Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

An Experiment in Criticism

Rate this book
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. Crucial to his notion of judging literature is a commitment to laying aside expectations and values extraneous to the work, in order to approach it with an open mind.

152 pages, ebook

First published January 1, 1961

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

C.S. Lewis

1,407 books40.9k followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Clive Staples Lewis 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. 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.

Lewis was married to poet Joy Davidman.
W.H. Lewis was his elder brother]

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,182 (44%)
4 stars
916 (34%)
3 stars
440 (16%)
2 stars
86 (3%)
1 star
16 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 430 reviews
Profile Image for Samir Rawas Sarayji.
457 reviews87 followers
September 19, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
Author 1 book252 followers
December 15, 2021
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.
Profile Image for Mohamed Khaled Sharif.
819 reviews922 followers
May 22, 2023

"لا ينبغي لجميع الكتب أن تكون واقعية من حيث المحتوى، ولكن يجب أن يحتوي كل كتاب على قدر من هذه الواقعية التي يتظاهر أنها يُمتلكها."

كتاب "تجربة في النقد" للكاتب الإيرلندي الأصل "سي. أس. لويس" -وهو معروف بسلسلة نارنيا الشهيرة- يُعد من أهم الكتب لكل قارئ لأسباب عديدة، فهو يجعلنا ننظر نظرة واسعة لذلك السؤال الأثير: لماذا نقرأ؟ بل وسيجعلك تطرح بعض الأسئلة الأخرى على نفسك، مثل: كيف نقرأ؟ وهل نقرأ بالطريقة الصحيحة؟ وهل عندما يعجبنا كتاباً ما هل هو جيد بالفعل؟ والعكس، يبدو كلامي فلسفي ومُزخرف، ولكنها الأبعاد المؤطرة لهذا الكتاب صغير الحجم، عظيم المحتوى.

يُفرق "لويس" بين القارئ الذي يقرأ من أجل متعته، وبين القارئ الذي يقرأ من أجل ثقافته، وشتان الفارق، وإن كان هدف التفرقة ليس أن ينحاز لفريق على أخر، ولكن كان الهدف هو الوقوف في صف القارئ عموماً، تجاه الناقد، الذي يُحدد ما يُقرأ وما لا يُقرأ، سخر ونقد "لويس" من النقاد الذين يظنون أنهم يمتلكون الأدب والقارئ، رغم أن القراءة والأدب ترتكز على ثلاثة عمدان لمثلث، وهو الكاتب والقارئ والناقد، ولا يجب أن يختل التوازن بينهم.

وضح "لويس" أيضاً علاقة مُتلقي الفن بالموسيقى والصور واللوحات الفنية، وعلاقتهم بالأدب ككل، وفي هذه الجزئية شعرت بتباعد زمني بيني وبين النص، والسبب في ذلك هو عدم الاهتمام بالأنواع الأخرى من طرفي، ومن طرف المجتمع الثقافي عموماً، فأصبح كل الاهتمام على المكتوب من الفن والأدب، وحول الباقي قلة، يتذوقون الفن بأشكاله المختلفة.

انتقد "لويس" كارهي الخيال، وأنه يجب أن يكون شكلاً واحداُ للقصص، سواء درامية أو تأريخية، وحتى أولئك الذين يرون الأدب عموماً مضيعة للوقت، بعيداً عن الكتب العلمية والتاريخية والفلسفية، وفي هذا الشأن، فرد الكاتب صفحات ومقالات عديدة لكي يُبرهن أن الأدب جزءاً لا يتجزأ من الفن، وأن قصص الخيال هامة، ولها تأثيرها الكبير، وذكر عدة أمثلة مُدللة على ذلك.

