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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most important books written on Art: READ IT NOW! February 6, 2001,, 2 Nov. 2007
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. This element comes into play at the last chapter, where Lewis brings out how hard it is to take down a work with this apparatus, because, while you may not enjoy a work, others may. Literature is a very highly subjective experience.

CRITICISM's central argument rests in the fact that books should not be judged by some arbitrary critical analyses, but by what response it elicits in the reader. This book contains one of Lewis's famous quotes, at the end of the Epilogue: "But in reading literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself." That is the central thesis of this work: not to approach a piece of literature, or movie, or painting, or drama, as something to experience and forget immediately afterward, but to enter into it, surrender to it, and approach it with an open mind. That is one thing that is so great about this book - even people who have prejudices against Lewis can read this work.

It also points out the central flaw in evaluative criticism: it may dominate and wipe away the chance at a reader appreciated the work for what it really is, and to experience it in the reader's own way. Lewis does not argue that all evaluative criticism is bad - there's a very human need, he says, to `compare notes', and that is normal, but to much has been given over to this `note comparison' and not enough to the actual work of art. People, especially students (Lewis was, by profession, a medieval literature professor), had quite a broad range of knowledge concerning Chaucerian and Shakespearian criticism and hardly any of Chaucer or Shakespeare (he cited this example at the end of the last chapter). To much has been given over to criticism.

Although I will continue to write reviews, this book has forever changed my approach. Lewis states that one can have an appreciation of a work without the critics, but one CANNOT have an appreciation of the critics without the author. Now I propose that all reviewers should read this book, and keep this in mind when writing. I certainly will. It is also my personal belief that anyone in universities who are studying literature should be required to read this book at the start of their very first semester, so they may examine their motives of precisely WHY they are in this study.

Indeed, the biggest tragedy of this book is, I fear, it is not highly enough read. Regardless of your views on C. S. Lewis, this is one book everyone should read who professes a love for art, and ESPECIALLY by all who write literary criticism. And while that profession does have a place in our world (where would academia be without it? `Publish or perish!'), it is superseded in importance by the art that it deals with, and we should first immerse ourselves in it, sometimes several times over, before we turn away and reach for that scholarly volume. And if it's a good work, it will only encourage you more to go to the work at hand and discover for yourself what the art can do for you. (Shippey's ROAD TO MIDDLE-EARTH is a good example of a well-written criticism). Lewis said one good element about criticism is, if the critics truly care for the art, the enthusiasm will be apparent, and it may cause you to read literature otherwise unknown to you. Also, a central element is the difficulty in producing condemnation to a work. It's a good case against censorship, because although a great work can be abused, it can also be used properly. One may classical images and use it as pornography - while one may look at it and fall in love with the Renaissance. Of course, PLAYBOY is mainly used for lust.

A side note: Pay close attention to the chapter on MYTH, which is a central element in both Tolkien and Lewis. This alone should make it required reading for anyone who study the lives of these two great Christian writers. This work also shows you the depth of versatility of how well-read C. S. Lewis actually was, and shows his phenomenal memory of such things.

Originally issued February 7, 2001 on Amazon.com
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very thought provoking and ending on an ecstatic note, 3 May 2010
By 
Aquinas "summa" (celestial heights, UK) - See all my reviews
Reading this book I was reminded of the book on writing by Dorothy Sayers called "The Mind of the Maker". That was itself a wonderful book with the writer having a clear scheme of how she saw the role of the writer. What was most insightful was her perception of a Trinitarian structure to writing. Lewis' book is very different - its about the art of reading, namely what makes a good reader of a book. The question of what is or what is not a good book is not addressed head on. Instead we get reflecting on how and how not to read a book. The book does not have the organic unity of Sayers' book and I am not sure after a single reading whether I can encapsulate what Lewis is trying to say. Undoubtedly a key element for Lewis is that reading must not be utilitarian, the reader must surrender or rest in a work and given himself over to it like he would to play or to contemplation ("The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender") . He contrasts this with using art: "Using is inferior to reception because art, if used rather than received, merely facilitates, brightens, relieves and palliates our life, and does not add to it".

So, for Lewis, there is a quasi spiritual aspect to reading. For Lewis, the person who is only interested in what happened is unlikely to be a good reader. The value of this book lies not therefore in the coherence of its message (its not entirely clear to me) but rather in a number of highly perceptive statements scattered throughout the work such as:
"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". This statement surprised me - yes I have read some books 2 or 3 times but this number?

Lewis describes a first reading as "an experience so momentous that only experience of love, religion, or bereavement can furnish a standard of comparison."
Lewis emphasises the importance of reading contextually: "For he will read, in the same spirit that the author writ"

Lewis sees no problem with the desire to escape: "Now, there is a clear sense in which all reading whatever is an escape. It involves a temporary transference of the mind from our actual surroundings to things merely imagined or conceived"

Surprisingly he is prepared to praise works whose themes he despises: "A true lover of literature should in one way like an honest examiner, who is prepared to give the higher marks to the telling, felicitious and well documented exposition of views he dissents from or even abominates"

And, in this statement Lewis reminds me of discussions on the Liturgy where one desires that the celebrant is almost invisible (at least that is my wish!): "The necessary condition of all good reading is "to get ourselves out of the way"

It is in the final chapter of the book that we begin to mine pure gold and Lewis shows us why he is a great thinker where he discusses what we are trying to do when we read:

"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..We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own...to see what they see, to occupy, for while, their seat in the great theatre, to use their spectacles and to be made free of whatever insights, joys, terrors, wonders or merriment those spectacles reveal. Literature gives the entree to them all. Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom full realise the enormous extension of 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. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see that others have invented. Literary experience heals the wounds, without undermining the privilege, of individuality.

Now we get to the final ecstatic moment:

"But 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 when I do".

Does Lewis go too far in waxing so lyrically? I don't think so but as long as we realise that Lewis is reflecting on one aspects of man's being - his intellectual sphere (although it does include the heart). Man also enlarges his heart and transcends himself when he lives a life of virtue. So both the mind and the heart need, in so far as possible, be engaged to live the enlarged life!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!, 27 Jan. 2015
By 
ABShaef "ashaef" (Durham) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: An Experiment in Criticism (Canto Classics) (Paperback)
I simply love this book and I am happy to say that it proves Lewis's point about rereading good books quite well. Where 10+ years ago I found it difficult to understand in parts with some flashes of brilliance, upon reading it again I found it utterly brilliant and insightful through and through.

The questions he asks, "What do we mean when we say a book is good or bad?" "How do we judge between literature of quality and mere drivel?" And how he answers them by looking at the different ways people read books sheds helpful light on the way we think and talk about books. I could rave and rave about this book, but I won't. I'll just leave it at that and say, if you have an interest in books, and if you're reading this I'll assume you do, do yourself a favor and pick this one up. It's wonderful.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent item, 16 April 2014
By 
T. Ogden (Oxfordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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Excellent condition, very good price, and very quickly delivered. Supplier fully deserves five stars. This is a book which I read many years ago and made me much more self-confident and relaxed about what I enjoyed reading. I lent my copy to someone who did not return it, and look forward to rereading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I must have read this years ago, and am delighted to be able to again., 20 July 2013
By 
corporaljones (Just the wrong side of the Border) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: An Experiment in Criticism (Canto Classics) (Paperback)
Having just read the McGrath Biography of C.S. Lewis, I thought I should acquaint/re-acquaint myself with his writing, and am glad I did.
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An Experiment in Criticism (Canto Classics)
An Experiment in Criticism (Canto Classics) by C. S. Lewis (Paperback - 26 Mar. 2012)
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