The Critical Imagination — New Book by James Grant + Richard Eldridge’s NDPR Review

James Grant of Birkbeck College, University of London has a new book out from Oxford University Press that may be of interest to our readers.9780199661794_450

According to the publisher it offers:

  • A new theory of metaphor
  • A brand new theory of art criticism
  • Illuminates the ways in which we experience and appreciate art, from paintings and literature to film and music
  • Written with clarity and precision

The publisher’s summary reads:

The Critical Imagination is a study of metaphor, imaginativeness, and criticism of the arts. Since the eighteenth century, many philosophers have argued that appreciating art is rewarding because it involves responding imaginatively to a work. Literary works can be interpreted in many ways; architecture can be seen as stately, meditative, or forbidding; and sensitive descriptions of art are often colourful metaphors: music can ‘shimmer’, prose can be ‘perfumed’, and a painter’s colouring can be ‘effervescent’. Engaging with art, like creating it, seems to offer great scope for imagination. Hume, Kant, Oscar Wilde, Roger Scruton, and others have defended variations on this attractive idea. In this book, James Grant critically examines it.

The first half explains the role imaginativeness plays in criticism. To do this, Grant answers three questions that are of interest in their own right. First, what are the aims of criticism? Is the point of criticizing a work to evaluate it, to explain it, to modify our response to it, or something else? Second, what is it to appreciate art? Third, what is imaginativeness? He gives new answers to all three questions, and uses them to explain the role of imaginativeness in criticism.
The book’s second half focuses on metaphor. Why are some metaphors so effective? How do we understand metaphors? Are some thoughts expressible only in metaphor? Grant’s answers to these questions go against much current thinking in the philosophy of language. He uses these answers to explain why imaginative metaphors are so common in art criticism. The result is a rigorous and original theory of metaphor, criticism, imaginativeness, and their interrelations.

More information from the publisher can be found here.

Richard Eldridge of Swarthmore College recently reviewed the book for NDPR. He begins:

Criticism — or at least and especially the kind of criticism that involves appreciation — has fallen on hard times in contemporary academic life, at least officially. The majority of the literary and art historical scholars with whom I talk tell me that they are interested in understanding and explaining how and why works with certain generic features are produced, not in appreciating them. Typically, they have in mind some model of explanation that hints at law formulation as practiced in the natural sciences: when consumers C demand reinforcement of their values V, then works W with generic features F1 . . . Fn that accomplish such reinforcement will be produced (read, viewed, circulated, praised). This style of critical study has its point and place, and it has yielded important insights into psychosocial history. To its practitioners, talk of appreciation seems sloppy, self-indulgent, uncritical, and non-explanatory . . .

To continue reading the review click here.

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