كتاب "تجربة في النقد" يحتوي على مقالات حول الأدب والفن، لا بد من قراءتها لتسأل نفسك لماذا تقرأ؟ وإن كنت تعرف حقاً إجابة السؤال، فذلك كاف بشكلاً ما، كتاب وجدت فيه وجهات نظر سديدة، وبراهين ودلائل لا بأس بها، وتكلل ذلك بعمل المترجم "حسين الضو" ��يتضح مجهوده سواء في سلاسة الترجمة وألفاظها، بالإضافة إلى الهوامش التي وصلت إلى 132 هامش، لكتاباً ذو 160 صفحة!

كتاب جميل ومُدهش، قرأته على فترات لاستطع هضمه، ويُنصح به لمُحبي الأدب والفن، وبكل تأكيد النقد.
Profile Image for Jesse.
446 reviews451 followers
April 22, 2009
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."
Profile Image for Teresa.
1,492 reviews
November 23, 2017
"Um verdadeiro amante da literatura devia ser de certo modo como um examinador honesto, preparado para dar a nota mais alta a uma exposição completa, apropriada e bem documentada de ideias das quais não compartilha ou que inclusive abomina."

Senhor Lewis, não lhe dou a nota mais alta porque, ou não sou uma verdadeira amante da literatura, ou não sou uma examinadora honesta. No entanto, foi um grande prazer conhecê-lo.
Gosto muito da sua conclusão sobre os anseios do ser humano em ir além de si próprios e os meios (no caso deste ensaio, a Literatura) para os concretizarem.

"Buscamos um engrandecimento do nosso ser. Queremos ser mais que o que somos em nós próprios. Queremos ver com outros olhos, fantasiar com outras imaginações, sentir com outros corações, ao mesmo tempo que com os nossos. A Literatura é uma série de janelas, e mesmo de portas.
O primeiro impulso de cada um de nós é elevar-se a si próprio. O segundo é sair de si próprio, corrigir o seu isolamento e curar a sua solidão. Fazemos isso no amor, na busca do conhecimento e no acolhimento dado às artes. É óbvio que este processo pode ser descrito quer como uma elevação, quer como uma aniquilação temporária do ser. Porém, esse é um paradoxo já antigo: 'mas aquele que perder a sua vida salvá-la-á.' É pois com grande prazer que penetramos nas crenças de outros homens ainda que não as consideremos verdadeiras.
O homem que se contenta com ser apenas ele próprio vive numa prisão. Para mim, os meus próprios olhos não são suficientes, quero ver através dos olhos de outras pessoas. A realidade não é suficiente. Quero ver a que outros inventaram. Lamento que os irracionais não possam escrever livros. Como me agradaria saber o rosto que as coisas apresentam aos olhos de um rato ou de uma abelha.
A experiência literária cura a ferida da individualidade, sem lhe minar o privilégio. Ao ler a grande literatura, torno-me mil seres diferentes, sem deixar de ser eu próprio."

Confesso que, no início, pensei que o senhor estava a armar demasiado ao pingarelho. Segundo me pareceu, desdenha de certo tipo de leitores - os "muitos", que só leem tretas e os "poucos" que leem obras com substracto. Depois, piora tudo quando estende esta teoria para o mundo da música e da pintura. Mas, a certa altura - porque me lembrei de uma pessoa que conheço (*) -, pensei: "deixa-te de merdas, Maria Teresa. O homem só está a constatar uma realidade e a ter coragem de a dizer."

(*) Essa pessoa minha conhecida tem uma relação com a arte muito peculiar. Anda sempre acompanhada de um livro (até quando vai jantar fora), o qual está sempre à vista de toda a gente. Não é uma obra qualquer - ou é do Nietzsche, ou do Bernhard, ou de um Nobel, ou de outro consagrado. O livro passeia durante um tempo e quando já está todo badalhoco é substituído por outro. Se alguém lhe coloca uma questão sobre a obra, responde que tem analepses, prolepses e outros "bichos" do género que deixam qualquer abelhudo sem pio.
Gosta muito de cinema e todos os filmes que vê têm uma "fotografia" de estalo (o estalo é meu). Também é muito entendida em pintura, e deslumbra-se com a habilidade do pintor para criar "efeitos de luz". Em relação à música, só gosta da erudita, cuja "melodia" a transporta, em êxtase, ao sétimo céu.

