Nineteen Principles for Literary Criticism

Below you’ll find my liberal translation of Roberto Schwarz’s satirical “19 princípios para a crítica literária.”

Reading this, for me, creates a contrast between, on one hand, strikingly familiar and seemingly universal traits of bad criticism and, on the other, rather remote-sounding and dated critics and paradigms. For my generation, Wellek is lost in the dim mists of 1970s lit-crit seminars, Wolfgang Kayser is unknown, and Todorov is just . . . well . . . old.

I suppose this amounts to proof that snarky metacommentary doesn’t age well, unless it’s fully contextualized, as in, say, Marx’s footnotes or an annotated version of the Quijote. Most of Schwarz’s “principles,” though, are still wickedly funny. Enjoy.

19 Principles for Literary Criticism (1970)

  1. Accuse critics older than 40 of impressionism, those on the left of sociologism, the meticulous ones of formalism, and claim a balanced position for one’s self.
  2. Quote French books in German, Spanish books in French, and always out of context.
  3. Always begin with a declaration of method and by disqualifying other positions. Follow that up with the usual (impromptu) method.
  4. Never present the life of the author without first attacking the biographical method. Many insights can be mitigated by horrible writing.
  5. Don’t forget: Marxism is reductionist, and has been surpassed by structuralism, phenomenology, stylistics, American New Criticism, Russian Formalism, aesthetic criticism, and the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms.
  6. Cite often and apropos of nothing. An extensive bibliography is essential. Support your thesis with the authority of specialists, preferably ones who are incompatible with each other.
  7. The argument should be technical and unrelated to the conclusions.
  8. Don’t forget: Marxism is reductionist, and has been surpassed by structuralism, phenomenology, stylistics, American New Criticism, Russian Formalism, aesthetic criticism, and the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms.
  9. Always reach a conclusion without entering into the heart of the matter.
  10. For ontological questions, Wellek; for formal questions, Kayser, and lately Todorov.
  11. Psychoanalysis is less obsolete than Marxism, but it, too, is very one-sided.
  12. Don’t forget: Marxism is reductionist, and has been surpassed by structuralism, phenomenology, stylistics, American New Criticism, Russian Formalism, aesthetic criticism, and the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms.
  13. Afrânio Coutinho and the Concretists brought scientific criticism to Brazil.
  14. Publish long reviews of unimportant books, convince the editor to translate them and the public to read them. There are almost 700,000 university students in the country.
  15. A doctorate is worth its weight in gold.
  16. The gluteal semanteme in modern linguistics tends towards polysemia.
  17. The critic of our era is engaged and authentic, and doesn’t neglect his deep vocation: his commitment to mankind in both its eternal and circumstantial aspects, a commitment that he will obey resolutely until the end. This is the really important thing.
  18. The books published by Indiana University and imported by Livraria Pioneira are extremely important. On the other hand, if you have a French education, don’t fail to apply the method of Chomsky and Propp. The results won’t be long in coming.
  19. Be very careful with the obvious. The safest thing is to document everything with statistics. Use a graph if there is enough space.