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Abrams Quaternity of

Critical Approaches to Literature




TCG, 2004-2012

i.e., the text itself, as artifact, and a

supposedly objective analysis of purely
aesthetic matters (think "textbook" literary
supposedly, too, the sole intrinsic approach,
while all others are extrinsic;
e.g., Formalism (including New Criticism),
various rhetorical & genre theories,
Structuralism, & (to a great extent, even)

i.e., the author (and his/her inner, inspired,

self-expressive/emotive, soul-burning
e.g., expressive (expressionist) criticism,
biographical criticism, and much
psychoanalytic criticism (which ponders the
unconscious underpinnings of an authors

i.e., the reader(s); key terms here include

"affective" and "pragmatic" (that is, how does
the work move the reader, to emotional
response, or even action?);
e.g., impressionistic criticism & various
brands of reader-response theory (the latter
usually a more concerted analysis of
how/why readers respond as they do)

i.e., the "world" (and culture) out there,

"outside" the author/text/reader;
think the "real world" (as in art being a
realistic or Platonic "MIRROR" [mimesis] of
said world); or (more usually today):
imposed on the text by the critic (e.g.,
feminism, Marxism, postcolonial & critical
race theory, queer theory, & ecocriticism)
Historical Time-Line (I)

Classical GreecePlato: art as a reflection of his

idealistic World of Forms (UNIVERSE); Aristotle: art
as catharsis (AUDIENCE); Aristotle's genre
prescriptions (WORK)

Medieval & Renaissance periods (heck, well into the

17th & 18th centuries)not only various versions of
Platonic mimesis (UNIVERSE) and Aristotelian
catharsis (AUDIENCE), but a strong (Christian)
moral-didactic emphasis (UNIVERSE)
Historical Time-Line (II)

19th-century Romanticismboth a new emphasis on

the individuals creativity (expressionism: ARTIST)
and a comparable freedom for the critic to be
subjective & impressionistic (AUDIENCE)

19th-century RealismStendhal's mimetic notion of

the novel as "a mirror carried along the road"
Historical Time-Line (III)

1st half of the 20th century:

highlighted, above all, by a new emphasis on the

(form of the) WORK of art per se (New Criticism,
Russian Formalism, structuralism)

however, the late 19th- and early 20th centuries

also included lots of (old-fashioned) biographical
criticism (ARTIST) and (old-fashioned) historical
criticism (UNIVERSE: that is, how does this author's
work reflect the "world," the "reality," of his/her socio-
cultural milieu?)
Historical Time-Line (IV)

1st half of the 20th century (continued):

but also a new Freudian psychoanalysis of the


and also the rise of Marxist theory (UNIVERSE)

and of reader-response theories (AUDIENCE)
Historical Time-Line (V)

2nd half of the 20th century:

the climax of structuralism, and its contradictory
spawn, poststructuralism (both WORK, at last)
the climax of reader-response theories
the climax of Marxism, and the advent of other
politically/culturally based agendas, like feminism,
race studies, and postcolonial theory (UNIVERSE)

1st half of the 21st century: the ultimate victory of Reality

TV, 12-year-old MTV divas, and Kill Abdul: the Video

Abrams' "quaternity" has been derived from

Abrams, M.H. The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory
and the Critical Tradition. London: Oxford UP, 1953.
(see especially pages 6-7)

All misreadings thereof are the complete and utter fault of

Thomas C. Gannon, U of Nebraska-Lincoln, Aug. 2004.