Literary criticism

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The literary criticism or literature review as a field of literary discussion makes it its task to evaluate and classify works of literature on the basis of reviews . It discusses current new publications, but also subjects works that are much older to critical re-evaluations. If necessary, it includes the tendencies of national and / or international literatures in its discourses in comparisons . ( See also under literature the section: History of the discussion field )

Writing a literary criticism can in turn be used synonymously, e.g. a. for writing a monographic or essay-like treatise, for example on the complete works of an author . More commonly referred to the formulation, however, only a literary work under assessment literary criticism , which also Literature review , book review , book review and book review called.

Literary critics or reviewers of literary works often see themselves as being in the service of the public and / or literature and evaluate the works with regard to implicit or explicit criteria, which, as in literary studies, may also argue with references to corresponding literary theories. The usual division in German between literary criticism and literary studies is less pronounced in the Anglo-Saxon countries; the term literary criticism used there encompasses both.

Pioneer of German-language literary criticism

German-language literary criticism was prepared in the late 17th and early 18th centuries by philological textual criticism, which was inspired by French thinkers such as Pierre Bayle . In his attempt at critical poetry (1730) , Johann Christoph Gottsched developed strict poetics of rules on the basis of which the quality of literature should be judged. In 1841 Johann Jacob Bodmer's critical reflections on the poetic paintings of the poets followed . The achievement of literary theorists like Gottsched and Bodmer lies in the fact that they were the first to develop criteria by which literary criticism could orient itself.

The following list does not claim to be exhaustive, but seeks to name at least some of the most important literary critics - sorted by year of birth:

For the historical development of literary criticism, see also the sections: Definitions and History of the Discussion Field under Literature

Literary-critical text and media formats

  • Literary reviews can have a literary scientific approach that sometimes even wants to meet strict humanities or philological requirements and is analytically and extensively involved in a work in the context of its author, his previous works and his living conditions. Literary reviews with this claim were and are usually in turn in independent books, u. a. published as a monograph . Although it is actually subordinated as secondary literature, literary reviews from the early period in particular were and are valued as independent, thoroughly entertaining masterpieces of literature because of their quality that has endured through the ages.

Much more popular, however, are the smaller journalistic forms that are reflected in specialist journals and, above all, in the feature sections of newspapers and magazines :

  • in literary reviews , which, as essay-like treatises analogous to the literary-scientific approach, seek a literary form of their analysis of a work, which is still very extensive, characterizing sources and encompassing several pages, mostly with pointed emphasis , sometimes even as polemics in the case of negative evaluation . Authors of such literary reviews clearly identify themselves as a person and usually use the first-person perspective for this type of review of a literary work .
  • in literature reviews or book reviews, which only hint at the content of a work in a comparatively short manner - without z. B. to reveal the end - and then add a more detailed assessment of the overall impression. As a rule, they consist of one to three standard pages , and sometimes far fewer as brief notes . Authors of such literary reviews remain in the background as a person. Even their signature at the end of their articles is often withheld from quotations and only the print medium that publishes them is mentioned. Literature reviews are very widespread on the Internet , although the focus here is now increasingly on pure customer opinions .

See also the section below: Literature reviews in the features section

In the feuilleton relatives cultural programs of radio and television specific forms were sought for literary criticism.

  • Reading out a review is rarely the norm on the radio; instead, a literary critic is usually interviewed about a work, as on Deutschlandradio .
  • Probably the world's first book review on television was published in mid-1939 and shaped the format of a TV review that is still in use today: It shows camera angles with the book cover in the center, with a moderator and an expert, as well as illustrative scenes re-enacted by actors. In post-war television, book programs such as the book journal on N3 were based on this format, also had individual scenes from a book replayed and rated the book at the end of the respective contribution.
  • Marcel Reich-Ranicki, on the other hand, regularly discussed literary works from 1988 to 2001 together with Hellmuth Karasek and Sigrid Löffler and later Iris Radisch in the ZDF television program Das literäre Quartett - as a literary-critical expert talk without game scenes, but also with a large-format presentation of the book cover. After that, Elke Heidenreich's show Read! Was broadcast on ZDF until mid-2008 . broadcast, which was not conceived from the start as a literary- critical program, but focused solely on the subjective taste of Heidenreich. Since 2003, Denis Scheck has been setting new creative accents on ARD with his show Fresh off the press . a. which in the current bestseller lists of Der Spiegel and buchreport discusses ten best-selling fiction and non-fiction hardcover editions in striking short reviews and then often throws them in the bin .

The effect of such literary criticism broadcast on television far exceeds that in the print media and can directly determine the chances of success or failure of a book. Overall, however, it is not only the literary criticism broadcast on television that is often criticized, not least as part of a “ culture industry ”.

