books written for adolescents; well, actually most of them are tripe (feel free to correct me) but this one was especially tripe-y. It was poorly written, dreary and just plain mediocre in thought and perspective. I asked the boy, "Why do you want to read those books (it was a series)?" He answered, "Because I find them interesting." Yes. But that didn't really answer my question. I wanted to know why he found them interesting. Why did he enjoy reading a book that took you to a very small, unimaginative place. I suppose if all you've ever eaten are pop tarts, you won't be dissatisfied until you've eaten at a 3 Michelin Star restaurant (if you ever do). Same goes for our taste in literature. Lewis tells us that bad taste is by definition, "a taste for bad books" (pg. 1). He differentiates between "literary readers" and "unliterary readers". He informs us that the "sure mark of an unliterary man" is he considers "'I read it already' as a conclusive argument against reading a work." Literary people will read the same work countless times throughout their life. Another symptom between literary and unliterary readers is their discussion of the books they read. Literary people think often to themselves about the books they read and discuss it with others. Unliterary people "seldom think or talk of their reading." (pg. 3) For the rest of the review cut and paste the following link to my blog post: http://sharonhenning.blogspot.com/201...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Simon Stegall

    A genius salvo against the gangrenous corpse that is modern "literary criticism". I learned more from this book than from anything I read in the course of getting my literature degree, except perhaps Rita Felski's book "The Limits of Critique," which is sort of a spiritual descendant of this book. All English majors should own this book and then throw a copy at their professor every time she says "Marxist reading". A genius salvo against the gangrenous corpse that is modern "literary criticism". I learned more from this book than from anything I read in the course of getting my literature degree, except perhaps Rita Felski's book "The Limits of Critique," which is sort of a spiritual descendant of this book. All English majors should own this book and then throw a copy at their professor every time she says "Marxist reading".

  12. 5 out of 5

    John

    Yup. I liked it. Like most of Lewis' books, he says more in 140 pages than most do in 300. But I suppose he also looks deeply into little to produce much. When most are raking leaves and combing grass, Lewis is 20 feet deep and analyzing roots. Yup. I liked it. Like most of Lewis' books, he says more in 140 pages than most do in 300. But I suppose he also looks deeply into little to produce much. When most are raking leaves and combing grass, Lewis is 20 feet deep and analyzing roots.

  13. 4 out of 5

    gloriabluestocking

    Wow. I think this book calls for a reread. Several. But what little I did skim off the surface is fat enough to digest for a while. Lewis' conception of literary reading and criticism reveals a humility and dexterity which makes me love him more than ever. Some ideas which stand out now: -literary reading as a receiving, with a view to the work itself, divorced from our experience of or our opinions about the work. There's a "surrender needed for the reception of good work. You cannot be armed to Wow. I think this book calls for a reread. Several. But what little I did skim off the surface is fat enough to digest for a while. Lewis' conception of literary reading and criticism reveals a humility and dexterity which makes me love him more than ever. Some ideas which stand out now: -literary reading as a receiving, with a view to the work itself, divorced from our experience of or our opinions about the work. There's a "surrender needed for the reception of good work. You cannot be armed to the teeth and surrendered at the same moment." (It occurs to me the same goes for love). -the quality of a work of literature can be chiefly discovered by the type of reading it invites. A good work may be read poorly, but a poor work cannot be read well. And the crescendo in the Epilogue: "Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness particular to himself [...] My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through the eyes of others. [I]n reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself [...] Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    It is a true pity that George Orwell and C.S. Lewis never happened to get drunk at the same bar and enter into a violent, gin-fueled debate over literary criticism, because that might have changed the course of the development of literature in the 20th century. Or perhaps it would only have made the bartender rich selling tickets to the show. Sadly, we'll never know. Lewis' radical proposition here is that it is as much the reader as the text which determines whether a book is "good" or "bad" lit It is a true pity that George Orwell and C.S. Lewis never happened to get drunk at the same bar and enter into a violent, gin-fueled debate over literary criticism, because that might have changed the course of the development of literature in the 20th century. Or perhaps it would only have made the bartender rich selling tickets to the show. Sadly, we'll never know. Lewis' radical proposition here is that it is as much the reader as the text which determines whether a book is "good" or "bad" literature, and the 140-odd pages he devotes to that theory provide (aside from fascinating reading) a wonderful defense of both popular literature and genre fiction. His conviction that to truly experience literature we must surrender ourselves to it won't be a hard sell to anyone who reads a lot of poetry, but I can only imagine how his views on the uselessness of evaluative criticism went over with book reviewers of the day. Thoughtful, provocative, and sure to be one in the eye to almost any university's literature program.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Susan Budd

