Towards a Humanistic Poetics: Challenges and Contributions

  • Daniel R. Schwarz


Let us review our humanistic poetics before turning to recent critical theoretical studies. Without neglecting formal considerations such as voice, genre, narrative structure, and linguistic patterns, humanistic critics focus on the dialogue between the anterior or real world and the imaginative world of fictions as well as upon the author’s creative process and how that is shaped by the historical period in which he or she wrote. They stress the mimetic quality of literature and insist that literature is by human authors, about human actions, and for human readers. They believe that readers and text meet at the seam of reading. These critics believe that a) the form of a literary text — style, structure, narrative technique — expresses its value system; b) a literary text is a creative gesture of the author and the result of historical context; c) a literary text imitates a world that precedes it; d) literary texts usually address how and why people behave — what they do, desire, fear, doubt, and need. Humanism does not mean ‘life-affirming’, but concern with how and why people live, think, act, feel, read, write, and speak. While acknowledging variations in the diverse responses of readers, humanistic criticism believes that there is the possibility of approaching a determinate meaning by studying an author, his period, and his canon. Thus humanistic criticism does not accept the tenets of deconstruction, that ‘there is nothing outside the text’ and that literary texts are ‘the free play of signifiers’.


Coherence Turkey Rosen Decon Defend 


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  1. 2.
    James Joyce, The Letters of James Joyce, Vol. I, ed. Stuart Gilbert (New York: 1957); quoted in Bishop, p. 347.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Paul Ricoeur, ‘The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered as a Text’, reprinted in Social Research: 50th Anniversary 51:1 (Spring 1984), p. 187.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Daniel R. Schwarz 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel R. Schwarz
    • 1
  1. 1.Cornell UniversityUSA

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