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An Experiment in Criticism (Canto) Paperback – January 31, 1992

ISBN-13: 978-0521422819 ISBN-10: 0521422817 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Series: Canto
  • Paperback: 152 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Reprint edition (January 31, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521422817
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521422819
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #181,136 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


'Lewis is at one and the same time provocative, tactful, biased, open-minded, old-fashioned, far-seeing, very annoying and very wise.' Church Times

'Genuinely provocative ... makes the best case against evaluative criticism that I have read.' David Daiches, New York Times Book Review

Book Description

Why do we read literature and how do we judge it? C.S. Lewis's classic analysis 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.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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That is one thing that is so great about this book - even people who have prejudices against Lewis can read this work.
Mike London
This negative proposition can never be certain." Central to his argument is the fact that the same book may be read in different ways.
I read this book twice, took lots of notes, and can honestly say it has not only made a difference, but will continue to do so.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

99 of 102 people found the following review helpful By NotATameLion on February 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
C.S. Lewis' "Experiment in Criticism" is one of those great books that gives one a new lens with which to view life. This book caused me to do a lot of self-examination and reflection on how I interact not just with literature, but also with culture as a whole.
Lewis' point is that there is not a real "bad" or "good" literature. The value of what we read is in how we interact with it. Lewis defines how people interact with culture in terms of "The Few" and "The Many."
"The Few" are the literary (in other fields they would be musical, have a palette capable of enjoying the best food, or an eye for art). The literary count reading as valuable, read books more than once, are able to be changed by what they read, and remember and share works or pieces of works with others.
"The Many" are the unliterary. Unliterary people generally don't accuse the literary of reading the wrong books-they wonder why literary people make such a big fuss about books at all. They never read a book twice. Their interaction with a work is not deeply felt. Though they may "read a lot" they don't "set much store by it."
Lewis draws some interesting comparisons with other forms of cultural involvement. He compares these two styles of reading with how some people interact with art and music. Just because one is in the literary "Few" does not mean that they are part of the "Few" in other venues.
Chapter five, "On Myth," is incredibly valuable in discussing myth as well as the value of modern genres such as Fantasy and Science Fiction. It is a wonderful area to start exploring what has come to be termed "Mythopoeic literature."
Another notable section is chapter seven which is a discussion of realism. Lewis' definition is broader than the usual.
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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Cipriano on March 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
Typical of Lewis's deeper insight into things, his "Experiment" consists in a reversal of the usual method of literary judgement. Instead of classifying BOOKS, he classifies READERS and how they "use" or "receive" books. The true (unbiased) critic does not pontificate a judgement of 'good' or 'bad' upon a book without careful cosideration of the possible confusion between degrees of merit and differences of kind. "I want to convince people," says Lewis, "that adverse judgements are always the most hazardous... A negative proposition is harder to establish than a positive. One glance may enable us to say there is a spider in the room; we should need a spring-cleaning (at least) before we could say with certainty that there wasn't. When we pronounce a book good we have a positive experience of our own to go upon... In calling the book bad we are claiming not that it can elicit bad reading, but that it can't elicit good. This negative proposition can never be certain."
Central to his argument is the fact that the same book may be read in different ways. It follows then that there is a certain speculative nature to evaluative criticism, and therefore no amount of reliance upon literary criticism can absolve one from the responsibility of becoming a GOOD READER. And what is a good reader? Well, that is the question isn't it? In my opinion (and it is just that... an opinion) I feel that reading Lewis's "Experiment" can answer that question more effectively than anything I've ever come across. Read it, and see where you fit into Lewis's categories of the "literary" and the "unliterary" person (too lengthy to enumerate here). If at any point, you feel offended and want to hurl the book across the room...
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Mike London on February 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
As a person whose life is dedicated to art in all its various incarnations, this has proved the single most enlightening work I have ever had the pleasure of reading. While it itself is literary criticism and in one sense not literature but a study thereof, it's the most radical, revolutionary book I have read regarding art. Before I can continue, one point needs to be cleared first.
I'm a Christian, and I believe the single most important priority is to lead people to the knowledge and saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. You can do such through art. However, anything that Lewis wrote that lead someone to Jesus is, of course, more important than this book in that respect. Jesus comes first, art comes underneath that in priority, as do all things. That being said:
AN EXPERIMENT IN CRITICISM is the single most important work C. S. Lewis has produced when it comes to literature and the arts. THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, the SPACE TRILOGY, and TILL WE HAVE FACES are literature, but this overwhelms them all - not because of what it is (a universal principle that can be applied to art), but because of what it is not (a story or work of art that not everyone will have the same taste for). People may or may not like his fiction (although I find it rare to meet a person who doesn't like NARNIA) - but this book anyone can appreciate, especially those interested in literature in specific and art in general (for, although it concerns itself primarily with literature, this book also stands in defense of drama, music, painting, and the artistic endeavours of humankind in general). Because there are differing tastes in terms of fiction, people who will not read Lewis's own literature will (or should) read this.
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More About the Author

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. He wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. His most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics The Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures.

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