    I could listen to Professor Lewis talk about books for hours.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Whitney

    “But literary people are always looking for leisure and silence in which to read and do so with their whole attention. When they are denied such attentive and undisturbed reading even for a few days they feel impoverished.” (pp. 2-3). • An Experiment in Criticism by CS Lewis energized me, chastened me, befuddled me, and inspired me. It’s a book written to answer the question - why read literature and how do we judge it? • It’s a short book (141 pages!) that occasionally wandered into territory beyon “But literary people are always looking for leisure and silence in which to read and do so with their whole attention. When they are denied such attentive and undisturbed reading even for a few days they feel impoverished.” (pp. 2-3). • An Experiment in Criticism by CS Lewis energized me, chastened me, befuddled me, and inspired me. It’s a book written to answer the question - why read literature and how do we judge it? • It’s a short book (141 pages!) that occasionally wandered into territory beyond my ken, quoting scholars completely unknown to me. But overall, it challenged me to look at both readers and books differently, and even changing my definition of what a good book is. • How often do we judge readers by the books they love? And how often do we judge a book by its moral utility, instead of its existence as a work of art? What kind of reading does a book invite us to? These are just a few of the issues Lewis dives into. He’s not afraid to step on toes and call out people for literary snobbery or laziness, so be prepared! • Listening to the @literarylifepodcast episodes on Criticism helped fill in the goal of my knowledge. Their episodes are a bit long but worth the time if one can squeeze them in. • This may go on my list of “books to reread every year - a mostly aspirational list, but high praise for any book that makes it on there.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Josiah

    This is a thought-provoking book that I'm pretty sure I don't fully understand yet, and I probably am going to re-read this again in a month to fully get it. There were a lot of good lines from this book that struck me, and several sections I'm probably going to start using in the English classes I teach. Probably going to be bumping this up to 5 stars when I get to re-reading it in a month. Rating: 4-4.5 Stars (Excellent). This is a thought-provoking book that I'm pretty sure I don't fully understand yet, and I probably am going to re-read this again in a month to fully get it. There were a lot of good lines from this book that struck me, and several sections I'm probably going to start using in the English classes I teach. Probably going to be bumping this up to 5 stars when I get to re-reading it in a month. Rating: 4-4.5 Stars (Excellent).

  18. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Wilson

    Great. And finished yet another time in November of 2017.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Hayes

    Having recently heard Dr Gerhard Wolmarans of the University of Pretoria Political Science Department speak on this book, twice, I thought I'd better read it. It's been sitting on my shelf for 40 years or more, and if I had read it before, I couldn't remember doing so. Political Science? Not English literature? Yes, Dr Wolmarans said that C.S. Lewis has a great deal to tell use about human diversity, and living in a multicultural society. He says there are two ways of reading a book: Using a book Having recently heard Dr Gerhard Wolmarans of the University of Pretoria Political Science Department speak on this book, twice, I thought I'd better read it. It's been sitting on my shelf for 40 years or more, and if I had read it before, I couldn't remember doing so. Political Science? Not English literature? Yes, Dr Wolmarans said that C.S. Lewis has a great deal to tell use about human diversity, and living in a multicultural society. He says there are two ways of reading a book: Using a book and Receiving a book. When we use a book, we simply, at best, bounce our own ideas off it, and don't accept what it actually has to say. When we Receive a book, we receive it on its own terms, even if we disagree with it. And this applies to relationships with other people: we need to really hear what they have to say even if we disagree with it; receive, and only then evaluate. According to Lewis, before evaluating books we should evaluate the ways orn reading them. We should receive the book before we can evaluate it as a good or a bad book. One can also learn a great deal about writing from this book. Lewis says a bad book is one that can only be used and cannot be received, He probably didn't intend the book as advice to writers, but I think writers can also learn a great deal from it. More thoughts about this on my blog here An Experiment in Criticism | Khanya.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Amy Edwards

