Showing posts with label richard altick. Show all posts
Showing posts with label richard altick. Show all posts

Friday 7 June 2024

Art of Literary Research

 The Art of Literary Research - Richard Altick and John Fenstermaker

Video 1: Critic, Researcher, and Scholar

Click here to watch the video on YouTube

Introduction to the Coursework

The syllabus for the first paper of the PhD coursework in English Studies includes "The Art of Literary Research" by Richard Altick and John Fenstermaker. This book focuses not on the technical aspects of writing, such as literature reviews or academic writing, but on the mindset necessary for research. In research, there are two perspectives: the technical side, involving data collection and scientific methods (hardware), and the mindset or approach (software).

Understanding the Terms: Critic, Researcher, and Scholar

As research scholars, it's important to understand the roles of a critic, a researcher, and a scholar. These terms are often used interchangeably, but they can have distinct meanings depending on the context.

  1. Critic: A critic primarily focuses on a literary work itself, analyzing its style, structure, and content. The critic interprets the text using various analytical tools and insights.
  2. Scholar: A scholar goes beyond the text, considering its genesis and historical context. A scholar’s work is essential for understanding the broader implications and historical significance of a literary work.
  3. Researcher: A researcher must have a vivid sense of history and the ability to immerse themselves in different historical periods. This requires intellectual curiosity, precision, and imaginative response.

The Interconnected Roles of Critic, Scholar, and Researcher

  • Common Pursuits: Both critics and scholars share a common pursuit: the study of literature. Their work is interdependent; a critic’s findings are valuable to scholars, and vice versa.
  • Combining Roles: Every good student of literature often combines the roles of critic and scholar, sometimes without realizing it. The boundary between being a critic and a scholar is fluid.

Differences and Emphases

  • Critics: Critics are primarily concerned with the literary work itself, focusing on its internal elements like style, structure, and content.
  • Scholars: Scholars, on the other hand, look at the literary work within a larger context, including its genesis and subsequent history. They seek to illuminate the work from various angles to make it as comprehensible as possible.

Examples and Practical Applications

  • New Criticism: Focuses on the text itself, as seen in the works of I.A. Richards and T.S. Eliot. Practical criticism involves detailed textual analysis.
  • Theoretical Approaches: Scholars like Northrop Frye take a broader view, considering world literature as a unified body and looking for common patterns across different texts.

Scholar’s Perspective

George Whalley, in his work "Scholarship and Criticism" (1959), emphasizes that no true scholar can lack critical acumen. A scholar must have a poet’s eye, always searching for unknown insights. This dual vision—seeing the past and understanding its implications in the present—is crucial for a scholar.

Researcher's Insight

A researcher must be able to time travel intellectually, understanding the historical and cultural context of the work they study. This requires a blend of intellectual insight and imaginative response. Researchers must adjust their thinking to the context of different periods and disciplines.

Methodology and Approach

  • Scientific Approach: Researchers and scholars in literature should adopt a rigorous, scientific approach to their work. This involves intellectual curiosity, precision, imagination, and the ability to suggest new hypotheses and strategies.
  • Collaboration and Systematic Work: Unlike isolated efforts, a collective approach where scholars and researchers share their findings can illuminate the entire field, similar to how scientists work.

Researcher vs Scholar

One can be a researcher, full of knowledge, without also being a scholar. Research is the 'means', scholarship the 'end': research is an occupation, scholarship is a habit of mind and a way of life. Scholars are more than researchers, for while they may be gifted in the discovery and assessment of facts, they are, besides, persons of broad and luminous learning. They have both the wisdom and the knowledge that enable them to put facts in their place - in two senses. They are never either engulfed or overawed by mere data because their minds are able to see them in the long perspective of mankind's artistic ambitions and achievements. (Altick, The Art of Literary Research)


Humane scholarship ... moves and must move within two worlds at once – the world of scientific method and the world, in whatever degree, of creative art. The postulates of the two are radically different. And our exquisitely difficult task is to conform at once to the stipulations of each without infringing on those of the other. The path of least resistance is to follow one and let the other go.
Research, which is the primary instrument of science, is felt to be the easier and it is also the more alluring. I too have heard the Sirens sing, and I know whereof I speak. And so we tend to become enamoured of the methods, and at times to forget the end; to allow, in a word, the fascination of the means to distract us from the very object for which they are employed. And that end is, in the broadest sense of the word, interpretation – the interpretation, in the light of all that our researches can reveal, of the literature which is our field. (John Livingston Lowes - “The Modern Language Association and Humane Scholarship,” PMLA, 48 (1933), 1403. The whole article, and most especially pages 1403-8, still is well worth reading.)


Understanding the distinctions and connections between being a critic, researcher, and scholar is essential for any research scholar in English Studies. Each role requires specific skills and approaches, but they are ultimately interconnected and mutually beneficial. A comprehensive approach that combines critical analysis, historical context, and scientific rigor will lead to more profound and insightful research.