O Senhor Lewis também conhece uma pessoa assim, pois é?
Profile Image for Brenton.
Author 1 book68 followers
September 2, 2023
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.
Profile Image for ladydusk.
463 reviews192 followers
February 12, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Neil R. Coulter.
1,091 reviews117 followers
June 29, 2023
I don’t think I’ve read An Experiment in Criticism since college, and that’s a shame. I now see that if I’d reread it more regularly, it might have saved me from repeatedly falling into the traps of judgment and criticism that Lewis so neatly describes. Grad studies certainly strengthened my natural tendency to be judgmental of some books and some readers (and movies and filmgoers, and visual arts and museum patrons, and so on). One of the “gifts” that grad school bequeathed me was an arrogant presumed responsibility to sneeringly tear down what’s “unworthy” in the arts and focus on only what is verified as “good.” My studies also gave me many very positive skills and perspectives, but it’s taken years to shed that ridiculous arrogance that’s too often a part of the socializing into the world of professional academia. Lewis understands exactly what I was going through and becoming, and so his views on reading and criticism are exactly what I’ve needed. I’m glad to have returned to this one, at last.

An Experiment in Criticism is a very short book—I would have liked to have read it through in one sitting, which is totally possible—but full of great Lewis-isms about the pleasures of reading well. His main idea in the book is to change the way we think about evaluating “good books” and “bad books.” He takes the emphasis off the book itself and places it instead on the way a reader reads it. “Observation of how men read,” Lewis writes, “is a strong basis for judgements on what they read; but judgements on what they read is a flimsy, even a momentary, basis for judgements on their way of reading. For the accepted valuation of literary works varies with every change of fashion, but the distinction between attentive and inattentive, obedient and wilful, disinterested and egoistic, modes of reading is permanent; if ever valid, valid everywhere and always” (106). He’s responding here to an elitist, academic engagement with books that primarily follows current trends and opinions. Authors move in and out of favor all the time, and Lewis says that this should suggest to us that it’s something other than the books themselves that are objectively good or bad. Rather than being some inherent quality of a book, its value lies in the way the reader comes to it. Lewis says, “Whatever the value of literature may be, it is actual only when and where good readers read. Books on a shelf are only potential literature. Literary taste is only a potentiality when we are not reading” (104). This is a way of explaining that reading is a social activity. Even when we’re reading, it’s not exactly like we’re by ourselves with a book. We bring all of ourselves—our histories and networks and personalities—to the book, and the book invites us to spend time in a world of different histories and networks and personalities. And then, when we’ve found a book that we deeply enjoy, our impulse is to tell others about it. It wasn’t really an inherent quality of the book itself that forced us to love it or regard it as great; it's all of those things within ourselves, and our attitude toward the reading, that determine how we’ll evaluate the book.

Lewis often comes across today as a very opinionated man, with some opinions that seem to us embarrassingly outdated, even for his time. But this book shows his openness to delighting in reading with other people who love reading. What’s at the forefront here is not guiding his readers to truly great books, but approaching his readers to find out which books they’ve loved, and to learn why they loved them. By the end of the “experiment,” Lewis agrees that the approach he’s suggesting means we will very rarely, and never too quickly, decide that any book is “bad.” All it takes is one person for whom that book is more than just a throwaway once-only read. And the fluidity that’s built into Lewis’s outlook means evaluations of good and bad in literature are always open to change—which is not something to be feared or disdained, but celebrated and enjoyed. If more of us heeded Lewis’s charge, we’d have a lot more fun talking together about books.