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, even though I realize that I probably don't have the categories in my mind (yet) to fully understand Lewis here. This is not exactly a book review, but a book reaction. Am I a literary reader? I hope so, but I probably have a long way to go. Lewis says, "We love to hear exactly how others enjoy what we enjoy ourselves." This explains why it is so much fun to read what critics or bloggers or other Goodreads reviewers have to say about books. And even though I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, even though I realize that I probably don't have the categories in my mind (yet) to fully understand Lewis here. This is not exactly a book review, but a book reaction. Am I a literary reader? I hope so, but I probably have a long way to go. Lewis says, "We love to hear exactly how others enjoy what we enjoy ourselves." This explains why it is so much fun to read what critics or bloggers or other Goodreads reviewers have to say about books. And even though it is fun, we should be careful not to place too much stock in the writings of literary critics, according to Lewis. The value of literature is not in the knowledge we gain from it (although we might gain knowledge) or the philosophy we detect in it (although we may find philosophies), but for the power of literature to extend us beyond ourselves. Because of good literature we can progress past the confines of our own small worlds and discover bigger places beyond. Lewis writes: "...we seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself....We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own." And yet, literary readers do not read for escapism (as unliterary readers often do), says Lewis, but instead their reading helps them understand the perspective of others. "Admittedly, we can never quite get out of our own skins. Whatever we do, something of our own and of our age's making will remain in our experience of literature. Equally, I can never see anything exactly from the point of view even of those whom I know and love the best. But I can make at least some progress towards it. I can eliminate at least the grosser illusions of perspective. Literature helps me to do it with live people, and live people help me do it with literature." Not that we have to agree with the perspective of others. We can read books that present a view of reality quite contrary to our own and still appreciate the book. *** Lewis calls reading fiction to gain knowledge something "pardonable at a certain age," namely, between twelve and twenty. By and large, adults have moved beyond this stage (gathering information about food, travel, manners, political machinery, etc.) when reading novels. I have noticed something of this in my life. Books that drew me in at 15 were partly engrossing because I was still so ignorant of so many things, and books and novels of all sorts filled in those knowledge gaps. Does one need to graduate past this to be able to read in a more literary fashion? Am I throwing pearls before swine to give my teen children great works that they may not be able to appreciate fully until after the age of twenty? Or am I putting down a foundation that will prepare them for a lifetime of literary reading? I am convinced it is the latter. I read Anna Karenina as a young teen and gleaned very little from it. Decades later, however, I found the same novel to be one of the greatest novels of all time. Teens will receive Homer and Dante, Shakespeare and Milton, quite differently from adults, but even so it cannot be a waste of time for the teen. Lewis again, (speaking of fantasies and fairy-tales): "For we must not be deceived by the contemporary practice of sorting books out according to 'age-groups' for which they are supposed to be appropriate."

