Literary Criticism and Literary Critics

An Interview with Soran Fadhil Ali:

Soran Fadhil Ali

Soran Fadhil Ali

Interviewed by Aras Ahmed Mhamad

Part -1-

AAM: How would you define literary criticism? What is the significance of this movement for the genre of literature?

SFA: Literary criticism is a disciplined activity that attempts to describe, study, analyze, justify, interpret, and evaluate works of art. This discipline tries to formulate aesthetic and methodological principles on which the critic can evaluate a text. Anyone who endeavors to evaluate texts in this fashion is a literary critic, a term derived from two Greek words, krino, meaning “to judge”, and krites, meaning “a judge or jury person”.

As a reader of literature, you may find the views of others very helpful in developing your own interpretations. When you write an essay about literature, you also find criticism helpful for supporting your points. But criticism should never be a substitute for your own original views–only in very rare cases would an assignment require you to summarize a critical work without including your interpretation of the literature.

Besides being useful, good literary criticism can be fun in itself, like listening to and participating in a lively discussion among friends. By reading the critic, you add yet another point of view to yours and the author’s.

AAM: What are the most important characteristics of a successful literary critic? Is reading more essential than life experience for a literary critic?

SFA: Critics are professional persons who are communicating their opinions and assessments of various forms of creative work such as art, literature, music, cinema, theater, fashion, architecture and food. Critical judgments, whether derived of critical thinking or not, may be positive, negative, or balanced, weighing a combination of factors both for and against.

Formally, the word is applied to persons who are publicly accepted and to a significant degree followed because of the quality of their assessments or their reputations. Unlike other individuals who may editorialize on subjects via websites or letters written to publications, professional critics are paid to produce their opinions for print, radio, magazine, television, or Internet companies. Persons who give opinions on current events, public affairs, sports, media, and historical events are often referred to as ‘pundits’ instead of ‘critics’.

Critics are themselves subject to competing critics, since critical judgments always entail subjectivity. An established critic can play a powerful role as a public arbiter of taste or opinion.

To be a successful literary critic, you should consider the following points:

  • A- Read: The best way to become a literary critic is simply to read everything you can get your hands on, from the classics to pulp fiction. This will allow you to get a feeling for different types of writing and writers and identify what you like and dislike.
  • B- Take a class: Taking a class in literary criticism, or even engage in full-time study of the field. It is a great way to learn how to appreciate works of fiction, and to identify themes and symbolism. Being surrounded by other literary critics is also a good way to hone your skills.
  • C- Join a book group: Book groups are a great place to share and express your opinions about popular novels as well as the classics with others reading the same book. Fellow book group members can challenge you to support your position and expose you to other viewpoints. Most book stores nowadays sponsor some type of book club.
  • D- Write and submit your critiques: To pursue a career in literary criticism, you’ll need to make a name for yourself in the literary criticism field. Try writing a critique of a novel or book and submitting it to literary review magazines or websites for publication.

AAM: What are the main differences and similarities between theoretical and practical literary criticism?

SFA: Theoretical criticism is concerned with the meaning of ideas, including ideas on which a practice is based. It is concerned with the coherence or meaningfulness of a theory, its correspondence to reality, the validity of its purpose, and the limitations of the viewpoint it offers.

Theories can be criticized from the point of view of other theories (“how much sense does it make”), or internally ‘in their own terms’ (“is it consistent”), or in terms of the experiential evidence there is for those theories (“how well does the theory correspond to the facts”).

At issue is not simply whether an idea makes sense or is consistent, but whether it makes sense and is consistent in terms of the theoretical framework of which it is a part. In other words, at issue is the relationship between many linked ideas – what effect does the adoption of one idea have for a lot of ideas which are related to it, and how does a theory relate to all the relevant evidence it can be called upon to explain. A theory can consist of one major hypothesis, but usually a theory consists of a series of linked hypotheses.

The merits of theories are usually judged according to three main criteria: their usefulness, their explanatory power and their predictive power. A theory is useful if it can help to guide or orient activity, serves the relevant purpose, or if it helps to make sense of things. A theory with great explanatory power is a theory which is able to account for all the relevant evidence, not just some.

If the assumptions made by the theory are well-taken, it can predict effects, outcomes and results quite accurately. If theories are criticized, it is usually on the ground that they are not useful, do not speak to the situation, and fail to explain or predict things properly.

Theoretical criticism often occurs in the context of eclecticism and intellectual opportunism, when people more or less creatively ‘cobble together’ in one interpretation a bunch of ideas and models which are drawn from a variety of different sources. The criticism might be, that those ideas do not truly belong together, that they are not really compatible, or that they result in an elaborate description which fails to explain anything.

The theoretical critic then attempts to redress the situation, by showing that a consistent theory requires that some ideas must be abandoned or changed, or that the whole eclectic combination should be abandoned in favor of a quite different interpretation.

Practical criticism is an objection or appraisal of the type, that something “does or does not work” in practical reality, due to some reason or cause. Often people will say, “That might be fine in theory, but in practice it does not work”. Inversely, they might show with experiment that something works well in practice, even although the theory says this is not possible – so that the theory ought to be adjusted.

Practical criticism usually refers to relevant practical experience, to reveal why an action is wrongheaded, or under what conditions it would succeed. When an idea is proposed, people might first consider if it makes sense. But usually they will also weigh up if it is practical to do something about it, in terms of the consequences it has – for example, would relevant people or organizations be better off or worse off? Does it get in the way of other things? Can it be sustained? Can we live with that?

Practical criticism can be very effective, if people are indeed concerned with practicalities. If, however, people are purely concerned with what things mean, or ought to mean, they may not care about whether their way of seeing things is ‘practical’ or not. People might hold on to their beliefs or defend them, even if they are not very practical at all, because they feel those beliefs are essential to what they are.

Practical criticism usually succeeds best, if it is made on the basis of the practical experience of the critic. Somebody who has practical experience with an issue is usually best placed to make a practical criticism.

Soran Fadhil Ali was born in Kalar, 1980. Graduated from University of Slemani in 2004 with a BSc in English and was a top student. In 2012 gained M.A. degree in English Literature. He has a great experience in translating documents, films, songs. He worked with international organizations such as CSI. He has been teaching English for about 9 years in different places such as Garmyan and IDEL Institutes, Universities of Garmyan, Slemani and Human Development. Now he is an assistant instructor in the University of Human Development.

Aras Ahmed Mhamad is a freelancer. He is the Founder and Deputy Editor of SMART magazine, an independent English magazine that focuses on ‘Literature, Language, Society’. He is the Top Student of College of Languages at the Department of English/ University of Human Development, 2012. He is a columnist for the Kurdistan Tribune and a contributing writer for the and He is the Cultural Analyst at the Kurdish Review Newspaper, the only Kurdish-American newspaper in print. He is also the Editor in Chief of the Sorani section at the

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