Throughout the book, Lewis drops one-liners that make book-lovers pump their fists in the air in excitement at finding someone who truly understands the obsession and delight. Here are a couple:
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. (2–3)

In the good reading of a good book, on the other hand, though they certainly point, words do something for which “pointing” is far too coarse a name. They are exquisitely detailed compulsions on a mind willing and able to be so compelled. (89)
I also enjoyed his critique of readers who assume that the tragic is more deeply realistic than the comic—another tendency that often goes along with higher education and grad school: “It seems to me undeniable, that tragedy, taken as a philosophy of life, is the most obstinate and best camouflaged of all wish-fulfilments, just because its pretensions are so apparently realistic. . . . [M]any young people derive the belief that tragedy is essentially ‘truer to life’ than comedy. This seems to me wholly unfounded. Each of these forms chooses out of real life just those sorts of events it needs. The raw materials are all around us, mixed anyhow. It is selection, isolation, and patterning, not a philosophy, that makes the two sorts of play.” (79–80).

I won’t make the mistake again of letting too many years pass between rereadings of An Experiment in Criticism. I loved returning to it this time, and I encourage any book-lover to spend time with it.

(Side note: I find it a little sad, given the content of the book, that the cover is about as boring as a book cover can possibly be. It’s time for a really beautiful edition of this book!)
Profile Image for Brenden Link.
8 reviews4 followers
February 2, 2012
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!
Profile Image for Jasmine.
104 reviews190 followers
August 15, 2015
"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)
Profile Image for Murray.
Author 151 books549 followers
January 20, 2023
It’s nice to see some of his critical analysis side and how he’d have lectured and what he would have been like in a one-on-one session ….. so now Mister Pura you will no doubt say that Thomas Pynchon erred on the side of gravity? …….
Profile Image for Jeannette.
153 reviews
October 21, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Davis Smith.
672 reviews44 followers
August 2, 2023
This is perhaps Lewis's most perfect book in any genre (with honors and apologies to The Abolition of Man and Till We Have Faces). A lifetime's worth of insatiable wisdom, enthusiasm, and depth of reading is here distilled. If you take its arguments seriously, it's maybe the only recent-ish work on literary criticism you need to read. As ever, Lewis seizes upon things that I had intuitively known from my own experience, and expresses them wittily and wonderfully. But the book also makes me a bit sad because I would love so much to make every one of my fellow English majors in the world read it, but the vast majority of them would see that Lewis makes universal judgments of good and bad, and not give an ear to anything else he says. I couldn't help but think of the similarities in Lewis's thinking to James K.A. Smith's work. I think they would both agree that humans are primarily desire/will-oriented, and that the highest and most lasting experiences have more in common with the gut than the mind. I had my areas of concern with his thesis until the last couple pages, which almost completely won me over. Sterling stuff. And where I still have disagreements and confusions, I'm content with knowing that there's no one I'd rather disagree honorably with than Lewis. I only wish I had the chance to have a cup of tea or a glass of wine with him and ask him what he really meant by some of the things he wrote.

A heads-up: in the third paragraph of Chapter IX (p. 105 in my older edition), Lewis is not using a culinary analogy when he discusses "admirers of Lamb" and "those who say that Lamb is bad". It took me five minutes of somewhat amused confusion until I figured out he was talking about Charles Lamb.
Profile Image for Sharon Barrow Wilfong.
1,117 reviews3,946 followers
September 7, 2016
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:

Profile Image for Simon Stegall.
218 reviews12 followers
February 20, 2020
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".

Profile Image for John.
106 reviews161 followers
October 9, 2011
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.
218 reviews9 followers
November 27, 2019
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."

Profile Image for Kris.
1,373 reviews179 followers
July 29, 2023
September 2021 Review
Read this with a more lit-theory eye this time, and I enjoyed seeing what Lewis had to add to the conversation. He seems to lean away from reader-response theory and perhaps lean toward the New Critics? Also fun seeing small snippets of Narnia here: much of what he talks about is reflected in Eustace in VoDT, and SC's Experiment House. Fascinating.