  21. 4 out of 5

    David

    How do you, or should you, read a book? Often we criticize books by saying some are good and some are bad. So if you are someone who likes a "bad" book, the rest of us can condescendingly look down on you (such as those of you who like Twilight). Lewis argues that this is wrong, that we should think more about how one reads. His criticisms often hit close to home. He argues that many read when they are bored or just to pass the time. Such persons read to get to the event, to get the gist of the How do you, or should you, read a book? Often we criticize books by saying some are good and some are bad. So if you are someone who likes a "bad" book, the rest of us can condescendingly look down on you (such as those of you who like Twilight). Lewis argues that this is wrong, that we should think more about how one reads. His criticisms often hit close to home. He argues that many read when they are bored or just to pass the time. Such persons read to get to the event, to get the gist of the story. I know I've read like this at times. Part of me thinks mediums like Goodreads itself contribute to this because my goal ends up being finishing the book (and the next book) so I can have a long list of books read. Maybe the problem is that long list I want to read! Either way, here we "use" the book for our own ends. In other words, if you read a classic book like Crime and Punishment or Moby Dick but only do so to check it off the list, you don't get any credit, in Lewis' book. Or if you, as I have done, read through a heavy theological or philosophical tome looking for just that one (or dozen) quotes that you can come back to later to either post on social media or use in a sermon, you've missed the point too. Lewis argues that better reading receives the book. Here the goal is not to use it for our own ends but to experience it. In reality, such reading can end up being any book. There may be people out there who read all the wrong books in all the right ways. Thus, for Lewis, you can't really criticize what others are reading. Perhaps someone out there is reading Twilight and being deeply moved by the experience of it. Okay, maybe not Twilight! But I do recall an article a few years back mocking adults for reading young adult fiction (The Hunger Games, the Fault in Our Stars, etc.). I suspect Lewis would have words for that author. How do we know at least some of those people are not truly experiencing these books in the right way? Another thing Lewis said that was challenging was that if you try to read all the right books you become subject to your culture. So you read what is the highly acclaimed book by critics today and scoff at something else. In a few decades, what you scoffed at could be considered the classic and what was seen so highly today could be ignored. The point here is simply, read what you like. But as you read what you like, do not just do it to check the box, but truly enjoy it. How do you know you are reading in that right way? One thing Lewis points out is those that read in the wrong way rarely reread. Reading books in the right way demands a rereading. I've enjoyed rereading Tolkien and Lewis as well as Marilynne Robinson and others. I am challenged to go reread some of those books I checked off my list but maybe rushed through just a bit. Finally, there is a reason this is low on the list of Lewis books people have read. He refers to a lot of authors, many of whom I never heard of. Its like a paper or speech delivered in a certain time and living far from that time, the references are missed. It is not as approachable or timeless as Mere Christianity or Till We Have Faces (his best work of fiction, btw). That said, it is worth your time. It also relates well to Tolkien's work On Fairy Stories.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Carol Bakker

    Again (!) I am amazed at how challenging reading through C.S. Lewis's books can be. Lewis is the champion of pull-0ut quotes; those alone, without their context, make this book worth reading. I love the parts I understand, but I understand how limited my comprehension is. This is a book that will stay on my shelf, and will insist on being re-read. Two quotes (among two dozen delectables): On a common way to misread: We are so busy doing things with the work that we give it too little change to wo Again (!) I am amazed at how challenging reading through C.S. Lewis's books can be. Lewis is the champion of pull-0ut quotes; those alone, without their context, make this book worth reading. I love the parts I understand, but I understand how limited my comprehension is. This is a book that will stay on my shelf, and will insist on being re-read. Two quotes (among two dozen delectables): On a common way to misread: We are so busy doing things with the work that we give it too little change to work on us. Thus increasingly we meet only ourselves. On literary snobs: The real way of mending a man's taste is not to denigrate his present favourites but to teach him how to enjoy something better.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Genni

    Lewis presents the argument that rather than judging books, we should judge readers or HOW the book is read. His arguments are succinct and well-organized. For today's readers, some terminology may be questionable and some examples are potentially offensive. I, myself, said, "Ouch!" a time or two. However, at the end of the book, I saw that Lewis was mostly correct and that by opening myself up to some of the criticisms, the art of reading was refined for me. As I care very much about reading, I Lewis presents the argument that rather than judging books, we should judge readers or HOW the book is read. His arguments are succinct and well-organized. For today's readers, some terminology may be questionable and some examples are potentially offensive. I, myself, said, "Ouch!" a time or two. However, at the end of the book, I saw that Lewis was mostly correct and that by opening myself up to some of the criticisms, the art of reading was refined for me. As I care very much about reading, I found this to be very valuable. If the reader can truly "get himself out of the way", as Lewis suggests, there are many gems to be found in this book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Renee