Literature reviews in the features section

The literary review in the features section , also called book review , book review or book criticism , is one of the most common and well-known forms of review as a discipline of literary criticism . Intended for the general public, reviews of literary works are published in print media such as newspapers , journals and magazines, on radio and television, and on the Internet . For special topics, e.g. B. Children's and youth literature , but there are also specialized and themed magazines geared towards this. Reviews of this kind are used for orientation and classification of the book titles that appear each year, even if they can only pay attention to a fraction of these new publications. In addition to the interested readership of books, the target group is a. also libraries .

Outer shape

Book reviews usually contain bibliographical information (author, title, publisher, price, year of publication, etc.) and a description of external features (binding type, print image, illustrations, etc.), an idea of ​​the structure, content and objective of the work, as well as a critical one Appreciation or assessment of the quality of the text. The book review can be written as an essay in terms of its literary form and scope , but the rather concise book review, barely more than one or two pages long, is very common, which is usually only understood as either a summary recommendation or a negative reference to a work .

Procedure and expectations

Depending on the size of a publisher , in addition to other advertising measures such as spring and autumn brochures, a certain proportion of a book run for review and reading copies as well as flag printouts is factored in. The ordering and distribution of these free copies, which per se are understood as advertising material, is usually carried out according to the following pattern:

  • Usually three to four months before the spring or autumn program appears, the brochures are sent as precisely as possible to the editorial offices and the freelance staff working on the editorial team .
  • The freelancers often do a large part of the preparatory work on prospectus viewing, which can include up to a third of shelf meters and more every six months depending on the area of ​​interest. They pass their suggestions on to the editors, who then make a final selection with them and assign them the appropriate assignments.
  • Editors and / or freelancers then order flags, depending on the urgency, these are unbound and sometimes not yet finally approved printed pages of the complete work, or the review copies from the completed edition. Reading copies differ from them insofar as they are already bound, but sometimes have different binding, print and paper quality or are extended by pages with information on the author and work. Such reading copies are not only sent to editorial offices and freelancers, often unsolicited, but also to booksellers, as these are the titles that the respective publishers hope to get the most attention from. So that review copies do not reach the free market, they are stamped on the inside. Nevertheless, they are used in online trading, e.g. B. on eBay, offered in large numbers.
  • After the titles have been delivered either by the editors or directly by the publisher, the reviewer finally begins reading a book, often several times . It goes hand in hand with highlighting relevant text passages in order to then relate and weight them with the first overall impression the second time you read them.
  • Since the length of a review is usually given to the exact line, every reviewer has to think carefully about how much space he allows for the description of the content, the contextual classification of the work and the evaluative comments. Smaller inaccuracies may have to be "suppressed" in favor of a positive overall impression - and vice versa.
  • The reviewers' articles are sent to the editorial office and edited there, i. H. Checked for content and spelling errors and, if necessary, shortened if there is not enough space in the print edition of a newspaper.
  • The review will be published - or not, not least because most print media have given less and less space to literary reviews in recent years. The printing of a review can therefore be omitted entirely if it has been pushed too far back. In daily newspapers in particular, a book can now be available for a maximum of one year so that a review can also be published.

Changed weighting in the features section

The feature section of the daily newspapers has made a remarkable shift in the cultural achievements to be discussed in recent years. At the beginning of the 20th century, the critical consideration of the performances of theatrical and opera stages, of literature and the visual arts, took precedence, but in the context of advancing technical development, the discussion of cinema films, television programs, music recordings and audio books also established itself. In addition to these "offshoots" of previous art forms, computer games and software have now also become part of the feature pages. All of these additions resulted in a displacement that is currently at the expense of literature, especially fiction and children's and youth literature. In the 1970s, even the weekly city magazines had planned several double pages for book reviews, but by the end of the 1990s at the latest in city magazines this was mostly reduced to the review of a single title per issue. (Daily newspapers handle this differently depending on the target group; in Germany, the Süddeutsche and Der Tagesspiegel in particular are known for their comparatively broad literary criticism.)
The consequences are profound. While many newspapers once had the ambition to discover unknown authors and make them known, it has often been the other way around since then: the book titles and their authors have either been known for decades or first have to be publicized through extensive advertising - preferably on radio and television so that their naming and discussion is attractive for the relevant feature section. This goes hand in hand with the behavior of the readers, who go to bookstores less and less to
steal good literature for themselves , but instead rely on the recommendations of a few television greats .

Collective reviews

Another feature of the changed weighting of literary reviews in the features section is the ever more widespread reduction in the number of lines, which is reduced to collective reviews and thus also accepts the loss of educational critical content. In them, not least for editorial reasons, such as the less and less space allocated for this by the publisher, several works on similar topics are discussed in context and, if not evaluated comparatively, at least compared to one another.