“In the first place, the majority never read anything twice. The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers ‘I’ve read it already’ to be a conclusive argument against reading a work. We have all known women who remembered a novel so dimly that they had to stand for half an hour in the library skimming through it before they were certain they had once read it. But the moment they became certain, they rejected it immediately. It was for them dead, like a burnt-out match, an old railway ticket, or yesterday’s paper; they had already used it. Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty or thirty times during the course of their life.”

March 2014 Review
Great piece on various aspects of criticism. I've never seen an author unpack the act of reading like this. Lewis considers what a reader gets out of a text, either "egoistic castle-building" or a true love of learning, reading and rereading. Definitely heard Lewis's voice in this one, as usual.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,621 reviews54 followers
April 20, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Dean.
441 reviews120 followers
July 18, 2020
'What is the good of reading what anyone writes?' is very like the question 'What is the good of listening to what anyone says?'

Unless you contain in yourself sources that can supply all the information, entertainment, advice, rebuke and merriment you want, the answer is obvious...

"An Experiment in Criticism" by C. S. Lewis should be read by every true booklover!!!

Here some of the chapters:

--On Myth--

--The Meanings of 'Fantasy'--

--On Realisms--


--The Reading of the Unliterary--

Indeed I cannot recommend it highly enough!!!!

For me it was like a revelation, an eye opener and an event..

In his incomparable manner C. S. Lewis and his fine mind dissects the issue of reading, books good or bad, to the bone!!!
It was a real pleasure to read it!!!

Happy reading

Profile Image for Whitney.
227 reviews401 followers
October 30, 2019
“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.
Profile Image for Josiah DeGraaf.
852 reviews203 followers
September 29, 2019
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).
Profile Image for Josh Issa.
43 reviews
April 9, 2023
The same as all of C.S. Lewis’ non-fiction: really boring to read. Honestly the view he proposes is fundamentally correct, but it’s so boring the way he writes and he is somewhat condescending in tone. I probably will not be reading Lewis for a while after this.
Profile Image for David .
1,266 reviews161 followers
May 24, 2017
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.
Profile Image for محمد.
151 reviews36 followers
May 4, 2020
هذه الملاحظات جاءت أثناء قراءتي للكتاب في عدة تغريدات على حسابي في تويتر:

‏توافق قراءتي للويس ما أعنيه بالثريد الآخر. يفرّق لويس بين القارئ «الذي يمارس حبّ الأدب» والقارئ «الذي يحب الأدب». حيث أن الأول تجده يقرأ في ضوء ما تشكّل في عقله من الأعمال والآراء وغيرها؛ إذ أنه يمارس حب الأدب كما يلعب كرة القدم، أي على سبيل المتعة. =

ويحاول ما استطاع من إشراك نفسه في الوسط الثقافي بشتى الطرق، فتارة تراه مهتمًا في الفن، وتارةً في الموسيقا، وتارة يتخبط بين كاتب وآخر، من دون أي قيمة حقيقية. حينما تمارس كرة القدم يوميًا من أجل المتعة، تصبح مجرد «تمرينًا»

يتكلم لويس أن هذا يحدث في وسطه الأدبي الأكاديمي، حيث يذكر اجتماعًا، اقترح فيه أن تتم مناقشة شاعر ما، فصرخ في وجهه أستاذ وهو يقول: «يا إلهي! أتطمع في أخذ مزيدٍ من الوقت!؟»

يركّز لويس على نظرية القراءة، فيقول لا يجب أن نحكم على ما يقرؤه الآخرين من كتب على أنها جيدة ورائعة ودلالاته من ذوق سليم في اختيار الكتب، وما شابه. بل يجب أن نحكم على طريقتهم في القراءة. يصف لويس فعل «ممارسي حب الأدب» كالتالي:

‏١. لا يقرؤون سوى المثير. يعرّف لويس المثير على أنه ما لا يُعرف سوى عن بعيد، حيث يلتصق بقراءة «الأخبار»، ولعلّه يمكنني وصف هذا بسياق مواقع التواصل. يريد معرفة «الأحداث»، عن شيء دائم الحركة غير متوقّف. وبأنه يستاء عندما لا يُشبع هذا الحدث أو ذاك جوعَه.

