The Anatomy of Criticism: A Trialogue
When Henry Hazlitt published this exceedingly rare book, he was finishing up a three-year position at The Nation as literary critic, and preparing to accept the position as H.L. Mencken’s successor at American Mercury.
He was struggling with integrating his two main interests: literary criticism and economics. In economics, value is subjective, whereas the key goal in literary criticism is the discovery of something approximating objective value.
The text of this book reflects that struggle in the form of a trialogue. Hazlitt has his characters debate the question of literary value, and pushes forward the proposition that the value of literature is discerned and revealed through the operation of the “social mind.”
So he ends up rejecting relativism while avoiding mistakes in economic theory. A fascinating study, brilliantly conceived and rendered by a master.
As an extra bonus here, Hazlitt offers a postscript on the rise of Marxism in literary criticism. He shows how preposterous it is for Marxism to reject the main corpus of Western literature as hopelessly bourgeois, even while Marx himself read all the great works in his leisure. This is a highly significant essay because it was probably the first attack on Marxist literary deconstructionism ever written!
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