Ethos of literary review

Any form of secondary literature, including reviews, is contestable, as the description of an object that is as objective as possible always includes the reviewer's subjective point of view. The preparation of reviews therefore not only demands knowledge and expertise, but also such imponderables as morality , conscience and a sense of responsibility. Ideally, the reviewer loves the object he is looking at, is highly educated and able to make comparisons, since he knows all the actors and objects in his field or topic in theory and practice - not only from the present, but also from the past - and thus possibly can even draw conclusions about future trends . It also deserves to be noted that the reviewer is always bound to the "zeitgeist" and, as the representative of the contemporary audience, owes his readers a service, namely to provide orientation.

In the heyday, around the end of the 19th century until the 1970s, writing reviews and criticisms was definitely enough to make a living from. In those times the ethos was widespread that, as a reviewer or literary critic, one should never have anything to do with the subject of his consideration. B. as a literary critic not to publish fiction or lyric books at the same time - although pioneers of German-language literary criticism such as Gotthold Ephraim Lessing have certainly also distinguished themselves through independent works of primary literature .

Not only today's reality is a gray area. So there have always been reviews, the hymns of which, however, may also have an unfair background to criticism or polemics : this ranges from friendship with publishers and authors to personal vengeance. But both extremes, all too recognizable and too often used, would fall back on the reviewer himself and question the struggle for recognition of his competence and credibility that is necessary for his concern.

Since reviews can have a considerable economic impact and are often an important echo of their work for writers in addition to audience contact on reading trips, they feel that ignoring or not discussing a book is far worse than a slap .

Since most, especially smaller print media give less and less space to literature reviews in recent years, their rating scale narrows mostly on more or less explicit recommendations , while bad reviews and especially undecided meetings that both positive and negative characteristics of a work worthy without it to draw a clearly positive or negative conclusion can hardly be printed.

Current development of the literary review

The shorter the review, the more it tends to either refer to the mere existence or to concise commentary on the subject under discussion. Brief discussions require reviewers to achieve a degree of compression that is seldom appropriate to the subject matter and, if so, then only with a high expenditure of time. This associated with fewer and fewer orders and a line fee that has been the same or even lower for years, mostly only permanent journalists or even editors perform this task "on the side", while previously professional freelancers with this focus are now more or less left out.

In their place, especially in the field of literature, a semiprofessional group of reviewers, from a journalist's point of view, took their place , often themselves, as in the early days of reviewing, writers . Your motivation for writing reviews is explained not least by the possibility of participating in free review copies and the associated continuous, up-to-date overview of your area of ​​interest. In addition to the possibility of repeating the etude in the short form , the usual mention of the author's name at the end of the reviews and contact with a literary editor are seen as an advantage. Even the mostly very low fee is a not to be despised extra income for many freelance writers. If a certain quality in terms of style and content can be expected from this type of reviewer, which often includes teachers, this is far less the case an even more cost-effective reviewer group, which has established itself primarily on the Internet and which could soon displace semi-professional reviewers as well. What is meant are readers 'and customers' opinions, which find an increasingly broad forum in specially justified Internet portals. What often enough can hardly be considered a review in terms of form, content and contextual comparability, derives its advantage in these forums from the sheer number of opinions on a work.

For the reception of literature reviews

Reviews are available as part of the feature pages turn is part of journalism , so usually only for a day: (French le jour present). Even in weekly or monthly magazines, they are hardly read more than once. This fact corresponds to the character of a snapshot that such a review can ultimately only have. It is not uncommon for well-known critics, years or decades later, to revise a judgment about an author or a work made in their reviews . The Internet with its archived databases is in the process of changing this validity for just one day, at least with regard to its availability, as reviews can now also be called up using search engines at any time and theoretically for all future. Apart from a few exceptions, such as the reviews of Ludwig Börne , which in and of themselves still seem worth reading after more than a hundred years because of their perfectly formed style, after a while reviews should only (or at least) be for historians to analyze citation of an opinion from a certain Period of interest.

How and whether a review is accepted depends first and foremost on the interests of the reader. But also the orientation, the more or less emphasized embedding in the respective medium and, last but not least, the quality of a review determine the spectrum of its perception, which can range from simply being overlooked or paged over to quoting in other media.