    There is no secret that I am a Lewis fan, and yet again I wasn't disappointed. This books is more about the books then the types of readers. He does address the difference between literary and unliterary readers and it make sense to me. I absolutely love the way he talks about books, almost like they are his closest friends. I would recommend this book got anyone who loves books and will be adding it to the list of highschool books for our little homeschool. There is no secret that I am a Lewis fan, and yet again I wasn't disappointed. This books is more about the books then the types of readers. He does address the difference between literary and unliterary readers and it make sense to me. I absolutely love the way he talks about books, almost like they are his closest friends. I would recommend this book got anyone who loves books and will be adding it to the list of highschool books for our little homeschool.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    There are elements of this book that I really enjoyed, but there were also a great many parts in which I felt like a freshman in a doctoral level class. I can't say that I fully grasp all aspects of his argument. The parts that I did understand, however, where interesting. I definitely need to revisit this. There are elements of this book that I really enjoyed, but there were also a great many parts in which I felt like a freshman in a doctoral level class. I can't say that I fully grasp all aspects of his argument. The parts that I did understand, however, where interesting. I definitely need to revisit this.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Aiden Hunt

    I was dazzled by Lewis’ long essay carefully defining the difference between literary and unliterary readers, good and bad readings, and the defects of (then) modern literary criticism. Lewis forces the reader to reconsider whether they are good, literary readers as he lays out what this means in practice. Even if you disagree with his thesis, the frank examination of our own reading habits is illuminating, lending weight to his argument for less technical criticism.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cyr

    Many great thoughts on the different ways of reading, and especially on how a reading a book needs to be approached to really get the most out of it. I'm not sure I can quite go all the way with him on criticism of books; I agree it's much to easy for "critics" to dismiss books, huge swaths of books, as inferior based on very little but their own little biases and preferences and hang-ups, but the way Lewis proposes, at least as I understood him, it seems all but impossible to identify any book Many great thoughts on the different ways of reading, and especially on how a reading a book needs to be approached to really get the most out of it. I'm not sure I can quite go all the way with him on criticism of books; I agree it's much to easy for "critics" to dismiss books, huge swaths of books, as inferior based on very little but their own little biases and preferences and hang-ups, but the way Lewis proposes, at least as I understood him, it seems all but impossible to identify any book as a poor one so long as there's one person in the world that really loves it. No, I think the bar has to be a bit higher than that. But even if I object to some of those final conclusions, still a wise and insightful book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    G.M. Burrow

    Beautiful. The chapter on myth (chapter 5) and the epilogue are especially fine: "The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through the eyes of others... In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.... Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do" (140-41). Beautiful. The chapter on myth (chapter 5) and the epilogue are especially fine: "The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through the eyes of others... In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.... Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do" (140-41).

  29. 4 out of 5

    Becky Pliego

    2020: Good, good. 2012: Very good. Some of my favorite quotes: "The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way." (p.19) "Those who seek only vicarious happiness in their reading are unliterary; but those who pretend that it can never be an ingredient in good reading are wrong." (p. 39) "{W}ho in his senses would not keep, if he could, that tireless curiosity, that intensity of imagination, that facility of suspending disbelief, that un 2020: Good, good. 2012: Very good. Some of my favorite quotes: "The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way." (p.19) "Those who seek only vicarious happiness in their reading are unliterary; but those who pretend that it can never be an ingredient in good reading are wrong." (p. 39) "{W}ho in his senses would not keep, if he could, that tireless curiosity, that intensity of imagination, that facility of suspending disbelief, that unspoiled appetite, that readiness to wonder, to pity to admire?" (p.72) "We can never know that a piece of writing is bad unless we have begun by trying to read it as if it was very good and ended by discovering that we were paying the author an undeserved compliment." "My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented." (p. 140)

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    So much in this book that I know it'll be a reread or even a good reference as I read other books. Such a different way to consider reading that hasn't really been discussed much in other places. One of the quotes that has been challenging me is this: “The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibl So much in this book that I know it'll be a reread or even a good reference as I read other books. Such a different way to consider reading that hasn't really been discussed much in other places. One of the quotes that has been challenging me is this: “The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out.)”

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