٢. لا يملكون آذانًا تمكّنهم من الاستماع. يقرؤو�� بأعينهم فقط. يشير لويس على تحصيل التجربة الأدبية -عند المتصنّعين- بأنها أحادية، فهم لا يشعرون ولا يحاولون استشعار حرارة النص الأدبي، بل يتلقّونه مثل تلقّي الأخبار التلفازية. مجرد قراءة صمّاء.

٣. يفضّلون قراءة الكتب القصيّة عن الأسلوب الرصين.

٤. يستمتعون بالسرديّات المبسّطة، والتي تكون عادة مدعّمة بصور وما شابه؛ لتضفي نوعًا من تجربة -مزيفة-، ومفعمة بانسيابية سردية محكمة.

‏٥. يطلبون سردًا خفيفًا سريعًا، حيث يجب أن يحدث في كل قسمة من قسمات السرد شيءٌ ما. كلمات هؤلاء المفضلة حين الحكم على عمل لا يعجبهم بأنه «طويل»، «ممل»، «ما فيه حماس»، «حق النفسية» وما شابه.

‏يختزل لويس هذه الصفات بمثال: كمن يحب مقطوعة موسيقية كاملة من أجل همهمة أو ترنيمة محددة، فيتجاهل عن قصد أو عن غير قصد، باقيها. حيث إن هذه الترنيمة هي ما يحدد قيمة العمل كلّه. وعليه، فإن هذا القارئ يعجبه نص أو بيت شعري، فيتجاهل ما يرمي إليه باقي العمل، سواء بوجود المعنى أم بعدمه.

لعلّ ما يرمي إليه لويس هو ما نتج عما دعاه هيرمان هيسه بـ«ثقافة التسلية». تنتج هذه الثقافة وسائط غير رصينة لا شكلًا ولا أسلوبًا، بل تلبية لطلبات مناصريها. منصّات البث كالنتفلكس وغيرها واحدة من تمظهرات هذه الثقافة. ويطول الحديث عنها.

أوّل ما يفرضه أي عمل فنّي -برأي لويس- هو الخضوع والاستسلام له. حيث تجده يطلبك بأن "ترى، وتسمع، وتستقبل"، حتى إن لم تجده يستحق هذا الاستسلام، فلا بدّ أن تخضع له أولًا ومن ثم تصبّ حكمك عليه.
Profile Image for Stephen Hayes.
Author 6 books119 followers
September 2, 2023
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.
Profile Image for Jenny.
1,425 reviews23 followers
March 19, 2023
In this short book, Lewis argues that, rather than dividing books into "good" and "bad" and judging one's reading taste by the kinds of books one reads, we should start with readers, and divide them into literary and non-literary, and from there, we may make an attempt at determining the value of specific books, based which group of people reads them and how they respond.

This book was an absolute delight, and should, I believe, be read by anyone with pretensions of being literary, or who has ever squashed (or been tempted to squash) anyone else's delight in a book because it wasn't "great literature". It is one I will likely return to multiple times and will almost certainly make it on my daughters' required reading lists in high school.

Update, 3/6/22:

While writing the curriculum for a CS Lewis class, I find myself with a pile of Lewis books to quickly re-read--this time with an eye for appropriateness and difficulty. I had wanted to read An Experiment in Criticism in the class, but upon a second reading, I think it is more at a college/adult level rather than a high school one. It's still brilliant and absolutely worth reading, but I think it could be discouraging and difficult for students who haven't had a lot of Lewis exposure.

Update, 3/19/23:

A quick re-read while working on an essay for my book club. An Experiment in Criticism ended up not fitting well into the scope of my essay, but it's always a good one to pick up.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 430 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.