The reviewer himself is usually only noted by name by the publishers and authors. If readers of the reviews also remember his name, this is because, after reading several articles, they have either gained confidence in his assessments or use them as a negative barometer to assume the opposite evaluation of a book. ( See also above: Ethos of the literature review )

Literature reviews on the Internet

The Internet offers a comparatively new way of publishing reviews. Most newspapers, journals and magazines have also set up online editorial offices and often publish their articles there even before their print media go to press and without paying the authors any special fees. These online editions, like the print editions, are financially supported by advertisements and advertising banners. However, you often have to pay for the retrieval of older articles archived in databases.

In addition to the online portals for amateur readers' opinions already mentioned under Development of the literature review, very ambitious portals for reviews have also emerged. These include former or still active freelancers who archive their reviews that have already been published in the print media on the Internet and thus make them available to the public free of charge beyond the date of printing. There are also meta-portals, some of which were developed by universities, some by search engines, but also on private initiative, in order to list links to noteworthy review portals.

In order to keep the costs of maintaining such portals within limits, the reviews are often linked to internet booksellers with more or less graphics. In the event that a reader clicks on these links and purchases a book, the owner of the portal receives a small percentage of the estimated book price.

Literary critic and / or reviewer

The term literary critic is - similar to the term writer in contrast to the author (see also the section with definitions of: term writer ) - sometimes seen as more meaningful than the term reviewer . However, these terms are neither legally protected nor according to their activity characteristics - especially in the context of the smaller literary reviews or literary reviews that are mostly in demand by the broader public . Literature reviews - clearly distinguishable from each other.

Relevant criteria for such a distinction could be the number, scope and location of the publications of a literary critic or reviewer as well as his reputation in the professional world and in the public:

  • Who z. B. irregularly as a freelancer, literature reviews are published in a newspaper or magazine with a limited range and a non-literary focus or / and are limited exclusively to the small form of book reviews on titles of a genre (e.g. crime fiction ) this distinction is "only" viewed as a reviewer .
  • A literary critic, on the other hand, is considered to be someone who - often after having studied the humanities at a university - demonstrably can apply all forms of literary criticism. a. also relates to a comprehensive extent to the literary history of all literatures considered relevant. Another feature is often the long-term employment z. B. in a widely recognized, nationally distributed newspaper - be it exclusively as an author or as an editor or even head of the literary department - including the associated networking with other publication organs. The literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki had, in addition to his reviews a. a. He has also written several monographs on individual authors and their works, and not least with his program The Literary Quartet, which has achieved such a high level of awareness that he was given the mostly pejorative- ironic but also respectful term "Pope of Literature ".


See also


Web links

Wiktionary: literary criticism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Johann Christoph Gottsched: Attempt at critical poetry . 4th edition. Bernhard Christoph Breitkopf, Leipzig 1751. ( limited online version in the Google book search - USA )
  2. Adam Müller : Critical, aesthetic and philosophical writings . Critical edition. Edited by Walter Schroeder u. Werner Siebert. Luchterhand, Neuwied and Berlin 1967; quoted in Marcel Reich-Ranicki : The lawyers of literature. P. 31.
  3. ^ Eva J. Engel: Moses Mendelssohn: His Importance as a Literary Critic . In: Ehrhard Bahr (Ed.): Lessing Yearbook Supplement: Humanitat and Dialog . Wayne State Univ. Press, Detroit and Ed. Text and Criticism, Detroit, Munich 1982, p. 259-273 .
  4. Marcel Reich-Ranicki: The lawyers of literature. Pp. 216-226.
  5. Christian Adam: Reading under Hitler. Authors, bestsellers, readers in the Third Reich . Berlin 2010, p. 317. The first book discussed in this way was: Hans Hinkel (Hrsg.): Judenviertel Europa. The Jews between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea . Volk und Reich Verlag, Berlin 1939.
  6. ^ ( Memento from November 26, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) - Top Ten evaluation by Denis Scheck
  7. a b ( page no longer available , search in web archives: Journalistenhandwerk (1): Hellmuth Karasek - The Critique ), formerly online at . Interview with Hellmuth Karasek - it says: “Even judgments are not unchangeable, they are not fixed once and for all. It makes a difference whether you read a book as an 18-year-old, read a book as a lover, read a book as a sick person, read a book in Africa or in Sweden. So external influences, psychological conditions also play a role in reading and there are different books that I have read over and over again in different phases of life because they were important to me, such as B. Madame Bovary. “On the BR-alpha website on February 17th, 2010.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /
  8. Hellmuth Karasek : Locally anesthetized differently . In: The time . May 29, 1970. Retrieved October 20, 2014.
  9. Walther von La Roche , in: ders .: Introduction to practical journalism. 18th edition. Econ, Berlin 2008, p 178: "But with arrogant From Up downgrades Panned as particularly easily flow to the beginner from the pen, you will have the desired effect not long. Because such critics don't bother to go into the relationship between artistic potential and presented result. "